Thursday, March 27, 2014
Blood decks and bumper crop
I published the following article in the most recent edition of The Pearl newspaper.
It was only recently that I learned of the Sealer’s Toast: Bloody decks.
I posted the toast on Facebook and a friend contacted me to say that when she was in Grade 3 her father helped her with an essay on sealing, insisting it be titled “Bloody decks and bumper crop.”
And she never forgot it.
I also read that when our Fighting Newfoundlanders went over the top at Beaumont Hamel they raised their hands as if they held glasses and toasted, “Bloody decks,” but I can’t confirm that.
As MP, I spoke to a couple of high school classes in Mount Pearl recently, touching on a host of subjects from politics and Canada Post to Confederation and our place in Canada.
The kids were sharp, even on a Monday morning, and eager to hear more about their Newfoundland and Labrador history.
Later, I spoke with the principal and he said there’s barely any mention of our history in the high school curriculum.
Which is a ridiculous — you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.
In 1922, American writer and explorer George Allan England traveled with Captain Abram Kean — our most successful seal hunter — Kean aboard his sealing ship, the Terra Nova.
The Greatest Hunt in the World is the only eye-witness account ever written of the daily life aboard a wooden-wall, or sealing vessel.
Here's an excerpt:
“The hardships some of these men suffer even before they reach St. John’s and ‘sign on’ would kill the average American. For days before the sailing of the fleet, hundreds of them pile into St. John’s. Some walk all the way from home and some travel on the partly snowed-in, irregular streak of rust that Newfoundland calls a railroad. Many of them walk forty or fifty miles to reach even this rust, braving blizzards that scourge and flay. They carry their pitiably meager equipment in ditty bags. A lot of them, in the spring of 1922, got marooned at a place called Gambo, on the railroad. They had to sleep in cold empty cars there for two or three nights, till an engine could get through and pick them up — second-class cars; and if you have ever seen a second-class Newfoundland car, you know the worst. But none quit and none died. They came along eventually and all ‘signed on,’ and thought themselves lucky to get the chance.”