|photo courtesy David Boyd, Twillingate|
The primary use of red ochre by settlers to Newfoundland and Labrador was as a paint or stain colourant. One small example of its use as a colourant can be found in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, which includes the compound word “ochre-box” meaning a “container in which ochre and water are mixed and a length of string dipped to mark timber for sawing,” also called a reddening box (Story et al. 355). In July 1964, Dorman Miles of Herring Neck described the use of such a box for researchers John Widdowson and Fred Earle:
They’d have the reddin’ lines, the used to call it. They used to strike the [log] with a marking line, with red ochre on it. That would leave the mark on the log where he wanted to come along and saw (Story et al. 408).
In July 1967, Raymond Morey, a resident of La Scie, described the box for the same researchers:
A red’ning box, you know, but some people call it a ochre box. This is a old red’ning line I was telling about lining the sticks. You use ochre in there and a drop of water (Story et al. 408).
Carpenters today are familiar with the more modern chalk lines that work in a very similar way. The handmade example in the photo above comes from the collection of Mr David Boyd, Twillingate, who runs the Prime Berth Fishing Heritage Centre (http://www.primeberth.com). If you drop by this summer, I'm sure he'll show it to you!
Story, George, et al. Dictionary of Newfoundland English. Second Edition. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990.