Amid all the speeches at the unveiling of the Sealers Memorial in Elliston today, Myrtle Stagg’s one word, whispered quietly into the microphone before she began a speech, summed it all up.
For Stagg, chair of the Elliston Heritage Foundation, the event was the reward for several years of hard work and the realization that a simple idea can grow to monumental proportions when you have the right people on board.
“We started out in 2008 to fulfill a goal just to have a monument. Never did we imagine it would evolve into what we have here today,” she said.
Hundreds made the trip to this Trinity Bay town for the ceremony, undeterred by the rain, to witness the reveal of a statue, monument and interpretation centre that pays homage to the men who lost their lives in the Sealing Disaster of 1914.
On March 30 that year, 166 men left the S.S. Newfoundland and headed toward the S.S. Stephano. Thirty-four turned back when weather worsened and 132 pressed on. They reached the Stephano but were turned away. The men were stranded on the ice in a blizzard for 48 hours. Seven-eight of them didn’t survive.
In that same storm, the S.S. Southern Cross sank while returning from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. All 173 onboard died.
Among today’s crowd was Edith Rideout from Conception Bay. She was here to honour the memory of her grandfather, Uriah Butler, who was lost on the Southern Cross March 31, 1914.
Rideout told TC Media her mother was just eight years old at the time. Tragically, just two months later, her mother’s mom died “from the bad flu.”
Their five children were sent to live with family members.
“It was a very hard time for them,” Rideout says.
It was a day of mixed emotions for Melvin Cole. His grandfather and uncle, Reuben and Albert John Crewe, are the images that capture in stark relief the tragic events that played out on the ice during the SS Newfoundland disaster.
Father and son were locked in an icy embrace when their bodies were recovered from the ice in 1914.
Artist Morgan MacDonald has re-created the moment in a bronze sculpture.
Cole says he grew up hearing the story of his grandfather and uncle, and envisioned it many times, but it’s still difficult to comprehend what they must have gone through.
He says the statue and the interpretation centre at Elliston will help people better understand that chapter of provincial history and how it impacted families, communities and the entire province.
The crowd for today’s ceremony included a who’s who of Newfoundland and Labrador’s political, social, business and arts scene — such as Lieutenant Governor Frank Fagan, his predecessor and former politician John Crosbie, MPs Scott Simms and Scott Andrews, and well-known personalities like Mark Critch, Con O’Brien and Gerald Squires.
Crosbie was lauded as the man who gave the Heritage Foundation’s idea momentum.
Stagg thanked Sheilagh Guy-Murphy for encouraging the committee to approach Crosbie to serve as the patron for the project.
The former lieutenant governor accepted the role and the rest, as they say, is history and now an impressive monument stands to the lost sealers.
The interpretation centre is named after Crosbie, and during the official ribbon cutting, he called it "one of the finest museums he has experienced in all of North America.”
Jack Troake of Twillingate wholeheartedly agreed.
The well-known sealing industry advocate was among the crowd and had the honour, along with fishermen’s union president Earl McCurdy, of unveiling the massive granite monument that bears the names of all the men on the SS Newfoundland and the SS Southern Cross.
“This is a very, very important day for Newfoundland,” said Troake, “and a very important day for Elliston.
“There is nowhere else on the face of the earth, no better place to have this than in Elliston.”
More photos HERE
The unveiling of the Sealers Memorial in Elliston - Video 1
The unveiling of the Sealers Memorial in Elliston - Video 2
More coverage to come on our website and print editions.