Remembering the sealing disaster

Joan Butler
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Conception Bay South, and especially several of the communities that make up our town, has a long connection to the seal hunt and sealing disasters.

Weighing seals in St. John’s circa 1914. This weekend, a service in Foxtrap will mark the 100th anniversary of the worst disaster in the history of the Newfoundland and Labrador sealing industry. — Photo reproduced from L.G. Chafe’s “Sealing Book; Trade Printers & Publishers,” St. John’s,1923.

Our roots and losses in such an integral part of our province’s history are being remembered this weekend at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1914 sealing disaster.

An ecumenical service is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m. at All Saints Parish Hall in Foxtrap. The service is being held in conjunction with the Society of United Fishermen (SUF), Kelligrews Lodge No. 33, and the Prince of Orange Loyal Orange Lodge (LOL), Kelligrews No. 23.  

A reception following the service will feature the release of our town’s fourth heritage booklet entitled, “A Price Too Dear,” which focuses on the sealing tragedy.    

The service will remember the 29 local men who died when the sealing ship, SS Southern Cross, sank while returning from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There were about 170 men lost on that vessel, and the local men were from Kelligrews, Foxtrap, Seal Cove, Long Pond and Manuels.

The names of those who died are familiar — Bussey, Porter, Morgan, Smith, Rideout and Butler, to name a few.

The service will also remember two other local men who died on the SS Newfoundland, which ran into the same storm in the spring of 1914.   

Part of the community

The seal hunt was a significant part of our lives here in Conception Bay South. My family and many others lost relatives in the 1914 disasters, so the annual hunt always reminded them of the tragedy.

Growing up in the C.B.S., there was always talk each spring about the annual hunt, or the trip to the Front. The annual preparations for the hunt, ice conditions, the price of pelts and the antics of the anti-sealing protesters in later years, were all part of the daily news and lives of many. Of course, one of the main topics of discussion was when to expect the first feed of flippers.  

The Anglican church, SUF and LOL are all fitting partners for the anniversary service because of their historical presence in the town.

Most of the lost sealers were members of the Anglican church that started in our town in the 1800s. The Kelligrews SUF is a chapter of a fraternal organization established in 1862 to provide fellowship and a support system for fishermen and their families, especially the widows and orphans of men lost at sea.

The Prince of Orange LOL, located on Middle Bight Road in Kelligrews, is also a fraternal organization for Protestant men, and now women, and also played an important role in the lives of the families in the area.

C.B.S. is just one community celebrating its sealing history this year. One of the biggest projects in the province is Home from The Sea, which was started several years ago by the Elliston Heritage Foundation.  

The Home from The Sea website, www.homefromthesea.ca, features information about the 1914 sealing disasters, including the list of those who died and survived. The website also documents the foundation’s efforts to build a memorial statue and interpretation centre, both of which are scheduled to open later this year.  

A fitting name

I suggested in a column earlier this year about the extension of the C.B.S Bypass Road that this road needs an official name and suggested it should be named after the Southern Cross.

As a province and country we often lean towards naming our highways and airports after politicians.

I hope our province and town will resist this trend and name the road in honour of those who died in 1914. What a tribute to these men and their families who have long established roots here in C.B.S.   

Joan Butler is a lifelong resident

of Kelligrews, Conception Bay South.

She can be reached by email

at joanbutler@ymail.com

Organizations: Society of United Fishermen, Anglican church, Elliston Heritage Foundation

Geographic location: Kelligrews, Foxtrap, Seal Cove Long Pond Middle Bight Road C.B.S Bypass Road

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