Naming sealers' centre after John Crosbie sparks petition

A woman from Bonavista has started a petition to protest the soon-to-be opened sealers' interpretation centre in Elliston that's being named after John Crosbie.

Co-chair says memorial would never have happened without former LG's efforts

John Crosbie, seen wearing a sealskin bowtie and vest during a 2012 speech, has spearheaded the sealers' memorial in Elliston. (CBC)

A woman from Bonavista has started a petition to protest the soon-to-be opened sealers' interpretation centre in Elliston that's being named after John Crosbie.

Madeline Currie said she found out from the local newspaper that the facility at the Home From the Sea memorial will be called the John C. Crosbie Sealers Interpretation Centre, after the former Lieutenant Governor and the the official patron of the project.

"Well, that made my blood boil," she said.

"After that [sealing] disaster in 1914, with eight men from Elliston that perished, ranging from 16 to 52 years of age, and six from Little Catalina, ranging from 18 to 56 years old. So I really didn't think it was appropriate for them to call it after John Crosbie, a politician and a lawyer, who had nothing to do with sealing, on my part, as far as I'm concerned."

Currie said she understands that Crosbie helped the town secure money for the centre, but the name still doesn't sit right with her.

"For example, a father and son that was frozen together, they found them frozen together. They were from Elliston. Now why not name it after them? To me, that would be more appropriate than John Crosbie," she said.

"When you're driving by and you see the John Crosbie Interpretation Centre, I don't know if that's going to remind people of how hard the sealers worked and how they all died."

Currie recently attended a memorial for the sealing disaster at the church in Little Catalina, and she discovered that she has a personal connection to the tragedy.

"One of the men that perished on the ice that day in 1914 was my grandfather's younger brother. He was 18 years old," she said, noting that his picture was hung up in the church.

Online petition launched

Currie has since started a petition against the naming.

The sculpture for the Newfoundland sealing disaster will be based on this model of Albert and Reuben Crewe, father and son, who were found like this, frozen to the ice. (CBC)
When emails to the Elliston Heritage Association and the Home From the Sea Committee weren't returned, she turned to the online realm.

"I decided to put a petition on," she said.

Currie said as of Wednesday, she'd only gotten a handful of signatures from Ontario, Newfoundland, Alberta, and Nova Scotia.

"It seems like Newfoundlanders let everything go. That's what I feel. Like they don't fight for stuff," she said.

Currie said she's planning to wait and see if she can get more online signatures.

Disappointed with petition

Leo Power, the co-chair of the Home From the Sea Foundation group in charge of the Elliston sealers' memorial project, said he was shocked to hear of Currie's plans.

Leo Power credits John Crosbie with ensuring that the Home From The Sea monument was built. (CBC)
"At first, when I heard about this petition, I was incredulous, and then disappointed," he said.

"I'm going to assume that this individual is not aware of the entire project."

Power said Crosbie's work on the memorial cannot be underestimated. 

"Without Mr. Crosbie, and without his efforts with respect to fundraising and leading this campaign, we would never have been able to raise the $2.7-2.8 million we've raised to make this a reality," he said.

Centre one part of overall memorial

The Home From The Sea project consists of four components: the interpretation centre, which is a 2,000 square foot building; the interpretive walkway at Porter's Point; a statue dedicated to Reuben and Albert John Crewe, the father and son who froze together on the ice, as well as all sealers; and a granite wall.

"Our granite wall is going to be a massive wall that, on one side, depicts all those who perished as well as those who survived on the S. S. Newfoundland. And on the other side, we'll list the full crew members on the Southern Cross, and you'll recall that Southern Cross sank during that same storm in the spring of 1914," said Power, who also noted that the names of all 365 crew members aboard both ships will be listed on the wall.

Power said the Elliston Heritage Association and the campaign's advisory group decided on the name for the interpretation centre.

"So it's a recognition of not only the work he's done with respect to this project, but the recognition of the dedication that he's had to advancing the cause of sealers and the sealing industry."

Power said that Crosbie has always pushed the envelope on the seal industry. In 1979, when Crosbie delivered his first federal budget as finance minister, he was wearing his mukluk, sealskin boots. And recently at a fundraising event in Toronto, Crosbie asked Shannon Tweed, a former Playmate from Newfoundland, to auction off his mukluks.

"He's had a long history of keeping alive the importance of sealers and the sealing industry. And to this day, of course, he advocates on behalf of the industry," Power said.

Official ceremony

Power said the interpretation centre and the other parts of the sealing memorial will be officially unveiled at a ceremony on June 19.

"We estimate there are at least 1,000 sealers who perished in this very tough industry, and this is all about recognizing sealers and the sealing industry," he said.

Power said it is important to finally have such a memorial open in this province, and to remember the impact that it has had over the years.

"We also need to recognize and never forget the sacrifices of these men and boys, and their families," he said. 

"And we also need to remember that going back to 1857, we had 13,000 people, Newfoundlanders, involved in the seal hunt. We have to recognize what a great history this industry has, and what an innovative history it was, and what a proud industry it was."


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