The schooner Catherine Mary Hann
Pride of Merasheen
Merasheen, located on the southwestern tip of Merasheen Island in Placentia Bay, was one of the larger and more prosperous communities that resettled under the provincial government’s Centralization Program, 1950s to 1970s.
The year 1926 had very special significance for the nearly 400 people who lived in the isolated community because it was during that winter that John Hann had the schooner Catherine M. Hann built. The vessel named after his wife, measured over 60 feet long and registered at 30 tons, and was the largest to have ever been built at Merasheen.
In a letter to the Evening Telegram in 1972 Ernie Ennis stated, “As a young man it was a joy for me and all, young and old, to watch her building. Much of the material used was from timber cut on Merasheen Island. The workmen, with the exception of the master builder (Tom Duke of Fox Harbour), were Merasheen men. We marveled at the fine wood, the craftsmanship, a boat, a Western Boat emerging.”
The Western Boat was a class of schooner-rigged fishing vessels of 15 to 30 tons and normally carrying two or three dories, compared to its cousin the much larger Lunenburg type “banker” which fished further off-shore on the Grand Banks and would carry up to 12 dories.
Apparently the launching of the Catherine Hann was challenging to say the least, “down a rather steep grade to a precipitous drop between a store and cliff into the sea”, according to letter writer Ennis.
That first year and for many fishing seasons after the vessel was captained by Dennis P. Walsh described as being “a proud and capable skipper.”
With “Skipper Walsh” at the wheel the little sturdily built schooner proved her mettle time and time again.
She rode out the first and second August Gales that wrecked fishing boats and took the lives of many Placentia Bay fishermen in 1927 and 1935. In that 1935 storm alone six boats and about thirty lives were lost while en route back to their home ports from the fishing grounds off Cape St. Mary’s.
In 1967, as a personal Centennial Project, a Mr. Swan of British Columbia bought the small schooner with the idea of sailing her to Vancouver via the Panama Canal. He renamed the vessel the Century and he, his wife and family accompanied by a friend, left Merasheen.
Shortly after leaving port the schooner ran aground and the Swans abandoned the boat and their Centennial Project and returned home.
The Century was salvaged and repaired and in 1968 was purchased by Bud Fisher of New York. Fisher, who worked with the National Geographic Magazine, proposed to use her for charter purposes in the long Island Sound and to the Caribbean.
Fisher came to Newfoundland to take the schooner back to the United States but it was not to be. The boat was tied up at Marystown and Fisher was delayed because he was having trouble getting a crew.
During this waiting period the Century caught fire, while tied up at the wharf. She went on dock at the shipyard where she was again repaired and new engines installed.
For some unknown reason Fisher also abandoned his project and the local Sea Cadet Corps came into possession of the vessel.
During the fall of 1968 the once proud fishing craft was moored just above the Canning Bridge in Marystown, which was well up into the harbor.
However, during a wind storm in November she broke her moorings and drifted ashore. She ran aground and tipped over on her side where over the next several years she was slowly destroyed by the sea and tides of Mortier Bay.
Finally in 1972 the Marystown Fire Department, fearing for the safety of teenagers frequenting the deteriorating derelict, set fire to what remained of the last “Western Boat” of Placentia Bay.
As a post-script to the story of “The Pride of Merasheen”; local musician/historian Con Fitzpatrick of Marystown “rescued what remained of the steering wheel from the burned wreck the day after the fire.
“I hung the wheel in a tree in my back yard, not realizing it was of any value,” he explained. Then last year, 2016, the Hann family was discussing the schooner on Facebook; so Fitzpatrick informed the family he had what was left of the steering wheel from the Catherine M. Hann.
Today the wheel is displayed proudly in Johnny Hann’s shed at Creston South, Marystown.
“It’s amazing”, he explains, “to think that I can touch the same wheel that my grandfather, John Hann, used to steer the Catherine Hann 90 years ago.”
The schooner “Catherine Mary Hann” was built at Merasheen in 1926 by John Hann. Sadly, the last of the “Western Boats” of Placentia Bay ended her days unglamourously washed up on the shoreline of Mortier Bay in Marystown.
Johnny Hann of Marystown is proud to have in his possession the steering wheel from his grandfather’s schooner, the “Catherine Mary Hann”, built at Merasheen in 1926.