Caribou sink­ing was a blow to Tav­erner fam­ily

Grand­son says his grand­mother never got over the loss of her hus­band and sons


It can be ar­gued that Paul Tav­erner owes his very ex­is­tence to sea­sick­ness.

It was pre­cisely be­cause of that un­con­quer­able sea­sick­ness that Paul’s fa­ther, Colin Bruce Tav­erner, went into me­chan­ics in­stead of fol­low­ing his fa­ther to work at sea.

Paul’s grand­fa­ther, Cap­tain Ben­jamin Tav­erner, from Port Rex­ton, Trin­ity Bay, was very much a sea­far­ing man.

The cap­tain served on the SS Kyle on the Labrador run be­fore tak­ing com­mand of the SS Caribou, where he would even­tu­ally per­ish with two of his other sons, Stan­ley and Harold, when the pas­sen­ger ferry was tor­pe­doed by a Ger­man U-boat in Oc­to­ber of 1942.

Paul never met his grand­fa­ther, though he’s heard plenty grow­ing up and has read even more. He has a few fa­vorite sto­ries to re­mem­ber the grand­fa­ther he never got the chance to meet.

One story that in­trigues him is that Cap­tain Ben was a good friend of Sir Wil­fred Gren­fell, and Paul can eas­ily imag­ine how the two might have met.

“He was stop­ping in all the small ports,” says Paul about the cap­tain’s ten­ure along the Labrador coast­line. “Prob­a­bly Gren­fell was on the boat some­times, be­cause he was a doc­tor.”

One of the fam­ily’s tales main­tains the cap­tain knew all about the subs be­fore the SS Caribou ever went down and didn’t want to sail that fate­ful night.

“When he was cross­ing the gulf, he knew the subs were there. He’d seen them be­fore on dif­fer­ent trips and he wanted to do the day cross­ings in­stead of the night, be­cause he would have a bet­ter, clearer vi­sion,” says Paul.

“With the tor­pedo you’d have a bet­ter chance of see­ing it in the day­time than you would in the night.”

But there was lit­tle the cap­tain could do. Canada and New­found­land were at war, and the mil­i­tary was call­ing the shots. Paul says his grand­fa­ther made the re­quest to change the sched­ule, and it was sub­se­quently de­nied.

“That sub­ma­rine prob­a­bly wouldn’t have come up in the mid­dle of the day,” spec­u­lates Paul, who be­lieves the disas­ter was avoid­able. He also doesn’t un­der­stand the mil­i­tary’s pol­icy of the day to have the minesweeper es­cort follow the SS Caribou in­stead of lead­ing the way.


Cap­tain Ben­jamin Tav­erner stands on the deck of the ill-fated S. S. Caribou in this un­dated photo.

Amelia Tav­erner was dev­as­tated by the loss of her hus­band and two sons, and was never truly the same af­ter­wards, ac­cord­ing to her grand­son, Paul.

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