Port Union, The Fishermen's City


"A Stranger"

(Originally published in the Fishermen's Weekly Advocate, October 30, 1920, p. 5. Article made available courtesy of Mr. John Murphy, Port Union. Transcribed by Melvin Baker, October 1997)

"One must visit Port Union to get an opinion of the greatness of its accomplishment."

"I could not have believed it, had not I visited there to see for myself."

"It far exceeds anything that has been said of it."

These are some of the many expressions of opinion heard from visitors to Port Union; but, though educated with impressions gleaned from visitors closely connected with the Port Union enterprise, the writer was yet pleasingly surprised at the magnitude of Coaker's Northern accomplishment and all his imaginative portrayals were dwarfed into insignificance with the stupendous reality of it all.

A Canadian commercialist who had recently visited Port Union asserted that, in point of convenience, modern equipment, and terminal facilities Port Union has no equal in this country and could rank with the best commercial premises in Canada and the United States. And the writer can concur with him that the master-man whose master-mind gave to Newfoundland Port Union and its associated subsidiary concerns gave to the country a most valuable asset, to the fishermen a most cherished boon, and, was, in himself, an outstanding figure, of which Newfoundland should ever be proud and whose name should be written in letters of gold on the pages of her national life.

When the pioneers of the North first tore away the cliffs where now towers the business houses of the fishermen's city, they began a venture which to-day fills an essential place in the economic life of the country, for on all sides the question now is asked, "Where would the North be but for Coaker and Port Union?"

They were actuated with the motive of service. They had taken their place in the political arena, but saw the necessity of commercial power, as well. Their representatives had served them well and had placed on the statute book many measures which protected the toiler and made his life less miserable. It was not theirs, however, to rest upon their oars for the haven of complete triumph would not be reached until they could moor their fish laden craft by the wharves of a Port Union and support a business, distinctly a fishermen's business, built by fishermen's investments and their burning loyalty to the cause of Unionism.

The writer was in Port Union when the foundations were being dug from under the shrub-covered cliffs a few years ago; a most uninviting spot, rich in rocks, (a good foundation truly), but whose deep waterside then appeared its only redeeming feature. But in what contrast did I view Port Union as the train rolled into its station a few weeks ago. Here was a city, the product of a man's indomitable energy and the fishermen's united strength. It was alive with the hum of business; and its clear Northern atmosphere spoke of development and progress. Numerous vessels lay aside the piers unloading fish from the North, two or more cargoes were loading for Europe, in the stores were several thousands of splendid quality fish, bought from the fishermen at the highest prices offered during the season, and a handsome tern schooner, the "Port Union", lately launched, was being rigged in preparation for a trans-Atlantic voyage.

Here was a lesson for the times. The very air imbibed confidence and optimism and nowhere could be heard stories of fear and disaster, with which the fishermen now in St. John's, are being surfeited by the Opposition press from day to day.

Not with the Opposition cry of ruin, "blue ruin", dinning in their ears, but to the accompaniment of the rattle of donkey-winches, the whistle of freight trains, the rolling of wharf-carts and the hum of elevators, every Port Union workman fulfills his duty from early morning till late at night. Everyone believes in Port Union and believes in Mr. Coaker, and cargoes are loaded and discharged and work generally is done with a despatch unknown to most business centres.

Space will not permit, nor is it my intention to lengthen this article by a description of this metropolis of the North. As inferred at the beginning, any attempt to give adequate description of Port Union would be futile. One must visit the place to see. Suffice to say, the stores, for size plan, equipment, handling facilities and general cleanliness is unequalled in this country. The wharf facilities are most extensive. Indeed, thirty vessels could, at the same time, discharge at the piers and frontage.

The provision store is spacious, well laid out, splendidly kept, and is under skilful management.

The shop stores have no equal on Water Street, and the splendid suit of offices, occupying almost the whole fourth storey of the main building, excels any office in the country.

