John Crosbie didn’t disappoint.
While other dignitaries sported traditional dark suits, the Lieutenant Government dressed for the occasion in a sealskin vest and boots on his visit to Elliston today.
The event was the groundbreaking ceremony to signal the official start of construction of a sealer’s memorial in the community, a project for which Crosbie is Patron.
The Lieutenant Governor was joined by Premier Kathy Dunderdale, MP Peter Penashue; Heritage Elliston Chair Myrtle Stagg; and campaign co-chairs Chris Collingwood and Leo Power, for an official sod turning to mark the spot where an interpretation centre will stand by next year.
Under brilliant sunny skies a crowd of over 100 — politicians, business leaders, and local citizens — gathered to celebrate what Crosbie called “A milestone for the campaign.”
The Home From the Sea Campaign, launched in December, 2011, has raised just over $2 million in less than a year.
By 2014, the 100th anniversary of the 1914 sealing disasters that saw over 200 young men and boys perish, an interpretation centre in this community that lost eight of them will honour the lives of all those who perished.
Heritage Elliston chair Myrtle Stagg told the crowd it is fitting that the interpretation centre would be built on the site of the former Memorial School in Elliston.
That school house was built in the 1930s as a memorial to those who lost their lives in World War I.
For several decades, she said, the school was the community’s centre for learning.
“Many people passed through the doors — teachers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, fishermen and sealers,” she said. “And now in the place where it stood we will have another learning centre to tell the story of who we are.”
For Stagg the ceremony today was another momentous step on the way to realizing a dream that was born in her mind many years ago.
She says the stories of the eight men from Elliston who were among the 72 to perish on the ice floes, wandering in search of their ship, were alive in the minds and hearts of local people, told and re-told over the years.
“I always felt that we should do something to tell those stories to others.”
Stagg and others formed the Heritage Elliston Committee and, working with Tourism Elliston and the Town of Elliston, began to shape the dream.
Although she never imagined it would turn into something so substantial — a $2.5 million project incorporating an interpretation centre, bronze sculpture to honour the sealers who died, and walking trails to link the two.
She credits Sheilagh Guy Murphy as being influential in helping the dream grow.
It was Guy-Murphy, who is personal friend of the Lieutenant Governor, who suggested His Honour might be willing to lend a hand as patron.
She also gives huge thanks to the Lieutenant Governor who, through his connections and influence, as well as his own passion for telling the sealing story, for giving the idea the momentum it needed to get to this moment.
In his address to the crowd, Crosbie noted that the project, when completed, will be not just a tribute to the men of the sealing industry, but the women as well.
“This is not just a monument to the sealers — the men and the boys — but a tribute to the women who lived in Newfoundland and Labrador and did such essential work over the centuries.”
Premier Kathy Dunderdale echoed the Lieutenant Governor’s sentiments.
“Let me say how much it means to me to honour the work of women because sometimes that gets lost in our recounting of history,” she said. “The sea has provided centuries of sustenance for us, but while it gives it also takes away.”
She reminded everyone, “It wasn’t just the emotional loss the women had to deal with when their husbands and sons died so tragically, but they had to deal with economic loss.”
She commended the people of the community who worked hard to build this legacy to commemorate the 1914 sealing disaster and to tell the story of the sealing industry.
While the dream of an interpretation centre came closer to reality today with the sod turning, and the Home of the Sea Campaign has the financial support of the province, the federal government and corporate donations, the fundraising for the project is still ongoing.
Crosbie used the occasion to encourage more donations for the Sealer’s Memorial, to ensure its completion in time for the 100th anniversary of the disaster in 2014.
“It’s a great project to be proud of,” he said, “because we have nothing to apologize to anyone for when it comes to our seal hunt.
“It’s also a great cause, a great living monument to the men and women of Newfoundland who worked hard to make this a place you could live in.”
See Thursday’s edition of The Packet for full coverage.