The man who wrote and performed one of the defining songs of the cod moratorium era in Newfoundland and Labrador, Wayne Bartlett of Quirpon, has passed away.
Bartlett died on Friday, just two days after turning 67, and more than two years in a battle with cancer.
“He wanted to keep the traditions alive. He wanted the old ways to be remembered and that was his driving force,” Wayne’s son Andy Bartlett said Monday.
Andy Bartlett was reached by phone at Central United Church, just outside Quirpon, where family and friends gathered to pay tribute to a man known throughout the province for his writing, singing and storytelling.
Wayne Bartlett was born and raised in Quirpon, a remote community at the tip of the Northern Peninsula with a fishing history dating back over five centuries.
Bartlett spent some time in the fishery, leaving the province several times to work in Alberta and Ontario, but always returning to his roots.
Over the past decade, Bartlett and her partner, Cheryl McCarron, have become players in the tourism industry as operators of a bed and breakfast called the Big Blow. The name was a reference to the strong winds that regularly howl across the landscape and shake the ocean in a frenzy, but also a humorous interpretation of Bartlett’s reputation as a lifelong storyteller.
A jack of all trades
Bartlett’s passion was music and storytelling, her friends say, and her desire to preserve the traditions and culture of a bygone era. But he was also well known as a problem solver and jack of all trades, able to handle everything from welding and broadcast to carpentry and photography.
“We have lost a legend. A best friend,” said Leona Patey, resident of Quirpon. “We all had a special bond with Wayne Bartlett. I don’t think he had an enemy.”
Another lifelong friend, Boyce Roberts, described Bartlett as “one of our most colorful characters” and someone who “was everyone’s friend.”
Bartlett has found an outlet for his passion in his songs and in a handful of books and short stories he has produced over the years. Bartlett also created Radio Quirpon and presented her stories, music, and guest voices to audiences online.
But it was the closure of the cod fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador three decades ago, displacing 30,000 fishermen and fish processing plant workers and ending a way of life. that had been around for decades, which inspired Bartlett’s most famous song.
She’s gone, boys, she’s gone was the title track in a collection of songs released in 1992, and its haunting lyrics and tone helped make Bartlett a name far beyond Quirpon.
As the entire province rocked by the closure of the fishing crisis, Bartlett’s song struck a chord, especially in isolated communities where a way of life had been banned.
The song told the story of an old boss, standing on the dock above his small boat, telling a young boy about the glory days of fishing and the shocking demise of cod.
“I remember when I filled her, when I lived in the place I call home, it was a good life then, but never again, because now she’s gone, boys , she’s gone, ”sings Bartlett.
Wiping a tear from his eyes, the skipper said he hoped “the old dory” would be passed on to the boy, but “with a lump in his throat, as the old man spoke, ‘She’s gone, boys, she’s gone, boys, she’s gone. ‘”
“A brilliant repairman”
Andy Bartlett described his father as a “brilliant repairman, thinker, and engineer.
“He could always figure out how to make something work.”
During the construction of the Big Blow, for example, Andy said his father created an underfloor heating system that many believed would never work.
“Everyone said he was going to freeze to death. But to everyone’s amazement, this is one of the best-heated homes in the world,” Andy said.
But as long as the Big Blow is still standing and its songs and stories live on, the man who created them is gone.
A restricted pandemic funeral service for Wayne Bartlett will take place on Thursday.
“If times were different there would be thousands. The church would not organize what would attend this funeral,” said Leona Patey.
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