In summer of 1909 the schooner Little Jap left from Deer Island to fish on the Labrador Coast. She returned home with “six hundred quintals of salt bulk cod” at the end of October, a little later than was usual.
Carvel planking on traditional wooden boats relies on the wood and caulking between the planks swelling to seal the hull against leaks. Since the 1950s numerous marine sealing compounds and adhesives have been developed, allowing progressive boat builders to modify this traditional construction method to take advantage of these new products.
Born in Summerville in 1928, Tom built his first boat at the age of 12. “It was what we called a rodney – a small boat about 12 feet long. We used to tow her behind the trap boats.”
Tom spent 15 years fishing with his father for cod, mackerel, herring, squid, salmon and whatever else was in season. He learned how to build boats watching his neighbour Abe Fry as he worked in his shed, “I would spend hours. I helped him to plank a boat. I’d go in there in the nighttime and help him – he lived alongside us. I’d hold onto a plank for him, and he’d show me that, then show me something else…it was right fun for me.”
Earl Feltham was born on Deer Island in 1937. His father Ephraim, was a fisherman and a carpenter. In 1953, when Earl was 16 years old, Ephraim and his wife Suzy moved their family to Glovertown.
Earl went on to St. John’s where he attended the College of Fisheries (now the Marine Institute) and spent six seasons working on vessels along the Labrador coast.
Steam bending wood is a technique used in boat building to shape the ribs of the boat. While most builders in Glovertown learned how to build using sawn timbers, they switched to steaming juniper laths when this method gained popularity in the 1950s. Those who grew up on Deer Island recall James Feltham (1883-?) as the first to use steam on the island in the late 1940s. “He was that kind of person,” remembers Sam Feltham, “He liked to try new things and was always up for a challenge.”
In Salvage, Stewart Sturge switched from timbers to ribs when he started building speed boats in the 1960s. “It’s much quicker,” Stewart says, “you could have a rodney ribbed out in a day, but if you were using timber it would probably take you a week.” Edgar Butt also switched from timbers to ribs, saying that “it’s harder to get all the timber and it’s more work.”
William James Feltham, better known as Bill, was born on Deer Island in 1938 to Noah and Daisy Feltham. His paternal grandfather, Caleb Feltham, was one of thirteen men tragically lost on the schooner Little Jap in 1909, shortly after the birth of Bill’s father Noah. Bill’s grandmother remarried to Avlin Feltham, the man that Bill would know as his grandfather.
Bill fished on Deer Island with his father Noah, his grandfather Av, and his Uncle Ralph from eleven to eighteen years old.
Before building a boat, every builder must first acquire his timber. The types of wood used for building boats varies depending the kind of boat being constructed and what is available in the area.
For planking, builders in Glovertown once preferred fir but have substituted spruce since fir populations have suffered damage from aggressive insects. Bill Feltham switched to spruce when he noticed that fir was becoming more prone to rot, noting that one disadvantage is spruce tends to have more knots.
When looking for timber for their boats, builders prefer to cut near the coast. It is said that wood cut close to the coast is a better quality than wood from further inland. Edgar Butt says that “it was a better fiber. [Wood further inland] was more brittle. You could tell by the shavings when you were planing where the wood came from.”
Edgar Butt was born in Glovertown in 1926. Son of Joseph and Patience (nee Greening), Edgar was the last of their children and the only to be born in Glovertown. His parents moved their family from Flat Island to Glovertown in 1921, with the promise of work with the pulp and paper mill that was scheduled to open the following year.
At the age of fourteen, Edgar began working at a wood working factory owned by Arthur J. House. He worked with House for number of years in Glovertown, St. John’s, and briefly in Corner Brook, before returning to Glovertown with his wife Patricia to raise their family.
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.
Sam Feltham learned how to build boats on Deer Island using cut timbers, but has been using steamed laths since moving to Glovertown in 1954. This punt, completed in August 2012, is just one of more than 100 boats built by Sam over the years. While Sam would normally cut his own wood, he finds it increasingly difficult to find suitable timbers. For this punt, Sam used store-bought spruce.
Typically, says Sam, “we would cut a knee in the woods – a flaring knee, with an angle about 18 degrees – for the stern.”
In a small fishing community where everyone built their own boats, learning how to build was part of growing up for a young boy. “You’d go from one stage to the other,” says Sam, “listen to what they were telling you and watching them work. That’s the way I got my training.”
Sam Feltham was born on Deer Island in Bonavista Bay on March 3, 1928. He built his first boat on his mother’s kitchen table at fourteen years old.
Originally known as Bloody Bay, and later as Alexander Bay, Glovertown was first settled in the early 19th Century. Rich in timber, by the end of the century at least ten sawmills were in operation and the area had developed a reputation for producing schooners. The construction of the Newfoundland Railway and establishment of Alexander Bay Station in 1894 helped to establish the town as a service centre for the surrounding communities.
Deer Island was once a fishing community located on the north side of Bonavista Bay. Labeled “Popplestone Island” on modern navigational charts, Deer Island was home to seventeen families before it was resettled between 1952 and 1955.