EXTRACT FROM " A HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY OF THE BRITISH COLONIES," VOL. V.—PART IV. " NEWFOUNDLAND,"
BY J. D. RODGERS (OXFORD, MDCCCCXI.), pp. 192–193.
Newfoundlanders are men of one idea, and that idea is fish. Their lives are devoted to the sea and its produce, and their language mirrors their lives ; thus the chief streets in their chief towns are named Water Street, guides are called pilots, and visits cruises. Conversely, land-words have sea meanings, and “ a planter,” which meant in the eighteenth century a fishing settler as opposed to a fishing visitor, meant in the nineteenth century—when fishing visitors ceased to come from England—a shipowner or skipper. The very animals catch the infection, and dogs, cows, and bears eat fish. Fish manures the fields. Fish, too, is the mainspring of the history of Newfoundland, and split and dried fish, or what was called in the fifteenth century stock-fish, has always been its staple. And in Newfoundland fish means cod.
Newfoundland is as rich in coves, where cod-ships or boats may shelter, as it is poor in beaches where cod can be split and dried, and their place is supplied by “ stages,” or small wooden piers on wooden piles and with wooden roofs. The cod-fish are brought by boats to the piers, and are split and temporarily cured under the roofs upon the piers ; as may be seen on the fiords of Norway. The final process of drying cod in the sun takes place in wooden erections called flakes, which resemble the pergole of southern Europe, but on whose roof instead of roses the hardly less odorous dead and split cod basks. A few years before this period began, most streets were flakes, beneath whose shadows young men and women walked,
Whispering murmers of love at even.
Sir Richard Keats purged the north shore of St. John’s Harbour, but sixty years ago the south shore of St. John’s was still decorated with flakes, and even to-day flakes still lend their peculiar poetry and fragrance to Quidi Vidi and the smaller out-ports. Cod-fish, alive or dead, wet or dry, have exercised an all-pervading influence over the destiny of Newfoundland.