Howard Childs

Howard Childs, Lark Harbour

Howard was born to John and Elizabeth Childs in Lark Harbour in 1950. During our 2016 interview, he recalled what the community was like when he was a boy, “We got the road through here when I was growing up,” he said, “Used to to have to go to Corner Brook by boat… That would take pretty much all day to go to Corner Brook and back again.”

His father fished in the Bay of Islands, mostly for herring and cod, before moving on to other jobs. “He fished for a while, he then he carried the mail back and forth to Corner Brook, and then he got into the bus service going back for to Corner Brook, and then he got into carpentry work,” Howard said. He remembers having horses, as well as sheeps and cows, when he was growing up. “He depended on the horses because he used to carry the mail… In the wintertime he’d go on the ice and in the summertime it’d be the motor boat. When they couldn’t use a motor boat, they’d have to walk along the shore as far as Frenchman’s Cove. He done more stuff in his days than I done.”

Howard worked in carpentry and learned how to build boats from being around his father while he built. “My father, it seemed like he had a gift for it. He was only, I think, seventeen or eighteen when he built his first motor boat, and went from there,” Howard said. He couldn’t say how many, but knows his father built dories, motor boats and six longliners. His last boat was a forty foot longliner built in 1981.

John Childs

John Childs (Cape Island Boat)

“He learned on his own. Now let me tell you, the first boat he built, she wasn’t the prettiest boat around. But as they grew, he got it down, you know, pretty good…”

Howard starting building his own boats in the early 1990s, after his father passed away. “The last one he built… he said, ‘there’ll be no more boats built here,’ but a couple of years after he died, me and me brother [Eddie], we took it up to build one!” Howard estimates he’s built about twenty dories, but had to stop building due to health concerns. “I used to build a dory or two every winter, but this past three years I haven’t built neither one.” In addition to the dories, which he sold and traded, Howard has also built six longliners which were sold across the island.

Boat Building Lumber


“We use mostly plywood for the sides, and we use local plank from the building supplies. We used to cut years ago, go in the woods and get it ourselves, but we used to have a problem getting someone to saw it. Most all the mills were set up for 2″x4″s and 2″x6″s and they had to change everything to cut the plank for us. We go to the mills and by the 2″x10″ plank, sixteen feet long and put them through planners to make them our thickness.”





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

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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