Shorelines and fish flakes are a big part of the “Balancing the Scales” exhibit at the old John Rorke premises, just a stone’s throw down Water Street from the Railway Museum.
“Balancing the Scales” incarnates in artifacts, photos, and testimonies an older Newfoundland, when enterprising merchant families supplied and teamed with the stationers migrating to Labrador from May to November.
Whole families left from here, my own included, to pursue the wily cod.
John Rorke & Sons, who set up in Carbonear in 1838, were known for shipbuilding, sail-making, coopering, and importing coal.
The Rorke exhibit, with its assorted smells and dimly lit atmosphere for authenticity, evokes a catalytic moment in out history — the last stand of the salted cod fishery that dominated 19th century Newfoundland.
The “fish store” is an institution that endured well into living memory as I can attest from my summers at Earle Freighting Service from 1962-65. A yaffle of salt cod on a hand barrow highlights the mechanics of the economy that made Newfoundland and Labrador a mainstay of the fish exporting industry up against such worthies as Spain, Portugal and New England.
A photograph taken in 1948 features three local lasses, Ina Powell, Rosalie Forward and Betty Pike, dressed in their Sunday finery out on the ice framed against the prow of the legendary S.S. Kyle. The Bulldog of the North had been trapped in the ice off St. Anthony for 17 days.
The Carbonear Heritage Society is preserving the town’s original exhibit, “Going Foreign,” in the Old Post Office on the corner of Musgrave and Water Street.
According to Bert Parsons, vice-president of the Heritage Society, this has been a travelling exhibit, well received “ by thousands of people” in Grand Bank last summer.
Loyal interpreter Nancy Reid agrees with me that “Going Foreign” captures the very soul and spirit of some of Newfoundland’s most accomplished sailors. When you walk up the steps and open the door, you see right away a picture of Captain Guy Earle (1917-1968) at the wheel of the Thomas S. Gorton. The text makes the bold statement: “More foreign-going sea captains came from Carbonear than any other outport of Newfoundland.”
What could be called “the Seaman’s Museum” includes such uncanny incidents as the death of Captain Steve Dowden the very night in 1971 his main charge, the Lila B. Boutellier, ran aground in Carbonear harbour.
All three museums tell the story of the people we knew and worked with and how they made their living on the land and sea.