Well arranged, a perfect heating system, steam and electric, excellently lit in stores, on wharves and streets, capable of berthing the largest steamers engaged in the Newfoundland trade, possessing a cooperage supplying requirements for 80,000 qtls. of our staple product, and a shipbuilding plant providing ships to carry the fish to market, Port Union stands alone, unsurpassed in our Island home, a credit to industry, a credit to Coaker and expressive of the mettle of the Northern men.

Honour is where honour is due, and there is no fair-minded man, be he Liberal or Tory, Coaker or anti-Coaker, but will take off his hat to Coaker and the Northern fishermen and heartily congratulate them on their most practical exhibition of success. Their pioneer efforts have been coined into a golden service and, let who will scream about Coaker, President of the Fishermen's Union, the fact remains that Coaker has in the short space of years, opened up a new vista in the lives of the toilers of the sea.

Over one million dollars have been placed in the Port Union enterprise, we are informed; but Port Union is but the headquarters of thirty-five union stores, erected in most of the principal harbours of the North, and in which a three million dollar business is transacted yearly. Without considering the revenue which the country derives from this source, (the income from the telegraph office at Pt. Union alone amounts to $6,000 annually), one can imagine the great good of such an enterprising and reassuring business service to the country at the present time. Perhaps not less than 25,000 barrels of flour will suffice for F.P.U. requirements this season. But this is but one item, which shows the essentiality of the Union business fabric to the North.

Any visitor to Port Union will realize that no one has so much at stake in the country's future as Mr. Coaker, in his capacity of Manager of Union companies and President of the largest organization that this country has ever possessed.

The man who made Port Union possible must continue Port Union on the road of development, and this can only be done by making the country or its people as prosperous and contented as possible and serving them in both the political and commercial life to the best of his ability. It is sheer hypocrisy for the individuals, interested in the political and commercial undoing of the fishermen, to represent President Coaker as neglectful of the fishermen's interest. In encouraging the cry of "blue ruin", these individuals are the true criminals; but anon, we shall not encroach too much upon your valued space, Mr. Editor.

Yet, this article, cannot be concluded without mentioning the efforts made by Mr. Coaker in inculating a social feeling among the people, now numbering about six hundred.

There is a splendid school at Port Union, a moving picture show presenting splendidly educative pictures, and almost completed is one of the most beautiful churches to be found in the outports.

It is the Church of the Holy Martyrs. Standing on the hill overlooking the sea, this edifice presents a splendid appearance and one can think of nothing more appropriate for the commemoration of the noble "Coaker" recruits, than this building.

There were ten soldier-lads who died; and there are ten windows of artistic design to be erected. These windows are being prepared by Mr. Ballanytne, the Scotch artist, whom the writer had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago in St. John's.

After a most interesting stay of two days we left Port Union at night 'neath the blaze of electric lights. As the train receded up the Bonavista Branch, Port Union still illuminated the night. From the sea, the electric glare is discernible for many miles, so seamen say.

The water power at Port Union is unlimited and in due course, it is expected, that all places on the Bonavista Peninsula north of trinity, will enjoy this modern blessing. Within a few weeks the "juice" will be given Bonavista, as the poles and wires are just about completed, large gangs of men being employed during the season to expedite the work.

It were good for Newfoundland if there were more Coakers and more Port Unions; and it were good of the Opposition scrawlers would drop their political pens and view the future with an eye to their country's real interest and inspire that confidence of which Port Union is a practicable and outstanding symbol.

The writer cannot close without mentioning the general hospitality displayed by the Port Union folk. Though a comparative stranger, we soon found ourselves welcome in the company of "Charlie", Dug White, J.E.C. Gardner, Capt. Jones and others.

We thank them all. We congratulate them all on being associated. in responsible capacities, with perhaps the greatest constructive work ever being successfully operated on behalf of the toilers.

Mr. Coaker cannot pay as much attention as he would desire to Port Union, as his public duties as Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Fisheries must demand his presence in St. John's; but he must be thankful that the good work so well begun can be left more and more in capable hands, while he devotes his valued ability to other spheres of duty on behalf of his countrymen.

Long live Coaker and the F.P.U., and may the lights of Port Union ever be the beacon of the North!.

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