When the most recent Folklore Cultural Documentation course for beginning graduate students at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) was planned, Professor Jerry Pocius believed the course would be best offered in a field school setting.
"My thought was, instead of sitting in a classroom in St. John's, which we have done for years, and have people talk about this stuff, we should actually bring them somewhere as a project," says Pocius.
Once the field school was approved finding the right setting for the project became important. Because the course focused on observing and documenting the impact of the Northern Cod Moratorium on one or two fishing families in rural Newfoundland, it was natural to establish a base in a fishing community.
Pocius has been a home-owner and a summer resident of Keels for many years. Knowing the area and the residents, he felt the tiny Bonavista Peninsula community was the perfect spot to conduct the field school.
Keels at one time was a busy community with a thriving fishery. Like most of rural Newfoundland it was hit hard by the Northern Cod Moratorium. Today, only two fishing enterprises, belonging to Phonse Ducey and John Ducey, sail out of the picturesque harbour. When Keels was chosen as the site of the field school these two fishers, as well as their work spaces and homes, became the focus of the study.
Six under-graduate students registered for the Folklore 6020 program. As they prepared to begin their first term in the pursuit of a Master's degree, they would soon find themselves in a completely different university setting.
Early in September five of them made their first ever trip to this province, joining one lone Newfoundland classmate. A few days later they were in Keels ready to begin three weeks of field school classes, under the direction of Professor Pocius and his assistant, PHD candidate Meghann Jack.
Not only was it strange for the students to live in a fishing community, the fishery and how the Moratorium impacted the lives of people in rural Newfoundland was a completely new topic for them.
However, it didn't take them long to get involved in the course and in the community, according to Pocius. They immediately began learning new skills to be used in documenting the Duceys, the last two inshore fishing families in Keels.
Indoor classes were conducted in the community's RC Hall in the community. Visiting instructors included, Guha Shankar, Dale Jarvis, Tom Parker, Brian Ricks and John Mannion.
The students observed and learned techniques such as measuring and drawing buildings, interviewing tips and photography. Each class would assist them to document their research on the everyday spaces of the fishers, their homes, work buildings, boats, and shoreline work area.
During their time with John Mannion, they studied old maps of the community and lists of former settlers.
"From these, and from talking to residents, the students gained some sense of the old fishery and of the salt fishery. Then they began examining the remnants of the fishery. There is hardly anything going on today and so many of these places are slowly dying," says Pocius.
Although the majority of the classes and research were conducted in Keels, the students also gained knowledge of the past and present fishery as well as the way of life on the Bonavista Peninsula during trips around the area.
In Plate Cove West they visited Furlong's fish plant where Howard Quinton taught them how to fillet a cod. The fish were brought back to Keels where a local resident showed them how to salt the cod. The food fishery also took place during the field school, giving the students a rare opportunity to experience what was once a common, daily practice.
The former importance of the salt fish industry was the focus of their tour at the Ryan's Premises in Bonavista, and in Trinity, they thoroughly enjoyed the performance of Theresa's Creed by the Rising Tide Theatre players.
Phonse and John Ducey, as the focus of the documentation, spent a lot of time with the students. They not only were interviewed, says Pocius, their sheds and even their homes, came under inspection.
"Phonse and John were very patient and always willing to help, as were all the people in Keels. One day when we were measuring Phonse's fish store, he came over and took the time to show us how to repair nets. Gradually the students have learned not only about fishing but also what goes on in Keels and around the area"
His assistant, Meghann Jack, a native of Nova Scotia, agrees that it has been a good learning experience for all.
"They are also learning how it is to live in a rural community, what it is like to live in a small community like Keels where there is no high speed internet hook-up, where there is no cell service. They are finding there is challenges to rural life in Newfoundland," says Jack.
In addition to working on the major theme of the course, each student had to choose different aspects of the fishery to research and to document. Individual projects included the food fishery, gardening and root cellars, chosen by Kristin Catherwood of Saskatchewan, while the salt fishery and women in the fishery were the subjects selected by Alicia Farnham of New Brunswick.
Noah Morritt of Ontario says his individual project was net making, which he enjoyed.
"I had the chance to examine the different parts of a cod trap, the difference between cod traps and gill nets, to see how nets are traditionally made and how they are repaired, which has been interesting," says Morritt.
Edward Millar of New Jersey went rabbit snaring with local teenager Rodney Byrne and decided to choose that as his individual project.
The group say getting to know the residents through interviews or by just meeting them on the road was one of the best things about field school. The famous Newfoundland hospitality came to the fore as the residents of Keels welcomed the group into their community and into their homes.
The hospitality came as no surprise to Pocius.
"Our only small problem in the beginning was finding homes the students could rent and we got this straightened out. We had explained to the residents that the group would want to speak to them, to measure boats and buildings etc., and everyone , from the young to the adults, was very receptive," says Pocius.
School is over
Very quickly it seemed, the three-week field school came to a close. Before leaving Keels, the field school participants invited interested residents of the community to the RC Hall on Sept. 29 where they offered a presentation of their time and studies in Keels.
Pocius says they expected some interest in the presentation and the social to follow. They got much more than expected.
"The hall was packed. Lots and lots of people showed up; so many more than we expected that we had to get more chairs. The students began with a 15-20 minute slide-movie presentation with sound movie images and interviews. It was excellent, really well done," says Pocius.
Following the presentation, musical instruments quickly appeared on the scene and the sounds of a fiddle, accordion and guitar filled the hall. Dancing and singing continued well after midnight as the students, residents and guests made the most of their last night together in Keels
Professor Pocius wasn't the only person pleased with the presentation as well as the field school experience. Anne Fitzgerald, mayor of Keels, attended the presentation and says the entire audience was delighted with it.
"It was excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so did everyone who attended. The three weeks the university students and instructors were here was a great experience for us and I'm sure they enjoyed their stay in Keels," says Mayor Fitzgerald.
"They were a very friendly group and they were certainly a pleasure to have around. We are all going to miss them and I wish them well as they continue their studies at the university."