The man who penned and performed one of the defining songs of the cod moratorium era in Newfoundland and Labrador, Wayne Bartlett of Quirpon, has died.
Bartlett died Friday, just two days after turning 67, and more than two years into a battle with cancer.
“He wanted to keep traditions alive. He wanted the old ways to be remembered and that was his driving force,” Andy Bartlett, Wayne’s son, said Monday.
Andy Bartlett was reached by phone at the Central United Church, just outside Quirpon, where family and friends were gathering to pay tribute to a man known throughout the province for his songwriting, singing and storytelling.
Wayne Bartlett was born and raised in Quirpon, a remote community at the tip of the Northern Peninsula with a history in the fishery that dates back more than five centuries.
Bartlett spent some time in the fishery, leaving the province on several occasions for work in Alberta and Ontario but always returning to his roots.
Over the past decade, Bartlett and his partner, Cheryl McCarron, became players in the tourism industry as the operators of a bed and breakfast called the Big Blow. The name was a reference to the high winds that routinely howl across the landscape and stir the ocean into a frenzy, but also a humorous take on Bartlett’s reputation as a long-winded storyteller.
A jack of all trades
Bartlett’s passion was music and storytelling, say his friends, and his desire to preserve the traditions and culture of a bygone era. But he was also well known as a problem solver and a jack of all trades, able to turn his hands to everything from welding and broadcasting to carpentry and photography.
“We’ve lost a legend. A best friend,” said Quirpon resident Leona Patey. “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 colourful characters” and someone who “was a friend of everybody.”
Bartlett found an outlet for his passion in his songs, and in a handful of books and short stories that he produced over the years. Bartlett also created Radio Quirpon and brought his stories, music and the voices of his guests to an online audience.
But it was the closure of the Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishery three decades ago, displacing 30,000 harvesters and fish plant workers, and ending a way of life that had existed for decades, that inspired Bartlett’s best-known song.
She’s Gone, Boys, She’s Gone was the title track on a collection of songs released in 1992, and its haunting lyrics and tone helped make Bartlett a household name well beyond Quirpon.
With the entire province jarred by the closure of the crisis in the fishery, Bartlett’s song struck a chord, especially in outport communities where a way of life had been outlawed.
The song told the story of an old skipper, standing on the wharf above his small boat, talking to a young boy about the glory days of the fishery, and how the cod had shockingly disappeared.
“I can recall when I filled her, when I lived in the place I call home, t’was a good life back then, but never again, cause now, she’s gone, boys, she’s gone,” Bartlett sings.
Wiping a tear from his eye, the skipper said he hoped “the old dory” would be passed down 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 fixer’
Andy Bartlett described his father as a “brilliant fixer and thinker and engineer.
“He could always figure out how to make something work.”
When building the Big Blow, for example, Andy said his father created an in-floor heating system that many felt would never work.
“Everyone said he was going to freeze to death. But to everyone’s amazement, it’s one of the best-heated houses going around,” said Andy.
But while the Big Blow is still standing, and his songs and stories will live on, the man who created them is gone.
A pandemic-restricted funeral service for Wayne Bartlett will take place Thursday.
“If times were different, there would be thousands. The church would not hold what would attend that funeral,” said Leona Patey.