A Map of the Sea
Produced by Chris Brookes (14:58)
The vanished fishing community
of Harbour Deep, before its last
residents left in 2002.
In Newfoundland today, there are two sounds that haunt me. The first
one I heard twelve years ago. I was talking with the
great traditional singer Anita Best about the sudden closure of the North
Atlantic cod fishery. This cod stock was once the largest fish biomass
on the planet. A year earlier Canadian fisheries scientists had belatedly
woken up to signs that the cod were in serious trouble. A temporary fishing
moratorium had been announced in hopes the stock would rebound.
As Anita and I chatted then, one year into the moratorium,
the signs were not good. People were beginning to think the unthinkable.
In public the talk was all about the economic impact. Thirty thousand
fishery workers were out of work. But Anita's concern was cultural. "I
fear" she said, "that the codfish off Newfoundland may be like
the buffalo on the Great Plains. When they were wiped out the repercussion
wasn't only economic for the societies that depended on them. It pulled
the rug from under their whole culture. And I really think we may have
done it here, just like they did to the buffalo."
I had asked her to sing a traditional song with the line "Lots
of fish in Bonavist' harbour," and as I held my microphone her voice
broke. "Please turn your tape off" she said, and her body shook
with a great wailing sob.
Today, the fish haven't come back, and the cod fishery is still closed.
Rural Newfoundlanders have left in droves. Some communities are turning
to tourism for survival, and Petty Harbour is one of these. They've developed
a four-year plan to attract tourists to come and see their 500-year-old
fishing history. Central attractions will be a museum and fishery heritage
interpretation center. Mayor Nat Hutchings says "It's a culture
shock. I mean, your culture all your lifetime is the fishery. You're
living and breathing the fishery and all of a sudden, that's gone. It's
like a death. But after awhile you start thinking I've got to do something.
And that's what Petty Harbour is doing. We've moved from fishing for
cod, to fishing for tourists."
Other rural communities have died. The 17th-century fishing community
of Harbour Deep vanished from the map three years ago when the last of
its residents left. But its ghost survives in the culture, because of
a traditional "set dance" that Harbour Deep people had danced
for longer than anyone could remember. It was unique to the place. Although
the community has disappeared, the dance survives and is now stepped
out by other feet—ironically including those of summer tourists
looking for an "authentic" taste of Newfoundland outport life.
dance "Running the Goat," a traditional
Newfoundland set dance
The tapping of those feet is the other sound haunting me. A 500-year-old
society trying to keep its feet after cataclysmic change.
An economy once based on the greatest fishery in the
world, now retooling to replay its memory to strangers.
town of Petty
Folk singer Anita Best
traditional music from the Saint John's Folk Arts Council
Kearley's Dance-Up! , Dance Caller Tonya Kearley's weekly dance
Canadian folk group Finest Kind, whose song "No
Fish, No Fisherman" (written by Shelley Posen) tells of the collapse
of the cod fishery.