March 6, 1907
The first week in March month in St. John’s traditionally saw the population grow by the hundreds as the “men from the bay” began to arrive in the city hoping for a berth on the sealing vessels going out to prosecute fishery.
The city, especially the waterfront, would be busy with activity. Many of the men would be looking for lodgings as they awaited news of a berth on one of the vessels , some consumed a little too much and there were the inevitable rows between the ‘bay men’ and ‘the townies’ looking for the same work.
The Gambo Slide
It was not only St. John’s that was a hub of activity the other hub was the town a Gambo. In the first week of March, 1907 the St. John’s newspaper, The Daily News reported:
“Last night there were 100 men at Gambo, who had walked from Wesleyville and vicinity, to take the train. About 200 more are expected there, this morning, which will be the last coming from that section.”
The Gambo train station was the terminus for just about all of the sealers who would walk the trek from Wesleyville to the train station in Gambo, “an unpleasant tramp” that took from 24 – 32 hours.
However, there would be much excitement in Gambo, especially among the children. The children would be waiting for the Gambo slide.
The Gambo slide was a small lightweight sled that was constructed by the men of Wesleyville and area, that they used to pull their sealing gear and clothes. As the men of Wesleyville, now exhausted from walking, approached Gambo, the children of the town would be on the outskirts to help them pull their slide for the last few miles.
The children knew once they pulled the “Gambo slide” to the train station, the sealers would board the train for St. John’s and the slides would be theirs!
It was not only the men from Wesleyville that were walking into Gambo to catch the train, the Daily News reported on March 6, 1907:
“Eight hundred men will leave Greenspond, Newtown, Pools Island and neighboring places, this morning and will walk over the ice to Gambo, and come into St. John’s by train.”
Walking in the unpredictable weather especially in March month, the slides not only served to lighten the loads of what the fishermen had to carry, if the weather “turned on them”, they could always burn the slides and use the wood as a heat source.
One story goes that upon arrival in Gambo a small group of young men from Greenspond, Bonavista Bay had hours to wait for the train.
“So to keep the fire going we broke up our slides which we had used to drag our suitcases or clothes bags on. This kept the fire going for two or three hours … I was some glad when the train finally came, and, I had never been on a train before in my life.”
With the loss of markets for seal products, the hustle and bustle that came with the preparations for outfitting the boats and signing on the crews in St. John’s is no more. The first week of March on the St. John’s waterfront is now quiet.
New Exhibit: The Rooms Provincial Museum presents: Death on the Front: The Sealing Disaster of 1914: (March 26 – November 16) in the Level 3 Museum Alcove. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the two terrible calamities in the history of the sealing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. One tremendous spring blizzard off the island claimed 251 lives between the sinking of the Southern Cross and the harrowing ordeal faced by sealers of the Newfoundland left stranded on the sea ice for two days. The exhibition features artifacts and imagery connected to these tragedies.
Panel Discussion: The Rooms Provincial Archives on March 26 @ 7:00 p.m. presents ” In the spirit of the front”: A Panel Discussion with Jenny Higgins, Larry Dohey and Morgan MacDonald The seal hunt is a story of superlatives. It’s about men who pushed themselves to the limits of human strength and endurance in one of the most unforgiving places on the planet– the North Atlantic ice fields. Join our panelists for a look back into the working life of a sealer in the early 1900s; hear stories of bravery and resilience and of The Newfoundland Sealing Disaster that continues to resonate with us a century later.
TICKETS REQUIRED. Tickets are $5 and free for Rooms Members.
Book Launch: The official launch of The Last of the Ice Hunters: An Oral History of the Newfoundland Seal Hunt edited by Shannon Ryan on Thursday, March 13, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm at the Elks Lodge (Carpasian Road, St. John’s, NL). The book will be available for purchase. The editor will speak at the beginning of the event and then sign copies. There will be light refreshments and a cash bar. For more information, please contact Flanker Press at 709-739-4477 ext. 24 (toll-free at 1-866-739-4420 ext. 24).
Book Launch: Perished: The 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster by Jenny Higgins. In March 1914, 132 men from the SS Newfoundland scrambled onto the treacherous North Atlantic ice floes to hunt seals. Lost in a sudden blizzard, the sealers wandered for two days and nights before rescue. Only 55 made it back alive. This disaster had a deep and lasting effect; one hundred years later, the story still resonates. 72 pages + pull-out maps and documents. (The official launch will be in mid – March by Boulder Publications, 198 Neary’s Pond Rd, Portugal Cove Conception Bay, NL (709) 895-6483).
Commemorative Service: The Home from The Sea Campaign is holding a commemorative service on the 100th Anniversary of this disaster and invite you to stand shoulder to shoulder their efforts to recognize those sons and fathers who perished.
Date: March 31, 2014
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: George Street United Church
130 George Street West, St John’s
If you are in the area of Elliston on March 31st, a service will be held at the United Church at 7:30 PM.
For more information: http://www.homefromthesea.ca/