Top News

Animated film aims to teach youth about cod moratorium's impact on Newfoundland and Labrador

The illustrations for the film were created by Dartmouth, N.S., artist Kat Frick Miller.
Eugene Maloney is the central character in an animated film about the cod moratorium, produced by Jenn Thornhill Verna. The illustrations for the film were created by Dartmouth, N.S., artist Kat Frick Miller. - Contributed

Corner Brook writer leads “Last Fish, First Boat” project

BAY BULLS, N.L. —

An animated film featuring Eugene “Gene” Maloney, a fisherman and boat builder from Bay Bulls, N.L., aims to tell the story of the northern cod moratorium for a young audience.

Jenn Thornhill Verma, a writer who grew up in Corner Brook, led the project to create the six-minute video.

She told SaltWire the film “Last Fish, First Boat,” is geared towards an audience that wasn’t even alive when the cod fishery was shut down in 1992.



She hopes it will be a learning tool, not just to teach children about a fishery that was central to the province’s economy and culture, but to show everyone how people and communities can be resilient.

Thornhill-Verma was just 12 years old in June, 1992, when Ottawa declared a moratorium on the northern cod fishery.

She said the shutdown of the fishery ensured her grandfather was the last fisher in the family.

Even before the moratorium was declared, she told SaltWire, her father and his siblings had already left the little town of Little Bay East on the Burin Peninsula. She grew up in Corner Brook, where the paper mill provided steady work for her dad.

Yet she spent her summers going back to Little Bay East.

And she vividly recalls that summer, and how the news of the moratorium impacted the fishing community.

“I really do remember feeling like the province was completely losing its identity.”


Eugene Maloney is the central character in an animated film about the cod moratorium, produced by Jenn Thornhill Verna. — Photo courtesy Jenn Thornhill Verna
Eugene Maloney is the central character in an animated film about the cod moratorium, produced by Jenn Thornhill Verna. — Photo courtesy Jenn Thornhill Verna

 


She admits, however, she never gave a lot of thought to the moratorium and its residue until she was older.

She moved on from Newfoundland and Labrador, to earn a masters of science degree and to pursue writing and creative art in her spare time. She currently lives in Ottawa.

And she started thinking, once again, about the moratorium.

Many books had been written about that event — scholarly articles, scientific papers, economic assessments, as well as a few books that tracked the events leading up to and beyond the moratorium.

Thornhill-Verma felt there could be one more.


Jenn Thornhill Verma. — Contributed
Jenn Thornhill Verma. — Contributed


She spent time over 2017 and 2018 talking to people like Maloney, on the stories of people who lived through it.

The result was “Cod Collapse: The Rise and Fall of Newfoundland’s Saltwater Cowboys,” published in 2019.

That book, she said, had an audience of older readers, people who were impacted by the moratorium or, like her, had memories of that time in the province’s history.

“It was the type of book people gave their dads for Christmas.”

It was during the research for that book that she met Maloney. He was about 55 years old when the cod fishery shut down.

“On the day the moratorium was announced (June 30) he actually had been out setting his cod traps,” she said. “The next day he had to go out and haul them up, knowing he would probably never set them again.”

She felt compelled to tell the story again, one that would appeal to younger readers, and teachers to use as an educational tool in the classroom.



Funding for the film was supported by a $5,000 grant from the Canada Arts Council, through a project called Digital Originals.

It launched this week on YouTube.

“Last Fish, First Boat” is a story not about history but “for anyone starting over,” said Thornhill-Verma.

At 55 years old Maloney had to start over, she said.

Today, he’s in his 80s and still building boats.

His son, Wayne, depends on the ocean for a living, but his boat is a tour boat, not a fishing longliner.

The community itself also had to face some changes and continues to reinvent itself.

“You go down to the wharf in Bay Bulls now and you can’t even walk on the wharf, it’s now an industrial wharf centre for oil and gas.


“It’s not just a Newfoundland and Labrador story, it’s a Canadian story." — Jenn Thornhill Verma


“But that community is still there and you can still board a boat owned and operated by a Maloney, it just happens to be a tour boat.”

No matter what way you look at it, she added, the story has relevance.

It’s not just about cod, but about fisheries management and the importance of rebuilding species.

“There’s also how this affected the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, from the job losses and the number of people who left”

She also hopes that the short film will give people across Canada an appreciation of what happened in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1992 and think about how it could happen again, anywhere, if people fail to make the right decisions.

She hopes this film will help educate younger people about the importance of natural resources.

“It’s not just a Newfoundland and Labrador story, it’s a Canadian story,” she added.



Ironically, she said, the story may have even greater relevance during the pandemic.

In 1992 and beyond, she said, people like Gene lost their traditional way of life, an industry that had sustained their families for hundreds of years, and they had to figure out how to move forward.

“It’s a story of resilience and reinvention,” said Thornhill-Verma.

“Ultimately, this is a story of hope.”


RELATED:

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories