A Story of Change
The seal fishery’s ability to encourage settlement and the congregation of large groups of settlers greatly contributed to the formation and solidification of a unified provincial identity. Sealers were the first Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to engage in collective action in an effort to improve wages and working conditions. Strikes would occur when grievances went unaddressed and it wasn’t surprising that individuals engaged in the sealing industry initiated the first labour unions.
These unions were largely a result of the harsh working conditions sealers encountered which were considered to be rigorous even for the time. Governor Waldgrave was quoted as saying in 1799 that “the very mode of taking these animals is of a nature to form the hardiest race of men in the universe.” It is well documented that the discomforts and dangers experienced by sealers went beyond the act of sealing. The spring sealing industry was dominated by storms and intense ice conditions where the sealers would be relied upon to free a vessel caught in the ice. People who work at sea undertake extraordinary risks to earn a living and share a unique bond with our natural environment.
Unfortunately, these harsh realities often led to loss of life and disasters weren’t unheard of. The 1914 Newfoundland sealing disasters were the result of numerous circumstances, the least of which being the weather. Legislation changed dramatically after the 1914 disasters as policy was enacted to provide safer working conditions for sealers in an attempt to prevent further loss of life. This safety legislation addressed provisions, wages, hours and equipment and greatly contributed to the environment of safety surrounding all forms of marine employment undertaken today.
Countless Newfoundlanders and Labradorians continue to earn their living from the sea and depend upon safe marine employment procedures while on the job. Home is a point of inspiration and motivation for this group. Home From The Sea is what we all wish for and look forward to. This is the ideal time and project under which to unite and demonstrate our gratitude for the hard working and countless sacrifices made by our forbearers.