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Rebuilding an historic wharf

Francis Patey, 81, of St. Anthony is working on building a replica of the old A.H. Murray and Company Limited wharf.
Francis Patey, 81, of St. Anthony is working on building a replica of the old A.H. Murray and Company Limited wharf.

ST. ANTHONY, NL – Francis Patey is still finding ways to recreate the past – this time by building a replica of a long gone St. Anthony wharf    

In his 81 years of living, Patey has always kept himself busy with a number of different projects over the years. He is a well-known published author who has, amongst other things, documented the lives of Newfoundland Labrador veterans of the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and the Gulf wars in his book “Veterans of the North”.

But he has other hobbies. Most specifically, in the past 10 to 15 years, Patey’s applied his handiness by building miniature replicas, mostly centred on the fishery.

And the model he’s currently working on is his biggest and most ambitious yet.

Right now, Patey is in the middle of recreating the old A.H. Murray and Company Limited owned wharf.

This business was located on the eastern side of St. Anthony harbour, near where so many boats are tied up today.

“Salt steamers” would tie up here and in the buildings they would store the salt that was delivered by the steamers and they would dry the fish.

It opened in St. Anthony in 1935 – in fact, the year Patey was born – and closed in 1969, as freezers made salt storage obsolete.

According to Patey, the structure blew down years later in a strong northeast gale.

On the afternoon of May 4, Patey is down in the basement, seated next to the replica. Since he started around Christmas, he’s completed the buildings and has painted them. The wharf itself looks to be completed as well. It’s all made of pinewood.

The water surrounding is painted a deep navy blue.

Francis Patey uses a chisel as he works on a replica of an old salt steamer.

Meanwhile, Patey is working diligently, in the middle of chiselling out a replica of one of those old steamers out of wood.

He explains that these large vessels, carrying huge quantities of salt, would arrive in St. Anthony in the early summer, from countries like Norway, Portugal, and Spain.

He estimates that there’d be about 100 men working on them.

The salt steamer would tie up out front and the salt would be hoisted up, 30 feet, onto the upper deck of the wharf. Here, there’d be men ready to carry carts of salt into the building. Within the building, there were holes cut in the floor where they’d store it.

The fish inside would also be dried using heat. And out back, there were hundreds of salted flakes drying fish in the sun.

In the meantime, back out front, there’d be two schooners on the side that would take the salt and carry it across to Labrador and other places.

Patey says it used to take two weeks, day and night, to offload it all.

As he explains this whole process, his practically identical replica makes it easy to visualize all the activity – the boats and the salt and the fish and the men and women, hard at work – right in front of you.

It whisks you away deep into the past.

With a fresh mind, Patey recollects going around there with his mother when he was just five-years-old. At that time, he says, they used to get just 10 cents an hour, working 12-hour shifts.

A few years later, Patey, himself, was working there. At the age of 18-years-old, he remembers being down in one of the salt steamers, filling up tubs down in a hole, and working on the upper deck of the wharf, helping to haul it up.

 

Loving our heritage

It’s always been important to Patey to preserve these memories and the rich heritage of Newfoundland Labrador.

“Ever since I was a youngster, I had a great interest in our heritage,” he says.

That’s why he keeps taking on these projects, whether it’s writing books about the Royal Newfoundland Regiment or recreating a long gone wharf that was once a hub of activity in the fishing town.

It’s the love of this history and the desire to preserve it that motivates him.

The idea to recreate the wharf, specifically, was sparked after he happened upon a coloured photograph of the wharf from about 50 or so years ago.

And he’s been constantly using the photograph as a guide. He doesn’t want to just go by memory because he wants to recreate it as closely as possible to reality.

Working at it a couple hours every day, Patey estimates it’ll probably be finished in about a month’s time. He still needs to finish the boats and add some people, plus some other final touches.

He isn’t entirely sure what he’ll do with it when it’s finished, but he says it’s not for sale.

But, in fact, he hopes that it could be put on display somewhere so people can see it.

 “What St. Anthony needs is a place to put all this kind of stuff that’s lying around,” he says.

And, of course, he’s looking to keep busy after this. He says another thing he’d like to make a model of is the old Grenfell dock in St. Anthony. He’s hoping to find a good photo to base it off of and re-construct another vital structure in the town’s rich history.    

This is the old photo of the A.H. Murray and Company Limited business that Francis Patey is basing his replica off of.

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