During a visit to Newfoundland’s west coast last spring, my colleague and I were directed to Benoit’s Cove to talk to the McCarthys about their experiences building and using dories in the Bay of Islands.
Earlier this year, WBMNL Folklorists Crystal Braye and I travelled to the West Coast in search of the Bay of Islands dory and her builders. As we turned off the Trans-Canada Highway and drove along Route 450, the unique orange and green dories could be seen scattered along the coastline. We continued to the end of the road and found ourselves at a wharf in Little Port in the midst of lobster season. After explaining the purpose of our visit to the nearby locals, there was one name that came up repeatedly: Sam Sheppard.
St. Lewis, formerly known as Fox Harbour, was one of the earliest locations recorded by Europeans on maps of the New World. Depicted as Ilha de Frey Luis by Portuguese explorers on 1502 charts of Labrador’s coastline, the area’s sheltered harbour with access to fishing grounds and migrating seals made it an ideal location for both migratory European fishers and native Inuit inhabitants. In the eighteenth century, Europeans began to settle permanently and the community became a vibrant fishing centre on the southwest coast of Labrador.
“I was one of the very few girls down in the stage…” said Rhoda, sitting at the table in her home on Pinhorn’s Beach. It overlooks the landwash where her family operated their fishing premises for decades. “I used to love to get the prong to help with the fish. I pronged hundreds of fish from this point [the stage head] to the barrel, to feed the fish to them… But the prong wouldn’t be in my hand very long if one of the boys saw it.”
“When I started fishing first, there was one fish in the water. That was cod,” said Vernon Petten, fisherman and boat builder from Port de Grave, Conception Bay.
“We’ve been at this through thick and thin. My father, my grandfather, great-grandfather down.”
Vern started fishing when he was old enough to get aboard the boat. He was only five years old when he accompanied his grandfather, John William Petten, on his last trip out.
“You see, to we, a boat is only a boat. That’s all. It’s just nuttin’” Lance Short told us over tea and desserts served by his wife Pat. It was a chilly, damp October day and the crackle of the fire in the kitchen stove can be heard on the interview recording.
I first met Lance during boat documentation research in Trinity Bight in summer of 2014. We arrived at his home in New Bonaventure and explained our interest in speaking to him about boat building. Though he denied being a boat builder, he eventually admitted to building about twenty boats.