A Story of Change

Sealers & Communities

Sealers communityFrom the early days of our history, the key sustaining resource for our province was cod. The seal fishery suited perfectly the situation in which the migratory fishing fleet found themselves as it utilized the already existing infrastructure (ships and ports). In fact, the seal fishery complimented and supported the migratory cod fishery so profoundly that it allowed for year-round settlement of many parts of the province.

In this way the sealing industry is unparalleled in establishing Newfoundland and Labrador’s current economy and society. At its peak in 1857, over 14,000 men from communities all over Newfoundland and Labrador participated in the seal industry. Sealers took extraordinary risks and endured harsh working conditions to support their families. Family members at home experienced untold stress and worry for loved ones while away and unfortunately many lives were lost.

The eighteenth century sealing industry was dominated by thinly populated northern community ports with a sealing fishery off the Labrador coast predating the 1763 treaty. The Trinity and Bonavista Bay area accounted for the majority of the industry at this time, while Conception Bay, St. John’s and the Southern Shore accounted for the remainder.

Other communities heavily involved in the early sealing industry included Harbour Grace, Carbonear, Fogo, Brigus, Catalina, Bay Roberts, Greenspond, Twillingate, Trepassey, St. Mary’s, Placentia, Burin, St. Lawrence, Harbour Breton, Sandy Point, Bonne Bay, the Strait of Belle Isle, Forteau and Battle Habour. Sealing would eventually spread to all corners of the province affecting all industries directly and indirectly. The Sealers Memorial in Elliston provides a place for each community and individual to contribute a chapter so that we might better understand and appreciate the relevance of this shared narrative.

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