whale of a story
by Kristin Harris
When Dennis Flynn enrolled in Introduction to Folklore a year
ago, he had no idea it would eventually lead to a nomination
for a national writing award.
Mr. Flynn, who currently works as the acting manager of Information
Technology at Memorial’s Faculty of Business Administration,
and a part-time candidate in the M.Ed. program in Information
Technology, wrote a term paper on sunken ships in Conception
Harbour, Conception Bay.
“I heard lots of stories about them growing up [in nearby
Colliers],” he said. “It seemed as though everyone
knew something about them.”
His interest in the remains of three sunken whaling boats
– as he later discovered, part of a cohort of five boats
from Hawke Harbour, Labrador – led him to extensive
fieldwork that resulted in a term paper, and a story that
ran in three instalments in the Conception Bay North community
paper, the Compass, in the fall of 2002. While writing the
series, titled Scratching the Surface: The Story of the Conception
Harbour Ship Wrecks and the Last Whaler, he learned more about
the history of his own community, and spoke with numerous
whalers, community members, and academics along the way.
Later, he was surprised and delighted to discover that he
was nominated for a Community Newspaper Award and was, in
fact, shortlisted to the final three.
“I’m honoured, not for me, but that there was
enough national interest in the story, and that the legacy
of these old boats was special.”
The attention from the nomination has garnered interest from
as far away as Germany, and Mr. Flynn plans to do a follow-up
piece in collaboration with a German researcher who contacted
Mr. Flynn hopes that his work will fill in some gaps in terms
of the history of whaling in Newfoundland and Labrador. While
conducting his research he hit a number of dead ends, and
so hopes that his writings will provide some continuity.
“I want to give something back,” he said. “People
have amazing stories, but everyday stories are often overlooked.
I wanted to be not just a consumer of stories, but a producer
of them as well.”
While he hasn’t yet learned of the final decision of
the awarding committee, he chooses to focus on the success
of the research. He so enjoyed his experience with his first
folklore course, that he is currently taking another, this
time focusing his research on the sheep industry in Newfoundland
He feels that these courses, “help you to think laterally,
look at different connections. Taking a variety of courses
forces you to modify your mindset, which is really helpful
for writing. You see connections and look below the surface.
It’s also an amazing amount of fun.”