Society of United Fisherman (SUF) Lodge # 40, Gooseberry Cove

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by Elaine (Peddle) Spurrell


The Heart’s Content Fishermen’s Society was formed in 1862 by Rev. George Gardner, a Church of England clergyman, in an attempt to try to relieve some of the suffering of the fishermen and their families during sickness and/or death. The men who joined paid a yearly fee, and in a time of sickness they would receive weekly financial aid, no matter how long they were ill. A death financial benefit was also paid which allowed members to receive a decent burial and for their surviving families to be provided with financial help. Men of any religious denomination or walk of life could become members.

The Heart’s Content Fishermen’s Society became so popular that men from surrounding communities were also eager to join.  On January 1, 1873, the society became the Society of United Fishermen, Lodge # 1. Men from the nearby community of Winterton joined the SUF and became Lodge # 2. The demand was so great that within three years there were Lodges established in 32 communities in Newfoundland. Eventually the SUF expanded to 90 Lodges, several of which were in Nova Scotia. In 1881, the Grand Lodge was moved from Heart’s Content to St. John’s. The SUF is the only fraternal organization of its kind to have its roots in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The SUF Constitution states that “the Order has for its objects the welfare of fishermen, the inculcation of temperance and morality, the preservation of peace and harmony, obedience to the laws and the lawfully constituted authorities and the development of the fisheries. It is also a mutual benefit Society, in which all paying members receive aid in time of sickness and other calamity”. The SUF also worked on behalf of fishermen in petitioning the government in all aspects of fishing concerns including better prices and improved quality. It also petitioned for improvement in health care, education, roads and social benefits.

The SUF membership consisted of the degrees; red, white and blue (after the colours of the Union Jack) and a final degree of District. Those who joined initially would be given the red degree. After a year they could petition to join the white degree, and in another year the blue degree. The top degree would be the ‘District’ which meant that these members would attend district meetings whenever they were held in another community. For example, Gooseberry Cove members could attend district meetings in Bonavista. Each degree level held separate meetings and consisted of a separate password. For example, those with the ‘red’ degree could not attend ‘white’ meetings, those with a ‘white’ degree could not attend ‘blue’ meetings, etc. However, those with a ‘blue’ degree could attend all three meetings. Entrance to each meeting was by password and there was always a lookout at the door to ensure that only those who were members were given entrance.

In the early days of the SUF, the fishermen members from ‘Heart’s Ease’ would row across the bay to Heart’s Content to attend meetings at the Lodge there. By the 1880’s, it appears that they had founded their own Lodge, which became # 40. The Lodge was located in Gooseberry Cove and members came from the surrounding communities. The fees were 10 cents a month. The initial members were: Samuel Myers, Edward Seward, Richard Seward, William Balsom, Joseph Spurrell, Thomas Seward, and Moses Manuel.

In 1890 there were nine members: Richard Balsom, George’s Cove: Jacob Drodge, Little Heart’s Ease; William Thomas Benson, Northern Bight (Hillview);  Caleb Green, St. Jones’ Without; John Vardy, Hickman’s Harbour; John Balsom, Fox Harbour (Southport); Newman Benson, Northern Bight (Hillview); James Dodge, Heart’s Ease; George Butt.

In 1891 there were 13 members from 10 communities: Edmund Seward, Fox Harbour; Henry Hiscock, Hodge’s Cove; Charles Green, St. Jones’ Without; Simeon Whalen, Caplin Cove; Alex Benson, Clay Pitts; Caleb Green, St. Jones’ Without; Adam Benson, Clay Pitts; Newman Avery, Fox Harbour; Ben Smith, Gooseberry Cove; Richard Balsom, George’s Cove; Alfred Langer, Gooseberry Cove; William Thomas Benson, Northern Bight; Samuel Martin, Little Heart’s Ease.

It is likely that the early meetings of the SUF at Gooseberry Cove were held at the nearby school. In 1906, William H. Seward of Gooseberry Cove donated land to the Society so that they could build their own lodge. The lodge was not completed until 1908. This lodge was later taken down and a new one constructed on the same site. There appears to be a period of time when the SUF Society lapsed in Gooseberry Cove, but after a few years it quickly revived. In the 1920’s the fees had increased to $1.60 per member per year. Meetings were held 3-4 times a year with the highlight of the year being the annual New Year’s Day Parade and “Time’. This popular event was looked forward to all year and was well attended by people from the surrounding communities. TheSUF members would meet at the Lodge at 9:30 a.m. and begin their parade at 10a.m. They paraded to each of the three communities of Butter Cove, Gooseberry Cove and Southport, while eating dinner at one of the three communities. Church service was usually held at 11 a.m. and alternated between St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Gooseberry Cove and Bethany United Church in Southport. If they were eating at Butter Cove, they would first parade to Southport, come back to Gooseberry Cove for the church service and then parade to Butter Cove where they ate. The next year they would first parade to Butter Cove, come back to Gooseberry Cove and then parade to Southport where they ate dinner and had the church service. They would take turns eating in each of the three communities. After dinner they would head back to the Lodge to begin preparations for the supper and dance that night. The dance was always the traditional square dance with an accordion player supplying the music. Dancing continued all night and most people, including children, didn’t go home until daylight. It was quite common to ‘dance the light out’, which meant that dancing continued until daylight and the oil lamps were turned out.

The following are select quotes from minutes of meetings.  Jan. 1, 1928: “Collection received on parade day was $57.57. Paid for Mr. W. H. Seward’s burial and sick fee, $32.00. Paid Moses Spurrell’s sick fee $6.00.” Dec. 6, 1929: “Paid the ‘suffering brethren’ of Burin disaster the sum of $40.00.” This was quite a sum of money in those days and shows the generosity of the Society. Dec. 28. 1929: “Parade to Butter Cove, from that back to the Hall and eat dinner in Gooseberry Cove and Southport. Also, to parade to Southport and get the Methodist minister to preach to us. Proposed and seconded that we should pay forty cents for our dinner. Proposed and seconded that we should buy fifty pounds of meat for our dinner.” Dec. 27, 1930: Pay 40 cents for dinner in Gooseberry Cove during parade. Have dance in Hall and charge 15 cents at the door.” Dec. 26, 1931: “Report that Brother Eleazer Hiscock was real sick. New Year’s Day to have free dinner in Southport.”

In 1928, the provincial SUF extended its membership by forming the first Ladies’ Auxiliary in St. John’s. Slowly other areas began to do the same. Many fishermen’s wives joined and their group became known as the Ladies’ Council of the SUF. In 1964 Gooseberry Cove SUF Ladies’ Council was formed becoming Ladies’ Council Lodge # 34. The initial members were: Mercedes Agnes Dean, Delilah Smith, Jessie Spurrell, Doris Spurrell, Sarah Spurrell, Hilda Balsom, Edith Lambert, Nina Smith, Violet Smith, Mildred Smith and Lydia Brown. Membership of both the men and women remained strong, especially in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. In recent years interest in the SUF has waned. As of 2014, the Ladies’ Council is no longer active in Gooseberry Cove and the men’s group has only 6 members. Due to lack of interest of the younger generation, it appears that SUF Lodge # 40 will close in the near future. Sadly, another part of our history will cease to exist.