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Seals and Sealers

book cover


Let us take the road from Newtown through Pound Cove and Templeman, Wesleyville and Brookfield, Badger's Quay and Valleyfield, Pool's Island and on to Greenspond. As we follow the sinuosities of the shoreline, the sea appears now on the right, now on the left, while our road crosses tickles and inlets, skirts the coves, and links the coastal fringe of low-lying islands with the rocky main. Nowhere else in Newfoundland are the twin elements of rock and sea more intricately compounded to make a landscape.

On a bright summer day, the blue sea, the pink granite, and the tiny patches of incredibly green garden and lawn occupying the hollows between rocky outcrops make a crazy quilt of startling beauty. In winter, when Labrador current and northeast wind press northern ice upon the shore, only the line of ballicater marks the place where land ends and the world of Arctic floes commences.

Here, in the heart of Bonavista North, Cater Andrews was born and raised. Bred in his very bone and marrow was a love of this land and a pride in the strength and courage of the people who had built upon the rock and who had learned to draw their livelihood from the resources that the sea and the running ice brought to them.

In such an environment no one could be untouched by the living epic of the great annual seal fishery. The common stock of song and story told of heroic deeds, of acts of derring-do, of high adventure, of inspired leadership, of courage in the face of terrible dangers, of battles for survival against fearful odds; and, on the harder side, of callous exploitation, of elemental force of destruction, of tragedy, of death. Nor were the characters in those tales remote story-book figures. The great sealing skippers, the Keans, the Barbours, the Winsors, the Hills, and others whose names were familiar household words throughout Newfoundland, were, in Wesleyville, living, breathing, everyday members of the community. And so too were their crews: the men who sailed the ships and braved the sea and the ice, the men who were the stuff of which legends were made. Who could resist the fascination of this world in which strong men and splendid ships pitted their strength and their courage against the forces of sea and ice? What youth would not aspire to have his manhood proved in such an arena?

Even when Cater Andrews had become a quiet and scholarly academic, presiding over the biology department of Memorial University of Newfoundland, he retained his fascination for this world in which he had been nurtured. Throughout his life he maintained his contacts with his home and his people. And he kept a dream: that one day he would see published a definitive work that would tell the world the real story of the seals and the sealers.

To this end he laboured incessantly, taking every spare minute from his official duties that his health and strength would allow to collect and compile the voluminous materials upon which his books would be based. His conception was broad, his collections all encompassing. No aspect of the subject would be untouched, no facet unexplored. From the natural history of the seals and the physical and ecological environments in which they lived, through the history of their exploitation and its impact on the social and economic development of Newfoundland, to the lore of ships and men that formed the ethos of a community, he would preserve once and for all the record of this remarkable Newfoundland phenomenon.

Regrettably, his health failed and he died before his great task could be completed. His surviving spouse, Martha Iona Hill Andrews, herself the daughter of one of the great sealing captains, recognizing the worth of the remarkable archive that her husband had assembled, and desiring to see his work continue, donated the collection to the University and to the care of the literary executors of the estate. The executors, for their part, undertook to have the collection properly housed, protected, indexed and catalogued, and to make it accessible to worthy scholars committed to the realization of the vision that had brought it into being.

As the work of cataloguing has progressed it has become apparent that within the collection there is a remarkable aggregation of photographs depicting virtually every phase and aspect of the seal fishery. Inasmuch as these represent a fascinating pictorial record of great historical and social significance, the executors have determined that a selection of them should be published at the earliest possible time.

This volume is the result, and we commend it to all those desirous of closer acquaintance with one of the dominant themes of Newfoundland's traditional culture as portrayed through some remarkable examples of the photographer's art.

Leslie Harris
for The Literary Executors
The Cater Andrews Collection