Rebuilding the dead: Old whaler shaped with new hands

A piece of Newfoundland and Labrador history is slowly coming to life by the Albaola Foundation, a sea factory in Pasaia, Spain, to celebrate the Basque’s achievements in exploration and marine history.

Halfway through the first year of its construction, the San Juan de Pasages, Canada’s oldest recorded shipwreck found submerged in over 30 feet of water in Red Bay, Labrador, is expected to take another two years to finish. Once seaworthy, the San Juan will take a tour of the ports around the world, with plans to stop in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“What I’m told is the first trips are actually going to be around Europe. So they’ll go to various ports in Europe and we’ll be the next summer after the launch, or probably the same year, that depends,” said Jerome Canning, Newfoundland and Labrador boat-builder for the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador, who visited Spain to help build the San Juan, sponsored by the boat museum.

The Albaola Foundation has welcomed people with experience from far and wide to help build the ship. The moment Canning found support from the Department of Heritage and Tourism, he was on the first flight out to help build the whaling ship as a representative of the province’s museum.

“When I left, there was just the first level. All the frames of the first floor were done and they were just starting on the second flood when I left. Then it’s onto the third floor, and then they’ll start the planking,” said Canning.

Canning has been involved in several boat building projects. He constructed a Rodney, a small Newfoundland wooden boat usually used for one man to go hook and line fishing, at The Rooms, which he invited the public to watch his progress. He’s also constructed boats in the Wooden Boar Museum in Winterton and the Boat House in Placentia.

In Placentia, Canning built a chaloupe during the 2004 French celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the French presence in the province. The chaloupe is a French boat with Basque origins, used primarily for hunting whales.

“He seemed to be very confident in what he was doing (while building the boat) and he’s also very friendly in dealing with people’s questions about the project,” said Tom O’Keefe, President of the Placentia Area Historical Society. “He was very good about talking to people (who came to watch the building process) if they wanted to know anything about what he was doing.”

Canning got his start in boat building when his father retired and spent his time as a fisherman. Canning and his brother visited to go fishing with their father but their boat was too small for the three of them.

So Canning made his own boat. For years after, Canning would build a boat or two every winter. And now he’s building a massive whaler.

For now, Canning has returned home to Newfoundland and Labrador but plans on returning to Spain to help if he can gather the funds again.

The San Juan played the important role of a whaling cargo ship. It went down in December 1565 while riding at anchor in the bay with other whaling ships. During a storm, the ship’s mooring broke and it struck the island. The blow led to the ship’s sinking with a full load of 1000 casks of oil.

Parks Canada archaeologist divers discovered the ship after Dr. Michael Barkham translated a Basque sailor’s will, which was found by his mother, federal archivist Dr. Selma Barkham.

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Site, the Basque whalers of France and Spain hunted right whales and bowhead whales around Newfoundland and Labrador during the 16th Century.

For over 50 years, the Basque whalers lived in prosperity, capturing whales migrating the Strait of Belle Isle waters.

The whaling ships averaged at around 700 tons and were some of the largest yet slowest vessels sailing across the Atlantic Ocean at the time.

From 1978 to 1985, archeological teams from Parks Canada conducted underwater investigations of the historical giant and found she was in close to the same condition as the time before her sinking. This investigation revealed the expertise of the Basque shipbuilding industry at its peak and Parks Canada wasted no time in documented all the details of the ship’s structure and formation.

This ship will not be an interpretation. The Spanish organization responsible for the ship’s construction plan on building the San Juan as close to it’s original form as possible, all the way from collecting the wood used from the same trees in the same forest areas to using the same tar, pitch and tools like wooden nails and ropes used to keep the ship together.

“This ship in Spain is a ‘fine line’ boat. It’s exactly what was underneath the water,” said Canning. “We have a piece of history here in Newfoundland and Labrador. We have a whaling ship that has not only been uncovered in the physical evidence but the evidence was documented as well.”


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MUN checkout policy stressing students

Some Memorial University students are stressed about the residences’ new 24-hour checkout policy.

After students write their last exam of a semester, they have 24 hours to check out of their residence rooms.

The policy started in September 2014 as an experiment, and this year will be spent evening out any issues or problems the policy might create.

However, there are already students who have run into difficulties with the policy and refuse to abide by it. Students were given flexibility during fall semester 2014, but some have had problems with it this winter semester.

“Memorial University has defended the policy by saying other universities in the country do the same. But this ignores certain aspects, like location,” said Warren Moore, an international student at Memorial University.

“Ultimately, this is a policy that helps staff get rid of students ASAP, but has no benefit to a student whatsoever.”

Moore is concerned about the extra costs and stress the policy might create.

Exam schedules are released two months before the end of a semester — October in the fall and February in the winter — so in order to meet the 24-hour policy, students  have to wait until the exam schedule is released before booking flights home, Moore said.

