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.
The six foot punt floated, but rolled over immediately. Sam has been building boats, with a higher success rate, ever since.
Sam notes Noah Feltham as a particularly significant influence. Fisherman, carpenter, mechanic, and self-taught doctor, Noah was a remarkable man on Deer Island. As a boy, Sam spent a lot of time in his shop while he worked. “He taught me everything I wanted to know,” says Sam, “I’d be there when I was only a boy, about 10 years old. He taught me how to file saws, how to sharpen tools…He always found time and never hesitated if I went in and wanted to know how to do something. He would stop and show me how to do it. He was my teacher from the time I was a boy until I grew up. You can’t even fathom what knowledge the man had.”
Sam talks about Noah Feltham
Sam built his first successful rodney in 1943 at the age of fifteen, the same year he went to work as a cook on a vessel in the Labrador fishery. He spent one season on a coal delivery boat before going to work aboard the Winifred Lee in 1950. “We would meet the Kyle in Hopedale and go as far north as Nutak,” providing passenger and freight service along the northern Labrador coast. Sam continued to build boats in the winter that were sold to the Newfoundland Government for use at Labrador posts. “It was a beautiful life. I loved the Labrador,” Sam says.
After moving to Glovertown in 1954 Sam earned his living as a carpenter, often travelling St. John’s and Gander for work. While no longer a necessity, Sam continued to build boats for recreation. “It’s a lovely hobby,” says Sam. Over the years, Sam has built over 100 boats including rodneys, punts, dories, motor boats, speed boats, and cabin cruisers.
The Winifred Lee
“…without the ‘Winifred Lee,’ there would be no mail, no supplies other than tinned goods brought themselves, no regular medical aid for the infections so easy to acquire in the salt water. There would be no word of other fishermen along the coast, no–nothing!”
– From “The Roving Schooner of the Labrador” in The Atlantic Guardian, Vol. VII no. 7, July 1950.