Gordon Wheeler

Gordon Wheeler – October 2016

“I was born and raised in York Harbour,” said Gordon Wheeler, “Right across the road,” he added, pointing towards the window at Austin (Aus) Childs’ house where our interview took place. Gordon was born in 1960 to Chester and Stella Wheeler. His father was a fisherman and carpenter, and also fought in the Korean War. His mother was the first postmistress in York Harbour, “she worked at that for a number of years. Then she worked for awhile in the fish plant,” Gordon said.

“It was great growing up here, in this area,” he remembered and described how his family was close to the Kendells, who owned the adjacent land. “There was a lot of us so we could play tiddly, baseball, cowboys and indians an awful lot, never forget that one… Jumping ice pans, jumping trees…We broke all the tops off all the trees between here and the bay,” Gordon laughed. “And you had chores to do… Planting vegetables in the springtime, weeding, carrying water, getting firewood…” added Lew Kendell who grew up with Gordon. “It was all work, but it was fun work ‘cause it was a group thing, a family thing- or families I should say because everyone helped one another,” Gordon remembered.

Outboard Engines

Outboard Engines

“When we was young, there was no outboard motors. everywhere you went, you rowed. I think the first outboard motor… Uncle Ben had one there, a five [horsepower]. And he used to tell ya to slow down, you’re going too fast.”

Gordon’s father, like many fishermen, built boats and Gordon learned from watching and helping him. He built his first boat in the early 1970s, when he was a teenager, “we built her down in dad’s woodshed,” he remembered. Gordon continued to build dories with Aus Childs, “Aus had a little shed here, and we used to build them in that. And it was only 16″ x 22″, something like that? by the time you got your boat built that’s all the room you had,” he remembered.

At one time, all dory builders in the Bay of Islands would have shaped their timbers from natural curved pieces of wood harvested from the roots of trees. In York Harbour, Austin Childs and Gordon Wheeler continue to use this method in their dories. “All we ever used is the tree root,” said Gordon, “The part that’s in the ground, that’d be your side. And your bottom- four feet up the tree, that’d go across your bottom.”

Gordon started fishing at the age of fifteen and continues to use his dory to fish for lobster, alongside Aus. “We haul up on the Wild Shore, so dories are the best.” Unlike keeled boats, the flat bottom dories are designed to be beached in the sandy coves found on the west coast. In addition to lobster, they’ve also fish crab and other groundfish. “I got forty years gone now,” Gordon said about fishing.

“You don’t see that shape dory nowhere else. You can go around the Island and you’ll see dories, but you’ll never see none like the Lark Harbour”

Austin Childs

Austin Childs – October 2016

Austin (Aus) Childs was born in Lark Harbour, Bay of Islands, in 1947. His father, Llewelyn, was a fisherman and fought in the Royal Navy in the First World War. “My mother [Mary Jane (nee Robinson)] looked after kids. There was thirteen of us so it was a full-time job,” said Aus.

Aus started fishing full-time by the age of twenty. He fished for lobster with his brother Ben and Gordon Wheeler in an area on the west coast known as the Wild Shore. For the duration of the lobster season (9-11 weeks), they stay in camp and fish from Eel Hole, south of the Port-au-Port Peninsula. “Stay for a week [at a time]. Probably come in for a night, or something like that,” he described.

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Sam King

Sam King holds a mould for the dory bottom that has been in his family for four generations.

“I was only about fifteen, I’d say, when I built the first dory with my father,” said Sam King. His father, Gabriel, was a carpenter in North Creston and built and repaired dories for others. “We never had it built before a fella wanted to buy it,” he said.

Now retired from the Marystown fish plant, Sam has built around fifteen boats. He was working on a dory at the time of our visit to his home in Epworth in 2016. “A fella wanted me to build it… well, I didn’t know if I was going to do it or not. He was two years after me to do. I finally decided I would build it,” he said. “It’s a hobby, that’s all… You gotta do something when you’re used to working all your life.”

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Mike Sheehan

Mike Sheehan was born in Benoit’s Cove in the Bay of Islands in 1937. “I lived just up past where the church is at,” he explained, “Everyone had their houses close to the water in them time, eh? I spent all my evenings down here, there used to a store over there. There’s still a store there now…” Read more

Mick McCarthy

P20160511_Benoits Cove_Mick McCarthy (39)
Mick McCarthy

Born on Woods Island, Michael McCarthy, better known as Mick, is a carpenter, boat builder and fisherman. He was nearly a teenager when his family resettled to Benoit’s Cove in the 1960s, as part of the Government’s Centralization Program. Mick learned how to build dories from his father, Ignatius, and built his first boat in the late-1960s, at the age of seventeen.

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Sam Feltham

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Deer Island

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.

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