Flight tickets purchased before the semester starts are often much cheaper than those bought once the exam schedule is posted.

“I asked my residence co-ordinator for an extension because of flight scheduling issues and they said I couldn’t get one because it’s not an academic reason,” said Brendon Dixon, another MUN student. “Well, no, it’s a financial reason. The timeline is very quick and not very accommodating.”


Residence turnover

According to Bruce Belbin, director of student residences at Memorial University, the 24-hour checkout rule is designed to help deal with the turnover in MUN residences.

The current semester ends April 18 and the university has until April 23 to prepare the residences for the first arrival of summer students and guests who will use the residence facilities.

“In between all that, as you can imagine with 2,000 beds, there’s a ton of things that have to occur, from cleanup to maintenance and so on and so forth,” said Belbin. “That’s the primary driver behind the policy, but I have to emphasize that it is experimental.”

Belbin said students can contact the university if they have issues or concerns, and there is a great deal of flexibility.

“If you booked a flight back home and you didn’t realize, or pay attention to the requirement in the occupancy agreement (for residence living), then we’d be flexible as long as you provided documentation on that or (documentation) for medical or academic reasons,” said Belbin.

“You could be an honours student and working on a paper. Clearly, we’re not going to tell you to leave residence. Or you could be on a work term, in the nursing program, or you could be an international student.”


Food payments

Students who have meal plans that run until the last day of school can lose out on $100 to $200 worth of food as a result of the policy, according to Moore.

“Students in Paton College and new (residences) are bound to purchase mandatory meal plans that last from Day 1 to the final day of operation on April 18,” Moore said. “Students who don’t have any exams whatsoever are required to be out of residence by April 6 this year, meaning they will lose 12 to 13 days of the meal plan, which is more than 10 per cent of the whole plan.”

Belbin acknowledged there is no reimbursement program for students with meal plans who might be affected by the policy, but said any issues with it can be raised with the university.

“It’s not structured (to work with the meal plan) right now. I’m not aware of any specific requests around meal plan and that issue, but it’s something we can put in our assessment for next year as we move the policy ahead,” said Belbin. “We haven’t received any (specific complaints) about the policy, but we’ll assess the 24-hour rule and if something obvious pops up, we’ll deal with it.”


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Plan to end moose and human violence

Two new moose reduction zones will be designated along the Trans-Canada Highway as a test project to try and reduce the number of moose-vehicle collisions.

Each year there are an average of 700 accidents involving moose.

The moose reduction zones are part of a five-year strategic plan for moose management in Newfoundland, measures added to those of the existing plan.

“The plan will be implemented and the results evaluated over the course of the next five years with the goal to continuously improve moose management in the province,” said Environment and Conservation Minister Dan Crummell.

Environment and Conservation  and the Department of Transportation has three goals for the plan:

• The long-term sustainability and health of moose populations and habitat across the province.

• Ensuring reasonable access and benefit to the moose resource.

• To lessen human-moose accidents.

One of the moose reduction zones is in the central region between Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor and the other is in the Avalon region between St. John’s and Clarenville.

There will be 200 either-sex moose licences added in the central moose reduction zone and 300 in the Avalon zone.

“The moose reduction zones will provide greater opportunity for removal of near-road moose through hunting,” said Crummell. “The number of moose removed through hunting, the density of moose in near-road zones, the density of moose in adjacent moose managing areas, moose movement patterns, as well as vehicle-moose collisions rates, traffic volumes and speeds will all be monitored over three years to determine the effectiveness of the program.”

Several hunting licence fees were changed on April 1. Moose, caribou, black bear, small game and coyote hunting licenses, and trapper’s licenses have been increased by $5 to $20. Out-of-province hunters will pay $150 to $200 more for a moose and caribou license.

The moose population is around 112,000 animals. Public consultations have shown there is a strong desire in the province to maintain at population size to maximize  hunting opportunities. But the government also wants to lessen the number of collisions between moose and vehicles.

“No doubt, the government is listening and putting a plan in place. …” said Lucy Stoyles, chair of the Mount Pearl city council’s regional services and environment committee.

“I’m disappointed with it, especially when you look at what was done out in Nova Scotia and Alberta (with fences). Our government hasn’t even asked the federal government to fence our two national parks. In Terra Nova park alone there was 14 or 16 accidents last year.”

The province will be looking more into the feasibility of fencing. But fencing aside, there have also been efforts around moose detection systems and brush cutting to remove vegetation that attracts the moose to roadsides.

“The moose management plan has a research component that is designed to specifically address if decrease in moose numbers and density can decrease rates of moose-vehicle collisions,” said Crummell.

The plan will be funded with roughly $1.8 million in Budget 2015.

“There’s no one quick solution to the mitigation of moose-vehicle actions,” said Transportation Minister David Brazil.

“It has to be a collaborative approach and a uniform approach over many aspects. We want to build on the data collected and we want to create innovative ways to do it.”


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