Two aspects of the fishing industry that are not well-known — though rumours and gossip abound — are the seal hunt, which still continues, and the relationship of the Portuguese fishing fleet with Newfoundland.
While the seal hunt is still active and contributes a good part of their yearly income to the men involved, the Portuguese “white fleet” (so called because all vessels were painted white to mark their neutrality during the Second World War) is long gone, but still fondly remembered in St. John’s.
Seldom has a relationship between two different cultures been so successful.
The books in question are The White Fleet by J. P. Andrieux, and Captain Kean’s Secret by T. C. Badcock. Both are published by Flanker Press; the former costs $24, while the latter retails at $19.95.
The White Fleet is largely a collection of photographs, mainly from Andrieux’ large collection. They range from pictures of individual ships through to glimpses of storms to shots of fishermen grouped together during their free time or fishing alone in their long pointed dories.
Among these is a procession of fishermen taking a statuette of Our Lady of Fatima, their patroness, to present to the Cathedral in St. John’s, “as a testimonial of the deep gratitude and affection for the friendly welcome always shown in the capital city whenever the White Fleet made port calls.”
These ships were quite distinctive in appearance with their four tall masts and pointed triangular sails.
They ceased coming to Newfoundland, having been rendered obsolete by draggers and gillnetters.
It’s well worth a look.
Captain Kean’s Secret is a fine source of information about the seal hunt a hundred years ago, but we cannot discern any secret in it.
However, it contains two other stories: that of the Lewis family, who led the way in securing better conditions for sealers and their families, and the tragic love-story of Joe Kean, Captain Kean’s elder son, and Jessie Lewis, who was only 12 when it began, but easily passed for 17 or 18.
Badcock is a good enough historian, but no great writer.
His book makes extensive use of Jessie’s notes about the sealers and their families and her letters. Some other family notes have been used as well.
It’s interesting and, at times, heart-rending.
Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at Her new address is: 95 Orange Street, Apt. 101, Saint John N.B., E2L 1M5, or call her at 506-693-5498.