Port Union, now showing signs of age and decay, was the
town built by W.F. Coaker, to be the centre of the already discussed FPU.
Coaker selected the site in 1915. The story of the FPU is a remarkable
chapter in 20th century Newfoundland history. Do pardon me for bringing
it up again. Coaker was no socialist. His library contained no socialist
literature. He was probably more influenced by Hard Times than by
Das Kapital. The FPU motto, adopted by him - he ran the whole show
- was suum cuique, "to each his own," which was a shortening of
the Latin phrase suum cuique pulchrum (to everyone, his own is beautiful).
At any rate, it bears little resemblance to Marx's "From each according
to his abilities, to each according to his needs." Coaker believed that
the system of merchant-controlled culling, buying, and exporting fish,
and pricing supplies, robbed fishermen of a just return on their labour
and produce. He thought the only way to overcome this system was through
organizing a union that would take charge of buying and marketing fish
and selling supplies, thus eliminating greedy corporate middlemen. Alongside
his union he created the Fishermen's Union Trading Company to carry out
these essentially mercantile functions. He was in charge of both bodies.
He personally travelled to Europe and made deals with fish buyers. Both
the union itself and the trading company expanded rapidly all along the
northeast coast. The trading company at one point had an office in Greece.
To complement and support his two basic organizations, he had a shipyard,
an electric power station (which started generating electricity in 1918,
early for a Newfoundland outport, and is still functioning efficiently;
it was extensively retooled in the 1980s), a salt fish plant, a newspaper,
a sealing factory, and much more, including a huge 4-turreted Congress
Hall, built in 1923-24 as a place to hold union conferences. (It later
burnt down.) He even built an Anglican church, the Church of the Holy Martyrs,
still standing. He wasn't pleased with existing inboard gasoline engines,
so he had one built with his own name on it. The 6-horsepower Coaker engine
is the subject of a great song written (and often sung) by Art Scammell.
There's a 10-horsepower Coaker in the Port Union museum. The engines were
notoriously hard to get started and, once started, made a screeching sound
that was said to drive farm animals over the cliffs in agony.
For reasons not yet fully understood, Coaker's movement failed. He gave up the presidency of the union in 1926, though he held onto his position in the trading company until his death in 1938. By then the Union was a shadow of what it had been. You can see the ruins of his enterprises on the waterfront and along the main street. Ask where the shipyard was, and spend a few minutes among the big rusty iron objects once used in shipbuilding. What you must not miss is the imposing monument to Coaker. Note that, strangely, he has his broad back to the ocean; he glowers inland, over a barren, as if in despair of the sea ever offering fishermen anything but misery. Look for Coaker's house as well, known as The Bungalow. It's now open to the public. I found it to be an eye-opener.