When we use the word “store” today, thoughts of shopping malls come to mind. But the Newfoundland fisherman’s store was as far removed from a shopping mall as it could possibly get.
The store was one of the fisherman’s outbuildings from where the fisherman and his family prosecuted the fishery. The fisherman’s store was exactly what it’s name suggests, a building in which things were stored. Among the items you could see in a fisherman’s store years ago were fishing nets, traps, lines and hooks. In some stores these were kept in the attic, which was known as the net loft. You could also see potato prongs, pitchforks and other gardening tools. Each family grew their own vegetables. In every store there were carpenters’ tools, because the early fishermen had to be carpenters, and often boat builders as well.
Other things you might find in a fisherman’s store in winter, which make it similar to a modern market was that food was available there. Among the food kept out in the store was pickled herring in a barrel or tub. Another of the fish items kept out in store were known as “leggies” or “rounders.” These were small cod that were too small to be split, salted and dried, and had no commercial value, so they were salted and dried round for the family’s consumption over the winter.
The old store was also a meat market for some families, where whole carcasses of sheep, goat and pig, and maybe a quarter of cow, were hanging frozen in the sub-zero temperature in the store. A chunk was sawed off as needed.
The store was often also the fishermen’s workshop. Over the winter he might build a punt (rowboat) or make or repair furniture.
Some fishermen’s stores were dedicated to entertainment in the off-season. There men had a few swalleys, and stories and jokes were told and retold. Sometimes the stories were a competition of who could tell the biggest lie.
I am happy to report that the fishermen’s stores can still be seen in Newfoundland outports, and they still serve some of the same functions. One of these belongs to Perry Rideout of Durrell’s Arm, Twillingate. Perry has been a commercial fisherman since he was nine years old.
Perry is a big man. His hand makes two of mine. As a boy, he was also big for his age. That was how he was able to convince Ben Legge, one of the local fishermen, that he was 13 and not nine when he took Perry fishing. He made $50 that summer, which was considerable pocket change for a nine-year-old at the time. Ben later found out Perry’s true age, but took him on as crew for the next four summers anyway.
When he was 15 Perry got to do what many fishermen from the island of Newfoundland did for many years – fish on the Labrador coast. He managed to get taken on as a shareman with Bruce Hiscock of Port Hope Simpson, who operated a 36-foot trap skiff out of Francis Harbour.
Perry spent a number of summers fishing on the Labrador, then he began fishing from Twillingate on long-liners, as well as inshore fishing in a speedboat, mainly for crab in the later years.
For the last 14 years. Perry and his mother, Elizabeth, have fished together in their 22-foot speedboat. For the last seven years he has also worked for Notre Dame Seafoods, the local shrimp processing plant.
In this fisherman’s store, which is across the road from Perry’s house, there are similarities and differences. There are no frozen carcasses hanging from the rafters, but in the winter you may find dried cod there. Like the fishermen of bygone days, Perry is multi-talented. His store has all the usual carpenter’s tools, some of which he uses to do wood carvings. He, not only, can do anything with wood, but his store also has welding equipment, and he can do anything with metal as well. One of his recent metal works was the rudder and tiller for his 28-foot skiff on which he is putting a forecastle and wheelhouse. The stove for the forecastle will be made by Perry in his store.
I went out jigging fish twice with Perry in his friend’s cabin cruiser while I was in Twillingate for the Fish, Fun and Folk Festival. On the second trip we were accompanied by Perry’s Uncle Gary Rideout and Danny Pavia, a friend of mine from Florida. On both trips Perry took us right to Hatchet Ground, where the fish were so plentiful that we had our quota of 15 fish in short order. Next year I hope to go fishing with Perry in his skiff.
Like some of the stores of bygone days, Perry’s store is a party room. On most weekends during the winter, and more often in the summer men gather to have a few swalleys, tell and retell stories, and sometimes tell the odd lie.
There is one difference in the modern day fisherman’s store – it is not men only any longer. Women now sometimes join the men out in the store. The night I was there, along with my friends, Archie and Shirley; Perry and his missus, Donna; Dennis Burton and his wife Linda; and my wife, Lila were also there. Also there were Arthur Adey, Jason Elliott and Brian Bulgin. Jason was back home from Alberta on holidays. Dennis and Arthur also worked out west but were lucky enough this year to get a job paving the Trans-Labrador Highway. They work 28 days straight, then get 10 days off. Brian is an ambulance driver who was on call that night and couldn’t imbibe.
The party was still going when I left at 3:30 a.m. to walk back to Archie and Shirley’s house, where we were staying. I probably should have gone home earlier with Shirley, Lila and Archie, but it’s hard to leave when you’re having fun out in Perry’s store.