The following poem is a work of fiction but traces the life of someone involved in one of Canada's worst, and all-but-forgotten, disasters.
NEWFOUNDLAND MAN by René Schmidt
Well I be a Newfoundland man, me feet upon the sand and
calluses on my hands, this b’y from Newfoundland
We fishes in the sea boys, the schooner ships is our toys
the luck at sea is ours, boys, we sails from Newfoundland
I left my home so early son, to see what riches could be won
and go beyond the setting sun, far from my native land
To Ontario I did go roam, the land of jobs and soil and loam
but far from family and my good home, away in Newfoundland
Manufacturies were shut then, to anyone but grown men
and they was closed up like a pen, to a boy from Newfoundland
So I got a job on lakers see? t'was better then to suit me
and I worked till I was 43, this boy from Newfoundland.
Well a wheelsman became my trade, I did it well and got well paid
I began to think I'd got it made, with the big old wheel in my hand.
Then I was ready to quit the life, the Great Lakes had seen my strife
and the cold could cut you like a knife, and I longed for Newfoundland.
I told the captain, shook his hand, said I'd return to Newfoundland
he said, "wait, there's something planned; a brand new ship needs your wheelsman's hand"
"The new ship that’s been launched, Clyde, is Canada’s biggest, long and wide
I recommend to wheel her ride, you, with your steady hand."
Flattered I was and told him so, I really couldn't refuse to go
for one more time to the lakes I'd go, this boy from Newfoundland.
The James Carruthers was her name, straight and smooth and clean as flame
into her wheelhouse I signed my name, Clyde Barnes, St. Anthony, Newfoundland
Out to sea we went you men, and up into Lake Huron then
we hit a storm like nothing when I'd seen on sea or land
The captain could have turned for shore, like dozens of ships and many more
to wait out the storm and hear the roar, from behind a point of land.
But the captain a proud man was he, he thought his new ship equal to be
to any storm on any sea... Was there such foolishness in all the land?
The snow fell thick all around the lake, the ship iced up like a wedding cake
each wave was worse for us to take, and I wished for Newfoundland.
The sea come from starboard, the wind from port, the ship would turn and buck and snort
I longed for safety of some port, or a beach on which to strand.
This brand new ship was tossed around, bodies lost were never found
the shriek of fear was one long sound, almost more than I could stand
This small Lake Huron was busting us up, the ship held water like a cup
each time she rolled she slower come up, but far were we from land
The wind and seas come yet still higher, this brand new ship bent around like wire.
cracks came in and put out the fire and her engines did silent stand.
We went down into the sea then, me, the captain, and other good men
from eight big ships, all of them down; our bodies littered the sand.
Eight ships lost with all hands drowned, twenty-two more ships run aground
two hundred men or there around, would never more feel the land.
You don't believe it? I'll tell you every bit and word is true
so think about the Great Lakes blue, so far from Newfoundland.
The storms are big and bad and bold, November storms the worst all told
so stay on shore and you'll grow old, not like me from Newfoundland.
Rene Schmidt copyright 1987