Stewart’s grandfather Peter Sturge was born in 1888 on Flowers Island in Northern Bonavista Bay. His great-grandfather participated in the inshore cod fishery and land-based seal hunt, an economy that was in decline by the time of Peter’s birth.
In 1890, the family relocated to Salvage where Peter eventually married and raised his own family. Salvage would be where the next four generations of Sturges would call home.
Stewart Sturge was born in Salvage, Bonavista Bay in 1942. His father Fred and grandfather Peter were both fishermen, working in the Labrador fishery during the summer and hunting seals in the winter. Like most fishermen they also built their own boats. Using a three-piece mould, they would shape each timber before placing them on the keel.
“It was great for wintertime when there’s not much to do. You’d cut your bit of firewood and you’d probably build a boat then… Some fellas would prepare in the fall of the year. Cut their timber, saw the plank…work away at their boat then,” says Stewart. Stewart learned the craft as a boy, looking on while men in the community built boats.
“The older people like my father and grandfather built boats. When I was 12 or 13 years old I’d go around to the stages, watching everything that was going on. I memorized it all and then I started. When I was 17 years old I built my first punt.”
Stewart was a carpenter by trade. Although he did not become a fisherman himself, he continues to build boats for personal recreation or for sale locally. “It’s a great past-time, building a boat, but the younger crowd is not interested in it. If the young crowd around here wanted to build a boat, I’d be only too glad for them to come here and teach them what to do. But their not interested in it… When I was growing up I loved to go around to the stages when they were building boats. I ‘spose there’s too many cars on the go… skidooing or on their quads. When I was seven or eight years old in Salvage, the only way to get to Eastport [10 kilometers away] was to walk, or you had a couple of dogs on a slide. But now you can jump in your car and away you go.”
Over the years, Stewart has built a number of punts and rodneys, trap boats, speed boats, and a cabin boat. In June 2012, Stewart completed a 16 foot rodney that he and his wife Julia plan to use for rowing around the harbour in Salvage.