Downhome Magazine

My Father, Martin Seward

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In Newfoundland and Labrador, fish means codfish. All other fish are known by its proper name; cod is known by one word, "fish." It was common to hear someone say I caught a tub of mackerel, five halibut and two quintals of fish.

Cod was split, which was the removal of the sound bone (spine). Most fisherpersons can split fish, but a few were exceptional; my father, Martin Seward, was one of those few.

Many stories have been told of Dad's speed at removing the sound bone. One such story is a member of his fishing crew counting fourteen sound bones in the water before the first one reached the bottom.

The following was related to me many years after Dad died, and over forty-plus years after he retired from fishing.

In the early 1990s, while crossing Newfoundland on a business trip, I stopped for a few days to visit relatives and friends in the Southwest Arm. One of the visits was to Ulysses Lambert, a friend and crew member of Dad's. his wife Lillian introduced me to her son, who appeared to be in his early twenties. He looked at me and said, "Are you a relative of Martin Seward's?" I told him I was Martin's son; he said, "I bet you can't split fish like your father?" I replied, "I cannot split fish period." I asked him how he knew about Dad's fish splitting since he wasn't born when Dad retired from fishing. His answer, "Wherever I travelled, and the subject of fishing came up, Martin Seward's name was always mentioned for his speed at splitting fish."

Another story comes from Skipper Allan Tucker from St. Jones Within, who was a very successful schooner captain in the Labrador fishing seasons. He was the original owner of the schooner, Norma and Gladys. Marie and I had the pleasure of spending about two hours with Allan in 1992. We were on a trip across Newfoundland that I will not soon forget. We stopped at Clarenville to visit my cousins, Robert and Will Balsom and their families. While we were there, their sister, Janet Balsom and her husband Oliver Tucker arrived. Oliver is the son of Allan Tucker. I inquired about his father and was told that his father was in good health. Oliver and Janet were living with Allan at the time and invited us to follow them home to St. Jones Within.

We pulled into the driveway behind them and with Janet leading the way we entered Allan's home. Janet introduced me to him, saying, "Do you remember this, man?" He shook his head and said no. It had been over forty years since we had seen each other. I said, "You do not know me, but you might remember my father, Martin Seward," he turned to me and said, "My God, could he ever haul the bones out of a fish." Janet made us an afternoon lunch, after which Allan asked me to come into the front room (living room). "I have a story to tell you." He informed me of the many schooners he owned or sailed. On one wall was a picture of each, and in the middle was a portrait of his late wife, Violet. He then related the following series of events that occurred during the summer of 1945. I paraphrase.

I was looking for a splitter to join us on our first voyage to Labrador in the new Schooner Norma and Gladys. I heard about your father's skill as a fish splitter, and I went to Southport and asked him to join our crew, he accepted. After launching the Norma and Gladys, we left for St. John's to pick up supplies and sailed for Labrador. On arrival, we set out our traps, but the fish were scarce.

On Friday, I went to the local village. While there, I learned of a church supper to be held the next afternoon at 5 pm. When I returned, I told the crew that if we had the next day's catch of fish cleaned up, we would go ashore for a well deserved home-cooked meal.

The next day, Saturday, we went to haul our traps and found them loaded with fish. On our return and after a quick mug-up, we forked the fish up on the deck and started the cleanup. Looking at the vast amount of fish we had to clean, split, and salt, I decided we could not make it to the dinner. Before I told the crew, I went to Martin and told him we would not be going to dinner. Martin asked. "Why?" I said, "We have too much fish to split." He said, "Skipper, you put them on the table, and I will split them." Skipper Allan turned to me, and with a smile, said, "We made the supper."

When Marie and I were ready to leave, I asked him if Marie could take a picture of him and me together. At first, he hesitated, I told him I would like to have it to show my children and grandchildren. He gave his ok. We left shortly after. That was the last time I saw him. Meeting Skipper Allan Tucker is a memory I will never forget. The picture of us hangs in my office.

Some years later, I had a conversation with Allan's son, Oliver, who told me he heard his father say, "Martin was fast at splitting fish but more important, he was clean." He meant Dad left very little flesh on the bone.

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