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Students unplug in Bonavista Bay outport

The community of Keels, Bonavista Bay


By Janet Harron

Having noticed a connection between a decrease in skillful interviewing techniques required for ethnographic field work and a surge in the use of social media, Dr. Jerry Pocius is fighting back — albeit in a low-tech way.

"We're losing the art of conversation," said the faculty member in Memorial's Department of Folklore. "Increasingly, as people are glued to social media, they don't have to talk to each other anymore. I saw this reflected in the level of field work our folklore students were doing."

In a pilot project beginning this September, Dr. Pocius will bring seven students to Keels on the Bonavista Peninsula for a crash course in ethnographic documentation methods. Except for brief visits to the school at nearby King's Cove, the students will be completely offline with no Internet connection for the duration of the three-week course.

"We're bringing them out to a small community where they are forced to meet strangers and talk to them for three weeks," said Dr. Pocius, who explained that experience in ethnographic documentation is required of all incoming graduate students.

"It's an experiment. If it works out OK, we'll do it every year," he said.

Timed to coincide with this year's 20th anniversary of the cod moratorium, the field school will examine how outmigration and gentrification have affected the traditional cultural landscape of the Bonavista region and will also focus on the last two inshore fishing families in the community of Keels.

In its heyday, Keels had 400 residents year round. Today, that population sits at around 50 with many of the remaining houses purchased by mainlanders for summer homes.

The students will document the everyday lives of the two Ducey families — John and his mother Nora, and John's uncle Phonse and his wife, Marg — examining their homes, work buildings, boats and shoreline work area. In addition, the students will determine how fishing has influenced community spaces over generations and how this landscape is now coping with very different values and pressures.

The community will be actively involved in the field school. The local Catholic Women's Association will host a cold plate supper the first night and the students will present their findings at an event on Saturday, Sept. 29, culminating in a community meal of local cod caught during the food fishery (Sept. 22-30). The home base for the course where all classes will be held is the old Roman Catholic school in Keels.