Friday, June 5, 2020

Living Heritage Podcast Ep175 Weaving with Renee Finlayson

This week, we chat with retired Newfoundland production weaver Renee Finlayson. We talk about her move from Quebec to rural Bonne Bay in the 1970s, her beginning and evolution as a weaver, the types of work she created, and her insights into weaving as a profession.


Living Heritage is about people who are engaged in the heritage and culture sector, from museum
professionals and archivists, to tradition bearers and craftspeople - all those who keep history alive at the
community level. The show is a partnership between HeritageNL and CHMR Radio.
Theme music is Rythme Gitan by Latché Swing.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Bark Tanning

One of the projects I am working in this summer is researching the process of barking or bark tanning. The Dictionary of Newfoundland English describes this as "to immerse a fish-net, sail, etc, in the liquid formed by boiling the bark and buds of a conifer, as a preservative."

People would boil bark, twigs, and branches from local trees in a communal barking pot or barking kettle and use the resulting tea which was rich in tannin to preserve nets, sails, or other canvas goods. The area near where St. John's City Hall is today was once the location of a barking kettle.

It was also used to tan things like seal skin for making boots. There is evidence of the Dorset Paleoeskimo practicing bark tanning of seal skins in Port aux Port, indicating its long history of use in the province. This is a practice which is continued today by some residents on the Northern Peninsula.

Last week, the Craft Council tweeted about the website Handmade In Labrador, a collection of handmade crafts by the Labrador Artisans Co-operative which showcases the traditional craft methods of Southern Labrador. Many of their products use traditional bark tanning to transform cotton duck, a plain, heavy cotton fabric, from white to shades of brown and moss green.

Barked apron with right whale. Labrador Artisan Co-operative via Handmade in Labrador

They include a page with a history of barking in Southern Labrador, and also, wonderfully for my research, an interview with Kathleen O'Brien of West St. Modeste, Labrador on her process of barking cotton duck. Listen to the interview here!


Below is a transcript of the interview.

Interviewer: I am here at Kathleen O’Brien’s, at her house, and she’s going to give me an outline for how to do bark for cotton duck. Go ahead, Kathleen.

Kathleen O'Brien: Go in the forest, first of all, and cut alder trees. You rind the alder, and you put the rind in a container or box for a few days until it turns brown. And the best season for getting your rind is summer or early fall before the sap leaves the rind and goes, you know, because trees go dormant in the fall.

Interviewer: So, would you gather this all one time for all your cossacks or just pick so much at a time?

Kathleen O'Brien: So much at a time because if you took too many the one time it would dry out too much before you get it used. Then, you fill up a large boiler with water, throw in about two gallons of rind from the alders, let it simmer, bring to a boil, boil the rind for about approximately two hours. Then you add two tablespoons of salt because salt helps the bark to go in the material. And then you let it simmer and after it’s boiling for about - simmering and boiling for about six hours, when you see the colour of the colour of the bark go in, you know, through the water, you add, well, two tablespoons of baking soda but do not add the full amount all at once, just gradually add it until it dissolve because, you know, baking soda fizzes up and water in the boiler would boil over, and of course you’d have a mess. Keep simmering and check your bark. If it’s not dark enough you could always add more soda, but keep stirring it around as it's boiling through. When your bark is completed you take it off your stove and strain it with cheesecloth or pantyhose or some kind of a cloth. All the dust into that then will be strained out because if you don’t strain it all the dust from the bark, from the trees, will get in your cotton duck and make a mess on it. So then, when that’s strained off you put it in a bucket or a tub, whatever you have, and add your cotton duck while your water is hot and keep turning, keep turning the cotton duck over so as the material won’t go spotty. So do that until the water starts cooling down, and then after so many hours, only leave it in so many hours. If you leave it in all night all the bark will lodge on the material in different spots and it’ll be darker in some spots and then lighter so to have it all the one thing you just keep stirring it over. And then you take it out and you can put it on your clothesline outdoors to dry or you can put it in the dryer. I found the best was to put it in the dryer. When it was drying it would all dry even. So then it’s ready for to make.

Interviewer: So that’s how you make it.

Kathleen O'Brien: That’s how to make it.


I'd love to chat with anyone who has memories of barking sails, canvas, or skins. I'd especially love to hear from anyone who has barked something recently! You can reach out to me by email at

Works Cited

Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

Renouf, M. A. P., and T. Bell. "Dorset Palaeoeskimo Skin Processing at Phillip's Garden, Port Au Choix, Northwestern Newfoundland." Arctic 61, no. 1 (2008): 35-47. Accessed May 27, 2020.

