The Wooden Boat Museum

From the time the first colonists settled in Cupers’ Cove (now Cupids) in 1610, Newfoundland culture, heritage, and survival have revolved around the North Atlantic and its bounty. The Wooden Boat Museum in Winterton shows what life was like in the outport communities back when people relied on the land and sea to survive. 

Wooden Boat Museum exterior

Spend the day wandering around the museum looking at the different types of wooden boats. From kayaks – one of the oldest crafts built by the Thule people – to punts and dories – the iconic Newfoundland fishing boats – there are boats around every corner. Tour the museum with Howard Cooper, museum researcher, to appreciate the hard work, time, sweat, and tears that go into wooden boat building. Insightful displays and artifacts show how truly labour intensive the process is, from tree trunk to paint job, and how boats differ depending on community. “Every boat style has significance to the community where it was built,” Howard says. “From the colour, hull style, side and keel, to stem construction designed to handle different sea conditions, you can tell the characteristics that belong to each builder and community.”

Artifacts on display 

Today wooden boats are made mostly for pleasure. But not too many years ago they sustained entire communities by allowing people to use the natural resources from the forest to build a personalized fishing vessel. The rewards reaped from the sea not only fed families, but also provided an economic income for the entire community. 

Community fishing stage

After browsing the displays, and reading the informational plaques, head out to the workshop in the back to look at some wooden boats in construction. Jerome Canning, expert boat builder, is the guru of wooden boat building history and construction in Newfoundland and Labrador. He has a passion for this art form and knows the personal connection a builder has with his boat because it’s so physically demanding. From chopping down the wood in the forest, to sawing, shaving, and bending it to the right shape – the entire process becomes an extension of the builder. That said, no two boats are alike, which means every wooden boat is as unique as the person who made it. 

The master craftsman at work

What’s truly fascinating is that nothing about boat building was ever written down. It was a craft passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and from learning by observing. The expression Jerome uses is: “learn on the father’s knee”, meaning children in the community grew up learning to build wooden boats from the time they were toddlers and had perfected the craft by seeing and then doing. 

Designs and building process 

After having a thorough lesson in history and function, walk down to the community wharf and see a boat in action. The view is utterly iconic; fishing stores perched on stages, surrounded by wooden boats tied to the docks. 

Going for a spin! 

That’s why places like the Wooden Boat Museum are so important, as are the boat building workshops they provide. They help showcase how the province’s traditional wooden boats reflect the historical growth, spirit, and culture of coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, and why it’s so important to keep this art form alive and well – and written down.

Learn more about Jerome and the tradition of boat building in Newfoundland and Labrador in this informative vignette.

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