The History and heritage of every native Newfoundlander and Labradorian is wrapped around the simple, humble wooden boat. Today these boats, certainly in their role as the workhorses of the province’s fishery, are fading as fast as the weathered paint on an aging punt. And fading, too, are the boat building skills once so common in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador aims to preserve the wooden boats and boatbuilding skills of our past and find a place for these traditions in today’s world. Through the work of our staff, volunteers, and enthusiastic members we are celebrating and preserving our wooden boat history, and sharing the lessons of yesterday to make them relevant for today.

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Newfoundland’s Fishery and Maritime History

The cod fishery has played a significant role in the economic, social and political history of Newfoundland and Labrador. The discovery of large quantities of cod, off Newfoundland’s coast, by John Cabot in 1497 led to the beginning of Newfoundland’s early migratory fishery. During the eighteenth century increased settlement led to a permanent resident fishery. The livelihood of Newfoundlander’s for the next 400 years depended on the cod fishery. By the late 1980’s the cod fishery was on the brink of an eventual collapse. Eventually this led to Newfoundland’s cod moratorium, which was put into place in 1992.

Fishermen employed various methods in order to prosecute the cod fishery. Methods included using hand lines, trawl lines and the cod trap. During the early years of the fishery hand lines and Trawl lines were the primary methods used to catch cod. During the late 1900’s the cod trap was introduced and revolutionized Newfoundland’s cod fishery.

Cod was typically dried on a flake and salted to preserve the fish. Fishermen rarely tended to the cod flake themselves. Rather the fishery was more of a family affair with women and children pitching in to help knit nets, bait hooks, and dry cod. Many children, from an early age, were taught to knit nets and tend to the cod flake. When old enough, young men would help their father’s fish and someday, become fishermen themselves.

While visiting the museum learn about the fishery and the methods used to catch fish.Take a trip back in time and learn how to knit a net and gain a better understanding about the people who prosectued the fishey and the tasks they endured on a daily basis.

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Traditional Boats and Design

Boats have played an integral part in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. The very first settlers to Newfoundland built wooden boats and etched a future in a land far from their home. Since then many boat types have been developed and have been used in the Newfoundland’s waters. These boats types vary by region and are influenced by past building methods, environment, and local building techniques.
Almost every boat was used for more than just to catch fish. Often boats were used to travel to church, school or to pick up groceries and supplies. In the winter many families employed their boat to catch seabirds and seals. The boat was one of the most important items a family could own, it was more than just a boat it was a lifeline.
With the invention of the make-and-break engine came a transformation of how fishermen utilized their boats. The engine also meant that men were no longer restrained to building a boat that could be manoeuvred by oar and wind. This led to changes in the shape of the size of the boat and overall design of the hull.

Building a boat took a lot of knowledge, skill and patience. Most of a boat builder`s designs were held in his head, written plans were rarely ever used. They designed their boats using numerous techniques. These techniques were used to shape the three main frames of the boat. Other building methods included the use of full moulds, half hull models, and the three piece mould.

At the Museum learn about the many wooden boat types found throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. While here take a step back and try your hand at using a replica three piece mould.

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Boat Building Room

The boat building process takes many complex steps to complete. The first step in the process was for the boat builder to go in the woods and harvest his timber. It took a skillfull eye to spot the right crook or turn in a tree trunk that would be suitable for a knee or a stem.
Types of timber used depended on the type of boat being built and the builder’s preference. Typically boat builders of Newfoundland used black spruce, white spruce, juniper (also known as tamarack or larch), fir, birch, and occasionally pine.
Once harvested the boat builder would lay the keel of his boat. Once the keel was laid he would attach the stem and stern. Next the main frames (the fore hook, mid-ship bend and aft hook) were attached. The boat builder would then attach battens from stem to stern; this would show the shape of the boat. The builder then puts in the rest of the timbers by using the shape determined by the battens. Once this is complete the builder would plank the boat, and caulk the seams with oakum. Finally the finished boat is painted and launched.

The boat builder used many tools to build a boat. These tools included pit saws, hammers, compasses, plum bobs, spoke shaves, drawing knives, planes, clamps, augers and caulking irons. These tools were some of the most important tools a man could own they not only helped acomplish tasks around the home but were also a way to build a livlihood

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Community Museum Exhibit

The community of Winterton was settled in the year 1675. Like many small communities in Newfoundland, the people of Winterton were invloved in various means to make a living. This included not only the fishery but through farming, raising animals and coopering.

Farming consisted of a family garden with potatoes, carrots, onions, and turnip. People who farmed often also raised animals. In small communities it was customary to allow animals to roam free and graze. Hence fences were erected around gardens to keep animals out.
Cooperage was also very important in the town. Barrels were used for storage of fruit, vegetables, flour, and cod liver oil. In order to make extra money some people from the community would cut pieces of juniper to make and sell hoops for barrels.
Merchant shops could be found throughout the town. People from the community would acquire various goods, such as food, baking supplies, fishing supplies and sometimes clothing from the merchant. Fishermen in the past would often be in debt to the town merchant for most of the year. Upon selling a load of cod they would acquire enough monies to pay the merchant.

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Pre-Confederation Life

Newfoundland did not become a province of Canada until 1949. Previous to that, it had been a separate part of the British Empire. For three centuries, after its discovery in 1497, Newfoundland was populated seasonally by migratory fishermen. Through much of the nineteenth century it acted as a colony. During the early twentieth century it became a dominion of the British Empire. When other British American colonies became the Dominion of Canada in 1867, the colony of Newfoundland chose not to participate. It took nearly a decade before, in 1949, Newfoundland joined confederation and became a part of Canada. Many older Newfoundlanders describe the days before confederation as the Golden Age.
Days before confederation was very different then modern Newfoundland. Everything from foodstuff, furniture, and jobs were different. People typically made a living through fishing, farming, or mining. Some people took to opening general stores which provided the community with goods and basic necessities such as flour, sugar, and cloth.

People primarily built their own or bought furniture from someone in their community. Furniture in outport Newfoundland was typically made of local pieces of wood or recycled crates. The pieces were typically utilitarian and painted over for aesthetic appeal. Everything from the kitchen dresser to the day bed was built by local craftsmen.
Most families relied on fishing, hunting, farming and raising animals for food. Meals needed to be planned in advance, and were typically determined by the season. During the summer berries were abundant, families took advantage of this and typically made jams and preserves to provide their family with access to fruit during the Winter. Throughout the winter diet staples included dried salt fish, vegetables( which would have been stored for the winter months) and occasionally a family would kill a chicken, pig, or cow for meat.

At the Museum we have an exhibit which features an area which is represents an old outport kitchen, bedroom and merchants parlour.

As with many small communities, Winterton had its own forms of entertainment, schools, community organizations and folktales. The town had three schools in the community. These schools were determined by religion. They included the Anglican Church school, Salvation Army school, and united church school. The united church school is now home to the Wooden Boat Museum.

Many children and adults kept themselves entertained through playing games, listening to the radio, playing instruments, and skating during the winter months. Folktales are bountiful and one such tale, about pirate gold in the sugarloaf, is retold at the Museum.