A Story of Change


Steering a wooden-hauled ship through ice fields.

The seal fishery’s commercial expansion in Newfoundland and Labrador was stimulated by the complex and competitive international trade in traditional oils. Seal oil was initially used in lighting lamps in public houses, wharfs, streets and lighthouses. It was also used as a lubricant in leather currying, textile manufacturing and soap making. These usages declined with the introduction of petroleum into the oil market though the demand for seal skins, hides and furs sustained the industry up until the mid-twentieth century.

Early sealing fleets were made up of many small sailing vessels. These were primarily owned by inhabitants, carried small crews and peaked in the early 1840s. Sailing ships quickly fell out of fashion with the introduction of wooden-hulled steamers in 1862. Steam power was indispensable as it allowed vessels to maneuver quickly and effectively in confined ice conditions. These steamers concentrated the industry into fewer hands and fewer ports. The sheer size of the vessels required larger harbours. The enterprise was further centralized with the introduction of iron and steel clad steamers in the early twentieth century. These ships represented heavy capital investment, could only dock in the largest of harbours and were designed to break ice rather than crack it allowing further access to the ice fields. Today, many sealing outfits utilize otter-trawlers as well as, outboard boats during the spring season.

Otter-trawler towing a outboard boat.

From offshore oil and gas to fishing and sealing to modern marine technology, our economic success will always be tied to the sea. In addition to giving back to communities that gave so generously to build a strong economy and society, the Sealers Memorial in Elliston provides the opportunity to educate and promote culture of safety for future generations of workers. There is no better way to honour these marine workers than by ensuring that we continue to learn from their sacrifice.


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