Boat-building workshop helps keep traditions afloat

It's a hands-on lesson in how to build boats that were once common in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dories will be used in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's annual regatta

Boat builder Jerome Canning demonstrates his technique at workshops in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Portugal Cove-St. Philips is keeping tradition afloat with a workshop that will turn out boats for its annual regatta.

The town is collaborating with the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador to construct new dories to replace boats that are aging.

While rowers are looking forward to that, Dawn Sharpe, director of recreation and community services, said keeping in touch with the province's deep heritage in fisheries and boats is a big part of the workshop.

"It's nice for the kids and for teens that have never ever known what their grandparents — or what their great-grandparents — have done, to get the chance to do so," Sharpe said.

We're becoming an urban population, and we don't live down by the shore.- Jim Dempsey

The workshop's lead instructor Jerome Canning has been crafting vessels for years and said he gets great satisfaction from teaching others.

It keeps "that connection to our heritage" alive, he said. "We're sea people. It's our history."

In the past, the dory was used along the Grand Banks for cod fishing, although nowadays, the flat-bottom vessel is mostly used for recreational activities like rowing, said Jim Dempsey, president of the Wooden Boat Museum.

Jim Dempsey is with the Wooden Boat Museum in Winterton. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

But continuing to build traditional designs helps remind people of where they come from, said Dempsey.

"More and more, we're becoming an urban population, and we don't live down by the shore. So, this type of boat is a really focused way to retain that feeling of heritage."

Dempsey also said being able to look at the finished boat and know that you had a part in making it is a special feeling.

"It's beautiful, it's traditional, it's emotional," he said.

Regatta really needs new boats

The week-long workshop, which began on Monday, will see three brand new 13-foot dories added to the fleet for the rowing festival. 

Sharpe said some of the existing boats could have been made over 20 years ago when St. Philip's resident Max Bursey first started crafting boats for the town.

"Over the years, the boats have been taking a beating, and it was time for us to look at replacing them," she said.

Dawn Sharpe is director of recreation in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

She hopes that teaching younger generations traditional boat-building techniques and designs will help out the town "years down the road with replacing these boats again."

A week before the regatta, which will take place on June 30, those in the area will have the chance to go down to the wharf for a dory-rowing tutorial.

Sharpe said she hopes those who take part in building the dories will return to try their hand at rowing them.

With files from Peter Cowan