Sunday, 16 September 2012

Invitation to Vernacular Architecture

Fish stage and slipway, New Bonaventure (Photo: Meghann Jack)

Unfortunately Tom Carter, one of the scheduled faculty for the fieldschool, is unable to join us this week.  Tom is a folklorist with expertise in vernacular architecture. We will miss him being with us as we begin documenting various buildings of the Keels landscape through measured drawings, photography and interviewing. Tom's exceptional book, Invitation to Vernacular Architecture: A Guide to the Study of Ordinary Buildings is one of our core fieldschool textbooks. This afternoon, we were invited to explore the world of Newfoundland fisheries architecture.

Jerry Pocius and Jim Miller introduce the group to New Bonaventure's fish stages (Photo: Meghann Jack)

A key theme in our fieldschool is the cultural landscape of the Newfoundland fishery. While Keels has a rich landscape of fisheries structures, there are no extant examples of fish stages. Near Trinity, about an hour or so east of Keels, are several standing fishing stages --- many restored or repaired through community grants from the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. We visited stages in Dunfield and New Bonaventure to better understand the role these buildings played in the Newfoundland cod fishery.

New Bonaventure shoreline, with slipway, stage and store (Photo: Meghann Jack)

Essentially, a fishing stage is a simple rectangular structure built on top a rickety base of log posts or "cribs", extending out over the water from the rocky shoreline. Stages can often be long structures---upwards of 60 or 70 feet --- depending upon the fish storage and processing space requirements of each family, and the geographical positioning of their shoreline. When the fishermen returned to the harbour with their catch, they would moor their boats and fork the cod from the boat to stage head. Inside the stage, the fish were usually processed by women. At the splitting table, an assembly line headed, gutted, and split the fish in rapid speed. The fish were washed in a puncheon of salt water, and then spread flat and salted (often by children) in "pounds" positioned throughout the stage. From the stage pounds, the cod were transferred to the shore line to dry on raised wood-and-bough platforms, called "flakes", where they would finish curing in the wind before being packed and shipped to various markets.   

"Flakes" in New Bonaventure (Photo: Meghann Jack)

Buildings are complex artifacts, revealing much about their builder's social relationships, occupational practices, and spatial ideologies. When we measure and draw a floor plan of a building, we are not just recording the structure for posterity. The building is also a historical document which can help us understand how people thought and lived in the past, how they think and live in the present. Just as we would read a historical document in an archive, a building is a primary research source, 3-D data. Documenting buildings is a tedious methodology, even for seemingly simple, impermanent structures like fish stages. Walls do not close, studs are not uniform in size. The cold wind and salt water make standing against a stage, holding a tape measure, a thank-less job. But someone has to do it, because these simple, neglected outbuildings have complex stories to tell. We are here to listen to what they are.

(L to R) Ed, Dale and Jerry measure Wilson Spurrell's fish stage, Dunfield (Photo: Erin Whitney)

Jerry calls out measurements, while Meghann draws them to scale (Photo: Ed Millar)

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