Flipper Pie on Good Friday

During the period of Lent many Catholic Newfoundlanders will fast or abstain from meat - Ash Wednesday and Good Friday being the key days for fasting or abstinence, though some will practice for the duration of Lent, and others even practice this tradition every Friday. For many Catholics the alternative to meat is fish (ideally cod), with the popular dishes of the island being fish and brewis, pan-fried fish, or fish and chips.

It always comes as a shock to folks when I share that while abstaining from meat during Lent, seal is a popular alternative in Newfoundland - namely in the form of seal flipper pie. Seal may very well be a darker and gamier meat, but it is traditionally regarded as “fish” for consumption on Fridays or fasting days. This works out well considering the seal hunt typically begins during the period of Lent and lead to greater usage of the meat. Many people also considered turrs (water fowl) to be “fish” if seal was not an option. Funny enough, turrs have a very dark and gamey ocean taste not too unlike seal!

In the mid-1500s, Olaus Magnus was the Archbishop of Uppsala in Sweden (as well as an accomplished Catholic scholar and Nordic patriot). He wrote that the meat from seal was to be considered as fish and consumed on Good Friday. Though this may not have directly affected Catholics in other countries at the time, the tradition certainly spread, as Newfoundlanders have traditionally consumed the rich and delicious meat on this holiday.

Happy Easter weekend!

Fishermen’s Protective Union Row Houses (Port Union, Newfoundland)

Seal Furs and Skins: Then and Now

These fresh furs were spotted on the Bonavista Peninsula in the early spring of 2013. They were being temporarily preserved in saltwater while waiting to be further processed. The furs will likely be transformed into fur boots or mittens and sold in a local craft shop to both tourists and residents.

Seal furs and skins have had many traditional uses in Newfoundland, particularly the farther you go north where they were once vital for winter protection. People wore sealskin boots and mittens for travel by foot, or while hunting and hauling wood, often on dogsled. The making of sealskin boots, a style where the skin is seasoned after the fur is removed, and then processed into a durable, ornate footwear, are considered an endangered traditional practice on the Great Northern Peninsula (GNP). The origins of this handicraft is thought to be an adaptation by early settlers of skills learned from aboriginal groups along the Straits of Belle Isle in Labrador. From there, sewing and pleating techniques were handed down from mother to daughter for many generations. Some (but relatively few) GNP women still continue the practice but the boots are rarely worn—nowadays it is more common to see sealskin boots on display in a museum, preserved as heirlooms in a box, or hanging as decorations in a home.

Nonetheless, seal-craft traditions continue in Newfoundland, having conformed to modern tastes and needs. In St. John’s, for example, we have begun to see seal fur boots as urban winter wear. They still make use of local resources, but employ contemporary designs, styles, uses, and even outsource some of the manufacturing (Nunavut, Northern Quebec, and Greenland assist with production).

Contributed by L. Wilson

Fishing Language in Newfoundland

Though winter is still in full force around most of the island, fishing season is coming up and it felt like a good time to come back to some Newfoundland English, with a special focus on fishing. While I grew up hearing these expressions on a regular basis, it was only after confusing a fair share of mainlanders that I looked into their early usage on the island.

Barachois (pronounced locally as bar-a-sway, rather than the French bara-shwah) refers to a sand bar, or, a protective little pond for boats that connects to the ocean. With first documented usage in the mid-1700s, there are obvious links to early French settlers, namely in the areas of St. Pierre, Fortune Bay, and the St. George’s Bay area.

Flake (or fish flake) is a stage built of wood, typically held up by wooden poles, meant for drying fish. Documented usage in the early 1500s.

Gansey is a knit sweater with a popularity amongst fishermen and sailors.

Lop (or loppy) is a popular word used to describe rough, choppy water due typically to high winds. As in, “there’s some lop on the water today!” or “It’ll be loppier once the winds pick up.” Documents suggest usage around the 1890s or early 1900s. Apparently a similar expression, when talking about an icy surface, is knobbly.

