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My dad was 15 years old when he stowed away on the SS Newfoundland. He had sea water in his veins and was eager to earn his keep, to help out his brothers and sisters. We're not sure how Dad found his way onto the ship, though he probably hid under a life-raft or in the twine-cellar once aboard. He did so without his family knowing. My dad did things like that. He would go away to work without telling anyone but he would always send money home. That's the kind of man he was. The captain was displeased when he discovered Dad aboard. Stowaways were considered bad luck at the time.
The captain could have easily allowed him to head to the ice floes with the other men. He could have made him harvest the seals, made some money off of him. For certain, there were numerous 16 year olds sealing that year and Dad would not have looked out of place. But the captain chose to keep him aboard as a way of punishing him and Dad was made to work for his passage. He cleaned and helped in the kitchen, performed all manners of hard labour and regularly stoked the furnace during this time. My dad was horribly disappointed to be prevented from heading to the ice and participating in the seal hunt. He had to watch all the other boys his age go off to earn a dollar while he was forced to stay behind.
Later everyone would be eternally grateful that the captain did not see fit to send my dad onto the ice that day. In a twist of fate, an act of discipline would turn into an act of charity. I often think about all that would not have been if my dad had been sent to the ice with the others. I think about how he would have likely suffered and maybe lost his life. He might not have married my mother and had a family. I would not be here. When I look into the faces of my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren, I think of all the lives that were lost that day. I think of how lucky we are and I think of how things could have so easily went another way based on one decision.
My dad didn't talk about the disasters very much, it's the kind of thing a man keeps close to his chest. He went sealing the very next year and many years after that. He, like all sealers, did so to provide for the ones he loved.