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April 13, 2019

Barking the Traps

Years ago fishermen used to use a large metal pot to bark their nets. There were two reasons why the nets called traps had to be barked. The bark, reddish brown in colour preserved the new twine and it also turned it very dark. The dark net was not easily seen by the fish, therefore, making it easier for them to be caught. In the very early times, fishermen made their own bark by boiling the bark (Rine) of the spruce trees, along with the cones (buds) and ochre when they could get it. Later on, they were able to buy a material called cutch, known in Newfoundland as pitch or bark. It was made in India from some type of tree and shipped here in a slab form. Fishermen could buy it from the local hardware or fishery supply store. The cutch could be dissolved in boiling water in a large container over an open fire with lots of heat.

Over the winter the fishermen mended their nets or made new ones using new cotton twine which in the early day was white. On the barking day, the fishermen got on the go very early because the water in the large container took a long time to get up to the boiling point. In Heart’s Delight-Islington many of the fishermen used a cut of steel drum as a barking pot. The fire was lit and when the water was boiling they threw in the bark and whatever other materials the wanted to use. I remember seeing some old fellows throwing in a few gallons of cod liver oil (Blubber).

The new twine was dragged out of the shed and put in the pot with the solution of bark inside. The traps soaked there for a certain amount of time then it was pulled from the bark pot and put in the punchen tub, from there it was loaded on the horse cart and hauled away to be strung out on the fences to dry in the wind and sun.

It was easy to know when the men were barking the nets. Anyone around or involved in the process was dressed up in old clothes or oilskins, and the smell! The air was filled with smoke and steam The bark had a peculiar smell and mixed with the cod oil it was something to remember. A familiar scene for anyone who grew up in the outports of Newfoundland was the newly barked traps hanging on almost every fence in the neighbourhood. Awesome to remember, hope you do too.

Barking the Traps

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