Mug up (also known as boil up) is used to describe a snack consisting of tea and bread, though sometimes meant as something more substantial like beans or freshly caught fish. Generally cooked on an open fire, though any casual cup of tea can be referred to as a mug up, as well. See photo #1: a boil up on the shore (or, shore lunch) during a fishing trip in Whitbourne.

Throat (to throat, throating) is the act of slitting a fish up the belly to its gills. A throater was responsible solely for throating the fish, typically on shore and alongside a header and gutter. Calling this action throating has been documented as early as the 1300s.

Contributed by Justin Oakey (with photos by Amanda Row)

Black bear hunting on the Burin Peninsula

With drier days around the corner, at least in theory, I felt compelled to share some photos from my last bear hunting trip with dad, on the Burin Peninsula. Our week was beautiful and unseasonably sunny, though still quite chilly, with exceptionally high winds. Typically we spot and stalk with a bow (never using a tree stand), but the extreme winds made that nearly impossible this time around. Though we glass from the ridge, we still prefer to spot and stalk instead of shooting from afar.

Contributed by Justin Oakey (more photos available @justinoakey)

Root Cellars

A root cellar is an underground or partially underground structure that is used to preserve vegetables and protect them from frost through the winter. Generally, they are constructed by digging a hole in the earth and reinforcing with wood, rock, cement, and/or other material before covering with sod, leaving a small door for access.

The cellar interior is divided into compartments called pounds, used to store different varieties of vegetables. Potatoes and turnips are stored in pounds directly on the ground, on raised wood, or in bins, while carrots and parsnips are stored in sand or sawdust to keep firm and moist. Cabbage, when stored in the cellar, is most often hung from above. Filled at harvest in the fall the cellar would be accessed every week or two, often a chore assigned to children, to bring in vegetables to the house as needed.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, root cellars were commonly used until the 1970s when electric refrigeration became more widely available. Today, hundreds – if not thousands – of root cellars can still be found throughout the island. While many are varying states of collapse and decay, others have been maintained and used continuously for multiple generations, and a growing number are being restored or built anew.

Contributed by Crystal Braye (with photos by L. Wilson)

The Narrow Homes of Downtown St. John’s

Vernacular architecture is the practice of using localized styles, materials, and methods when building a structure. The vernacular architecture of Newfoundland can be noted in various building types—stages, stores, sheds, fish plants, schoolhouses, saltbox houses, and row houses—with design variance according to such factors as landscape, available materials, local tradition, and decisions made by the builder.

In St. John’s, the row houses located downtown represent a unique building type that is very uncommon outside of the city centre. Dimensions and design features are unpredictable from one building to the next, as they were built piecemeal, adapting to both the older layers of the built landscape, and the contours of the natural landscape. While the narrow house is a building style absent from modern development practices, it is not uncommon as a residence type for the contemporary townie.

Contributed by Lisa Wilson

Saint Patrick’s Day

Newfoundland and Labrador celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day as a public holiday, and are the only people in Canada to do so. Furthermore, Newfoundland and the island of Montserrat (where the Irish were once enslaved) are the only places outside of Ireland and Northern Ireland to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day as a public holiday.

The drinking and partying typically associated with the holiday comes from suspending fasting and abstinence during Lent for Saint Patrick’s feast. So, however you celebrate - celebrate!

Beannachtaí Lá Fhéile Pádraig!

Ferryland Head (September 1969), Kodacolor print, made by Kodak.

Original prints owned by Lisa Wilson

Root Cellar Capital of the World

As is common in Newfoundland, the fishing community of Elliston is made up of several other settlements, including North and South Bird Islands, North Side, Noder Cover, Porter’s Point, The Neck, and Maberly. It was originally called Bird Island Cove, before being changed to honour the first permanent Methodist missionary in Newfoundland, William Ellis.

Due to the abundance of root cellars, it has been called the “Root Cellar Capital of the World”.

Photos by David Barclay