Nfld. & Labrador

Elliston museum educates visitors about seal hunt

The Sealers Memorial and Interpretation Centre in Elliston has seen more than 5000 visitors this year. Staff there say many leave with a whole new appreciation of the seal fishery.

Sealers museum is changing minds one at a time

Marilyn Coles-Hayley, Executive Director of the Home from The Sea Sealers Memorial in Elliston said they're educating one person at a time about the seal hunt. (Jane Adey/CBC)

The Home from The Sea Sealers Memorial and Interpretation Centre in Elliston is changing attitudes toward the seal hunt, one visitor at a time, according to Executive Director, Marilyn Coles-Hayley.

"We've got Kleenex you know in our different areas. That's because people do become emotional,"  Coles-Hayley told CBC Radio's The Broadcast. 

The museum is a tribute to the hundreds of men who lost their lives in two separate disasters during a 1914 storm. (Jane Adey/CBC)

The museum is a tribute to the hundreds of men who lost their lives in two separate disasters in 1914. The crew of the SS Newfoundland froze to death during a March blizzard. The SS Southern Cross sank in that same storm. In all, 251 sealers died.    

The museum has biographies, family stories, and outside there is a sculpture of a father and son, who perished in a frozen embrace on the ice.

Exhibit stirs up strong emotions in visitors

Along with the many sealing artifacts which include tools that were used by sealers, the 'immersive area' of the museum features actual footage that was taken during the seal hunt.  Coles-Hayley said that has a profound effect on visitors. 

"You can see the sealers out on the moving ice floes, you can see the danger that was there and I think this of all that we have, this has the greatest impact to our visitors," Coles-Hayley said. ​ 

A gallery of oil paintings by George Noseworthy also lines the walls. Noseworthy went to the seal hunt to capture the sealers on the ice. 

A collection of oil paintings by George Noseworthy line the walls of the museum to capture the story of sealers. (Jane Adey/CBC)

"So he actually captured the life of a sealer through his paintings...and the emotional impact when you look as these you know is very, very strong," she said.

While some who visit the museum have a connection to the hunt, many do not.

Coles-Hayley remembers a couple from Switzerland who had heard only what she called "propaganda" about the seal hunt prior to their visit but left with a very different view.

"They said coming here and experiencing the centre...experiencing the sealer, they said, totally changed their perspective and they're going away, like I said, with a total new perspective." said Coles-Hayley

So far this year, 5,000 people have visited the Interpretation Centre.

With files from Jane Adey

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