Creativity During Covid-19 with Mireille Eagan, Curator of Contemporary Art at The Rooms in St. John's

Mireille Eagan, Curator of Contemporary Art at The Rooms in St. John's chats with folklorist Dale Jarvis of Heritage NL about her work telling stories in the gallery space, her life as a curator, and about how the pandemic shutdowns have affected The Rooms specifically, but also the wider impact it has had on how we think about galleries, art, and creativity.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Great Covid-19 Bake Off with Lara Maynard - a #FoodwaysFriday interview!

Today, as part of our ongoing Covid-19 NL oral history project, we visit Lara Maynard in her Torbay kitchen, and chat about what she's been doing to keep busy during the pandemic lockdown. As you might expect if you know Lara, it involves a lot of baking!

Do you know someone we should interview for our Covid-19 project? Email

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

We asked people on the Baccalieu Trail about what they do. This is who answered!

We're off and running with the Baccalieu Trail Traditional Skills Inventory!

Since the launch of our project last week I've been chatting with all sorts of fascinating people working, crafting, making, and keeping heritage alive along the Baccalieu Trail. I've talked to Edward Delaney of Gull Island who makes his own knives for hunting and wood carving, and his wife Linda who knits trigger mittens. I was regaled with fairy and ghost stories by Clifford George of Whiteway. I've heard from vegetable gardeners, traditional musicians, caplin smokers, Indigenous basket makers, seal skin crafts, bakers, and stained glass producers.

Horse carving by Edward Delaney.
Do you know someone practicing a traditional skill in your community along the Baccalieu Trail? I'd love to talk to them! Fill out our survey at or join our facebook group Baccalieu Trail Heritage and Memories.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Ian Gillies, Newfoundland Blacksmith - An interview with folklorist Dale Jarvis

Ian Gillies, Newfoundland Blacksmith, chats with folklorist Dale Jarvis about his forge in Brigus South, how he got started with blacksmithing, materials and techniques, colour, coal, and creativity!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Baccalieu Trail Traditional Skills Inventory Facebook Live Event

Do you know an expert berry-picker? The best local net mender or sheep shearer? Who in your community hooks mats or makes furniture? We want to know!

Terrence Howell teaching a print making course at his studio in Grates Cove, NL. Photo by Kathi Penney-Stacey

Today, Dale Jarvis is hopping on Facebook Live to talk about the Baccalieu Trail Traditional Skills Inventory. He'll let you know more information about the project and let you know how you can get involved!

Tune in at 10am to find out more!

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Baccalieu Traditional Skills Inventory Project Launch

Do you know an expert berry-picker? The best local net mender or sheep shearer? Who in your community hooks mats or makes furniture? We want to know!
Terrence Howell teaching a print making course at his studio in Grates Cove, NL. Photo by Kathi Penney-Stacey

We are looking to identify people in the Baccalieu Trail region who are the ‘hidden gems’ of Newfoundland traditions: storytellers, musicians, berry-pickers, hooked mat makers, carvers, knitters, guides, craft producers, and people who know traditional recipes, dances, or other local knowledge. 
The purpose of the project is to build a publicly accessible inventory of tradition bearers which will serve as a local resource to match people who have valuable traditional skills with tourism operators in the region. The inventory project is part of Memorial University’s Thriving Regions Partnership Process, which supports research partnerships that help promote thriving social and economic regions.
We are eager to learn more about a variety of traditional skills in the area. We are curious about skills like net making and mending, pottery making, furniture making, tinsmithing, crocheting, tatting, and running birch brooms, but all kinds of skills or crafts are of interest.
We will be launching the project on Wednesday, May 20th at 10am NDT with a Facebook Live event on the Heritage NL facebook page. Join Dale Jarvis as he talks about the importance of the project and how to get involved.
We've created a brief online survey to help identify these hidden gems. Do you practice a traditional skill along the Baccalieu Trail? Does someone you know? Please fill out our survey or contact us at

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Sourdough Revolution with Dee Payne - part of our ongoing Covid-19 NL Oral History project

As part of the ongoing Covid-19 NL Oral History project, folklorist Dale Jarvis sits down for a virtual chat with Dee Payne, admin of the Newfoundland/Labrador Sourdough Revolution Facebook group, taking a deep dive into the world of sourdough starters and bread-making during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the group here: