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Exhibits
In Cod We Trust: Labrador's Early Twentieth Century Cod Fishery
July 25, 2002 - September 29, 2002
Arctic Museum main galleries

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) live in the cold waters of the northern seas. In the late 1400s Europeans exploring Newfoundland and Labrador noted that large numbers of cod frequented coastal waters, were easy to catch, and wonderful to eat. In the late 1500s hundreds of Basque vessels participated in the cod fishery. By the 1700s dried and salted cod was a staple food throughout Europe, the American colonies, and the Mediterranean.

Over the centuries, fishermen successfully developed more efficient techniques for finding, catching, and processing this seemingly unlimited, highly sought after resource. In 1992 the Canadian government, alarmed by studies reporting the decline of the cod stocks to the point that they were on the verge of becoming commercially extinct, imposed a moratorium on cod fishing in sections of Newfoundland-Labrador. This moratorium remains in place.These images are largely from the collection of Donald B. MacMillan. In the early twentieth century he photographed aspects of the Labrador fishery when it was conducted using schooners, steamships, and shore-based stations.

The generosity of the Friends of Bowdoin College has made this exhibition possible.



Pictured above: Indian Harbour, Labrador, 1930. Photograph by Donald B. MacMillan. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Fishing Fleet</b> </p>    Fishing crews from Newfoundland and New England ports boarded schooners and headed to Labrador throughout March and April. Individual fishermen traveled north on the mail boat, hoping to be hired into a crew. Year-round residents and transient crews readied their gear as they awaited the arrival of cod. The fish would appear in southern Labrador coastal waters in late June and a few weeks later further north.  <br> <br>  Indian Harbour, Labrador, 1930. Photograph by Donald B. MacMillan. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Crew of Fishing Schooner at Solomon's Island</b> </p>    Transient fishermen fell into two groups, those that were land-based and those that were ship-based.  'Planters' or 'Stationers' were fishermen who resided on shore. Often they were accompanied to Labrador by their families and set up homes adjacent to their fish processing stations.  'Floaters' were fishermen who worked off schooners and lived on board. Some schooner crews included 'ship girls' who assisted in the gutting, splitting, and salting of cod once it was on board the ship.  <br> <br>  Solomon's Island, Labrador, 1927-1934. Photograph by Donald B. MacMillan. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Chateau Bay Fish Station</b> </p>    Some year-round residents of Labrador participated in the summer and fall cod fishery. Those of European or European-Native American ancestry were referred to as 'Liveyers.'  Liveyers who lived in the Chateau Bay area spent the winter in wood and sod-insulated houses in the protected valley and made a living hunting and trapping. They moved to the coast in the summer, where they lived in 'tilts,' modest homes near their fishing berths.   <br> <br>  Chateau Bay, Labrador, 1931. Photograph by Donald B. MacMillan. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Summer Home of a Stationer</b> </p>    A fish station included a house, a fish processing shed and wharf (called a 'stage'), and a mooring for one or more boats. A number of fish stations were built in heavily populated areas such as Battle Harbour. In more remote regions, small, self-sufficient communities dotted the landscape. Fish stations were tucked into the rocky coastline near productive fishing grounds. Note the piles of cod on the rocks above the station.  <br> <br>  Labrador Coast, 1927-1934.  Photograph by Donald B. MacMillan.  Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Dipping Cod</b> </p>    Large numbers of fish were caught using a cod trap.  It consisted of a net enclosure with one opening, moored in deep water.  A net fence, or 'leader,' extended from the opening toward the shallows. Fish that encountered the leader would swim along it into the enclosure.  Men in dories pulled the net trap to the surface and tossed or dipped the fish into the dories, and carried the catch ashore or to a schooner.  <br> <br>  Labrador, 1927-1928. Photograph by Donald B. MacMillan. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Fish Spread on Rocks</b> </p>    Once fish were caught they were gutted and beheaded. The fish were split and the vertebral column was removed so the flesh lay flat. Then the fish were washed and salted. Drying fish was a gradual process. At fish stations where wood was rare or unavailable, the salted cod were spread on rocks to dry in the sun and wind, then gathered into piles and weighted down, then arranged on rocks again. In this way the moisture content of the flesh was gradually reduced.   <br> <br>  Indian Harbour, Labrador, 1934. Photograph by Donald B. MacMillan.  Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Drying Cod Fish at Gready</b> </p>    'Flakes' were wooden frameworks raised above ground on which split and salted fish were arranged to dry.  Flakes were made out of spruce trees collected locally.  Donald B. MacMillan noted that the flakes he saw in Labrador were similar to those used in the New England fishery.  The flakes at Gready, a year-round community in southern Labrador, were arranged so people could walk between them to tend to the drying fish.  <br> <br>  Gready, Labrador, 1927. Photograph by Donald B. MacMillan.  Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>People Working on Fish Flakes</b> </p>    The process of drying fish on fish flakes was similar to that employed when drying fish on rocks.  People working on the flakes would spread out the fish in the morning and gather it into piles in the evening, until the commodity was dried sufficiently.  This process could take over twenty days.  The fish flake at Battle Harbour was the largest in Labrador and was strong enough to support the weight of the workers.    <br> <br>  Battle Harbour, Labrador, 1895-1897. Photograph by Emil Diebitsch.  Gift of Edward Peary Stafford.

<p><b>Final Processing of Salt Cod</b> </p>    Once the cod were thoroughly dried, they were gathered into piles.  In large communities like Battle Harbour, wheelbarrows were used to transport the fish from the flake to the wharf.  Here the fish were inspected and sorted according to quality and size, and readied for transportation to the scales to be weighed. Merchants aboard ships stood ready to purchase the fish and rush the commodity to market.   <br> <br>  Battle Harbour, Labrador, no date. Photograph by Siegfried P. Hettasch.  Gift of Edward K. Morse.
<p><b>Final Processing of Salt Cod</b> </p>    Once the cod were thoroughly dried, they were gathered into piles.  In large communities like Battle Harbour, wheelbarrows were used to transport the fish from the flake to the wharf.  Here the fish were inspected and sorted according to quality and size, and readied for transportation to the scales to be weighed. Merchants aboard ships stood ready to purchase the fish and rush the commodity to market.   <br> <br>  Battle Harbour, Labrador, no date. Photograph by Siegfried P. Hettasch.  Gift of Edward K. Morse.

<p><b>Loading Cod Fish on Steamer</b> </p>    People who spent the season in remote fish stations transported their dried cod to larger communities, such as Battle Harbour, or waited for collector boats to come by.  Fish were offloaded at the Battle Harbour wharf where they were culled, weighed, and sold.  Here, two men use a “hand barrow” to carry dried cod that has been weighed and sold onto a waiting steamer. A boat carrying dried and salted cod from a station is tied up to the wharf.  In addition to cod, merchant ships carried cod liver oil, rendered from cod livers collected during the season, to markets throughout the world.  <br> <br>  Battle Harbour, Labrador, 1927. Photograph by Donald B. MacMillan. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.