WATCH: '54 Hours': NFB film retells the story of the Newfoundland sealing disaster

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'54 Hours' by Bruce Alcock & by Paton Francis, National Film Board of Canada

This short animation is a remarkably vivid account of the 1914 tragedy in which 132 men were stranded on the ice during a severe snowstorm off the coast of Newfoundland.

A still from thje NFB film "54 Hours."

Seventy-eight men froze to death on the pack ice. In the spring of 1914, the last of the wooden seal hunting ships in a steel-dominated industry was the Newfoundland, manned by men from across the province.

The ship was unable to reach a seal pack due to its lack of ice-breaking power, and 132 men were ordered off the boat and onto the ice to hunt. T

he ship had no radio equipment, and the men spent two unbearable nights on the ice. Survivor testimony, striking archival materials, weather visualizations, inventive animation and puppetry are seamlessly blended to recreate this harrowing ordeal.

Organizations: National Film Board of Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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  • Virginia Waters
    April 01, 2014 - 08:50

    Historians don't like to mention it much but Newfoundland has had more than its share of SOBs over the centuries. Captain Abram Kean was the dean of mean. When stranded sealers were unable to make it back to the son's ship, they asked for shelter for the night aboard the old man's boat, the Stephano. Despite the worsening storm, Kean ordered them back on the ice to continue sealing. He then steamed away. Even after the dead were recovered, Kean insisted on staying at the ice until his ship was full of pelts. The article points out that the ship had no wireless. It does not mention that the ship had had a wireless but Captain Kean ordered it removed to save money. A majority of inquiry commissioners felt Kean should be held responsible, but the commission still managed to white-wash his role in the tragedy.

  • Bill Williams
    March 31, 2014 - 15:49

    I read the articles about your film, it sounds great, you would be intersted it viewing a 1973 painting completed by my father Arch Williams , if you google Arch Williams you can see a copy of sealers on the ice. thank you Bill Williams (son)

  • CLAYT BUTT
    March 31, 2014 - 11:38

    THIS SOULD BE SHOWN TO THE MILLIONAIRES WHO ARE SO AGAINST NEWFOUNDLAND SEALERS TRYING TO PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE.AND WHERE DO YOU THINK THE FISH WENT?SEALS ...SEALS ...AND MORE SEALS.

    • cameron roberts
      March 31, 2014 - 17:07

      well said

  • Dominic
    March 31, 2014 - 08:52

    Seal hunt

  • wavy
    March 31, 2014 - 08:13

    Woah, I wasn't ready for that this Monday morning. Is it ok that my chest hurts, after watching that? Should be required viewing. Damn, we have some talented people in this little province of ours. Just brilliant.

  • Steve
    March 31, 2014 - 07:32

    "We have to be logical. We have to aim our activity first to the endangered species. Those who are moved by the plight of the harp seal could also be moved by the plight of the pig – the way they are slaughtered is horrible."~Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910 - 1997)