Making fish : salt-cod processing on the east coast of Newfoundland, a study in historic occupational folklife

Ferguson, Mark (1996) Making fish : salt-cod processing on the east coast of Newfoundland, a study in historic occupational folklife. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

I investigate the occupational folklife of making salt fish on the east coast of Newfoundland in the light-salted fishery from 1920 to 1950. This processing was central to most Newfoundlanders' lives and has been neglected by scholars. Fundamental to my approach are insider (emic) perceptions and perspectives of fishing people. -- Occupational folklife posits that work and talk about work are key to people's understandings of themselves and their worlds. Several themes emerged from people's talk about fish processing. I undertake a micro-analysis of the making of one variety of salt fish (pickled) to demonstrate that producing this valuable commodity was complex, labour-intensive work requiring skilled techniques and traditional knowledge. Women played a vital role in the work: their role and the significance of the work to their identities are explored. Women and men derived various rewards from these often communal labours: social status, community bonds, and the satisfactions gained from skilled productivity. -- The hectic work of the summer fishery was but one element of a multi-faceted seasonal round. I examine fish-processing's dominant role in that round, highlighting important memories and understandings of its positive and negative attributes. -- The salt fisheries had many branches and products. The key distinctions that differentiated these are investigated, establishing the centrality of the inshore light-salted branches to the economy and culture of the Dominion of Newfoundland. Given their importance, the material rewards accruing to fisheries workers were meagre and, at times, living standards fell below subsistence. The overall quality of life suffered badly, especially in times of economic depression. These harsh realities resulted in part from the effects of the system and practices of mercantile capitalism. The intricacies of the cull and truck were two strategies by which fishing people's gains were minimized and merchants' maximized. This system played a major role in the decline of the industry through the first half of this century. -- Through these analyses, I come to terms with two contradictory views of the salt fishery as described to me — one dystopian and negative, the other utopian and seemingly nostalgic. I challenge the validity of the conventional dystopian depictions of the industry, the communities, and the people who did the work.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5500
Item ID: 5500
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [282]-293.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Folklore
Date: 1996
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Salted fish--Newfoundland and Labrador; Cod fisheries--Social aspects--Newfoundland and Labrador; Fishery processing--Newfoundland and Labrador; Newfoundland and Labrador--Social life and customs

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