Nor turrs but plenty of tales

Juris Graney
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Winston Colbourne sits inside his store looking out towards the ocean off L'Anse aux Meadows.

When the fishing was good and times were prosperous, there weren't too many communities in rural Newfoundland and Labrador where you could rattle off the name of every single resident in a single breath.

That's not the case anymore.  

As Winston Colbourne recites the names of all the people living in L'Anse aux Meadows, his fingers flick up from his palm. Then he pauses for a second, mouths a name, and retracts a finger from the count.

"No, he passed away couple years ago," he says before continuing the count that stops around the 20 mark.  

"It's not like it used to be, there used to be a hundred people livin' out here but we're all getting older and there's no children no more."

When Mr. Colbourne says things aren't the same, he's not just talking about the population.  

"I remember when my dad was alive and you could catch all kinds out here," he says before ticking off all the kinds of seafood they would land on the stages.

 "...capelin, mackerel, cod...," his says, his voice trailing off. "You could get it all in here.  

"But it's changed b'y. I don't know what it is but the water, it doesn't look the same. There's nothing left out there for anything to eat.

"It's like me going into St. Anthony if there was no food in there. Why would I bother? Fish are the same, if there's nothing here to eat why would they be here? Maybe they are right about what they say about the seals eating everything."  

He looks back up towards the branch road as the wind picks up another knot from somewhere.

"I had some fellow down here going on with some foolishness about the seals and how they wouldn't be eating all the cod and the crab, so I said to him, 'how much do you know about the diet of a seal?'" he says.  

"He said 'not much' so I told him, what are they eating then. If there's 10 million of them like they say, what are they eating? If they are not eating the cod or the crab what are they eating? They're not eatin' rocks, I said to him."

As he tells the story, Mr. Colbourne's hand is waving at the open waters off the tiny township towards Sacred Island where he had just returned from.  

"I was out trying for turr," he says. "This morning the water was right still but then a bit of wind picked up.

"You're not going to get any turrs when the wind comes on, they won't stay on the water."  

He takes a few steps across the fir and spruce wharf towards the speed boat tied to the strouters.

"See that?" he says, pointing to the thin round timbers and the water below. "That's how all our wharves were made back then, but we went and changed it all to that."  

His now gloved hand is waving towards the stage and the almost perfectly seamless slats of timber nailed and joined so tight that the crystal clear water is no longer visible.

"But it don't last like it used to," he says. 

He beckons towards the stage, the door of which is held open by a mallet he calls a stake mar.

"That's what we always called it anyway," he says, walking past his homemade creation into the centre of the building and across a floor dotted with a series of bore holes about two inches round and at perfect intervals.  

"The pounds used to be lined up and you'd bring the fish in and lay it all out, starting at the back of the building and work forward until she was full.

"This is 100 years old, probably older, I couldn't say. I used to live here when the fishing was good.  

"I never had no time to go back to the house so my wife'd bring down my food and we'd eat here and keep working."

Mr. Colbourne shuffles back outside into the sunlight and heads for his home where he has spent most of his 60-odd years - except for the seven he spent out in Nova Scotia as a roofer after the fishery fell silent.

"It's not the same now b'y," he says, "but that's enough of that."


Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, L'Anse, St. Anthony Sacred Island Nova Scotia

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