March 17 (Tradition)
One of the earliest and best accounts of daily life at the Labrador fishery can be found in Nicholas Smith’s book ‘Fifty-two Years at the Labrador Fishery’. In his book he makes reference to a Newfoundland, St. Patrick’s Day tradition, that is no more.
“The ice was very heavy and in large sheets; consequently slow progress was made for the first few days, but on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day, Captain William … called everybody at daylight to get out to their ‘Patrick’s Pot’ as we were among the seals, and plenty of them.”
In Newfoundland and Labrador a ‘Patrick’s Pot’ suggests a ‘windfall’ in terms of sealing jargon it referred to a seal herd spotted on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17). When spotted especially on St. Patrick’s Day there would be much excitement.
St. Patrick’s Day would have been early in the ‘sealing season’ and a good omen. The herd would represent a portion of the sealers salary for the year.
Patrick’s Pot or Paddy’s Pot had another meaning for children, when visiting relatives on St. Patrick’s Day silver coins were traditionally given to children, the coins given were referred to as Paddy’s Pot. In the Folk and Language Archive at Memorial University is found reference to this tradition in interviews that were conducted with informants. One gentleman reported when giving a coin to a child the person typically said: “and here’s a Paddy’s Pot for ye, me little colleens.’
Wishing you the very best on St. Patrick’s Day. May you find your pot?
Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives read the journal of Dr. William Waddell (MG 1006.1). The journal documents a typical sealing voyage including a description of the vessel and role of the crew.
Recommended Reading: Fifty-two Years at the Labrador Fishery (London: Arthur H. Stockwell, 1936.