A poignant gift for Dad

Suzanne Wheeler writes book as trib­ute to her late fa­ther, Max Rowe


For Suzanne Wheeler of Grand Falls-Wind­sor, writ­ing a book about the schooner Fronie Myr­tle has turned into a way to hon­our her fa­ther Maxwell (Max) Rowe of Chance Cove, Trin­ity Bay.

The fa­ther/daugh­ter team coau­thored “Wooden Ships & Iron Men (Creative Pub­lish­ers, 2013).”

Built by Wheeler’s grand­fa­ther (Wil­liam) Will Rowe, Max Rowe and his broth­ers also fished from Fronie Myr­tle.

Wheeler felt her fam­ily’s story of life on the sea is one that would res­onate among fam­i­lies in many nooks and cran­nies of this prov­ince — and be­yond.

She’s not far off the mark.

Re­mark­able men

Wheeler got the idea for the book in 2009. She’d been hear­ing sto­ries since her child­hood about the re­mark­able men who built and sailed the schooner.

Wheeler’s grand­fa­ther 1978.

When her fa­ther was di­ag­nosed with can­cer in 2009 she spent a week with him in Chance Cove. That’s when she broached the sub­ject of a book, she says.

Her fa­ther was ex­cited about her idea. Wheeler lis­tened to his sto­ries. Dur­ing his chemo­ther­apy treat­ments he wrote his mem­o­ries in a note­book his daugh­ter had given him for that pur­pose.

“I told him when­ever you’re up to it and you think of some­thing, just jot it down,” Wheeler said dur­ing a re­cent tele­phone in­ter­view.

It wasn’t un­til one of her fi­nal vis­its with her dad that he handed her the note­book.

“He had tears in his eyes and I knew it had been a strug­gle for him phys­i­cally to write as much as he did. Many days he hardly had the strength to hold a pen, but he per­se­vered un­til he had recorded all he could re­mem­ber about the Fronie Myr­tle,” Wheeler writes in the pref­ace of the book.

Wheeler took the note­book back home with her and be­gan to piece to­gether the story.

“Dad used to be a good writer but was go­ing through can­cer treat­ments when he wrote in the note­book so a lot of it was hard to pick out.”

Wheeler talked to fam­ily mem­bers and rel­a­tives of the crew­men. She re­searched her fam­ily’s his­tory and col­lected pho­to­graphs and his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments re­lated to the schooner.

She then went back to her dad with the ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion she’d col­lected. By then, his health had de­te­ri­o­rated.

“The can­cer went to Dad’s brain. He couldn’t read or talk. He’d look at me and all the tears would come in his eyes and he’d cry. He’d be try­ing to tell me what should be changed in the book.”

Fam­ily roots



Wheeler’s fa­ther had ra­di­a­tion treat­ments which shrunk the can­cer enough for him to talk again and give his daugh­ter the ex­tra in­for­ma­tion she needed.

Max Wheeler died in 2010, but not be­fore read­ing his daugh­ter’s draft man­u­script. Al­though ex­tremely ill at the time, he told her he was “ex­tremely pleased” with what she’d writ­ten.

Wheeler be­gins the book by re­call­ing her fam­ily roots. Her fam­ily’s schooner her­itage dates back to 1783 when her an­ces­tor James Rowe (the son of Ed­ward Rowe who moved to Trin­ity from Eng­land in the mid-1700s) pur­chased prop­erty in Heart’s Con­tent and built a dock. Thus be­gan more than a cen­tury of ship­build­ing by Rowe, his sons, and even­tu­ally his grand­sons.

The Fronie Myr­tle was built in Chance Cove in 1935 and sailed out of that port un­til 1949, when the schooner was sold to the Whe­lan broth­ers of Lit­tle Heart’s Ease.

The New­found­land Com­mis­sion of Govern­ment gave the men the money to build the schooner. It was dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion, Wheeler writes, and govern­ment was of­fer­ing var­i­ous in­cen­tives to help build the econ­omy and get peo­ple back to work.

The re­sponse to the govern­ment’s of­fer of thirty-dol­lar-per-ton ship­build­ing bounty in the mid1930s? There was a re­vival of New­found­land schooner con­struc­tion, Wheeler writes.

With abun­dant wood sup­ply and plenty of avail­able labour, the in­cen­tive helped put men — and some­times, boys — in boats.

Enor­mous risks

In 1934, Wheeler’s grand­fa­ther ap­plied to the Com­mis­sion of Govern­ment to build a schooner. The first in­stall­ment of $350 was enough to start the pro­ject. An­other $350 came along part­way through the con­struc­tion. At the time, Wheeler writes, the risks in­volved in the ven­ture were enor­mous.

“The econ­omy was des­per­ate and peo­ple were suf­fer­ing. Chance Cove was a poor com­mu­nity with a pop­u­la­tion of 288 peo­ple who de­pended mostly on fish­ing and log­ging for their liveli­hood. Nei­ther oc­cu­pa­tion was very prof­itable.”

There was no trou­ble find­ing car­pen­ters in the com­mu­nity (be­sides Will Rowe) to build the boat. Will’s younger brother Sam Rowe, Bramwell and Gor­don Brace as well as Ben­jamin and Al­fred Rowe, Wil­liam Smith and Nel­son Allen were all car­pen­ters from Chance Cove who helped con­struct the schooner.

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