Master Boatbuilder

Reprinted from Decks Awash, Volume 14, Number 2
March-April 1985
Photographs from MUN Digital Archives

(Click on photo to enlarge) 

Eleazer Hiscock

“I was born in 1905 at Hodge’s Cove and I went to work as a fisherman on the Labrador when I was 12,” says master shipbuilder Eleazer Hiscock of Clarenville. “I fished until it got to be a starvation trade in the ’30s, then in 1941 I came to Clarenville to work at the shipyard. The Commission of Government started to build a fleet that was afterwards known as the Splinter Fleet. The first we completed was the Clarenville. She was 346 gross tons, 126 ft. long and was equipped with an English-built Vivien diesel motor. We built 10 altogether, all name after Newfoundland towns. There was no haulout then. It was just a building site.

“After I had 21 years in, they changed managers and advertised for an inspector. There were a lot of inspectors in the field, but most were young and inexperienced and there was a lot of inferior work. I was 57 and I thought I was a bit too old, but I applied and got the job. When I became 65 they gave me an extension and another at 66. It staved off my retirement. The director of vessel construction asked me what I would do when I left. I said I would get a few men and build a boat if he would give me a permit. ‘You can build five if you like’, he said.”

Rocking chair made by Eleazer Hiscock from a section of the kneel timbers of the M.V. Clarenville. (Photo courtesy Mrs. Harold Bailey)

By this time the yard had been taken over by Clarenville Industries but was lying idle. Eleazer, wondering whether he could use it to build a boat, approached the government and was introduced to Ralph Mercer who was also interested in acquiring the yard. The two men entered a partnership and obtained a lease on the yard for 10 years.

“We went to St. John’s and got a loan for operating capital and on the way home we heard on the radio the shipyard had been awarded to us. I came home and told the wife. She said, ‘I guess you know what you are doing’. I was not quite sure if I did, but at my age and health I was not going to lie down, so we started.

“We built 53 boats and we had eight out there at one time. We also hauled out about 350. I was an early riser and I’d be at the shipyard at 6:30 a.m., an hour before the workmen. I love work and for some particular reason I wanted to go at it. I didn’t want any failures. I was foreman, superintendent, whatever. Mr. Mercer did the office work. We paid back our 10-year loan in 13 months, but there were times when I was very doubtful. At one time we had 55 men and I hall to transfer $8,000 of my own savings to the Bank of Montreal to meet the payroll. We did well. Yes, I’ve say it was a successful partnership. We are still talking to each other.

“How did I learn shipbuilding? It was traditional. In the outports every fisherman built his own boat, regardless of its size, 5 ton or 1000 ton, it’s still the same shape. Once you have the knowledge of a small boat you have a wonderful idea.

The Melanie, Chris No. ! built by Eleazer Hiscock undergoing repairs at Clarenville Shipyard.

“We built wooden fishing boats and used B.C. fir for the keel, one piece for the 45 ft. boat, anything bigger and we scarfed a piece in. The frames were birch underwater, local spruce farther up. Planking was birch in the bottom, spruce and B.C. fir topside.

“I liked to make things, but there’s always change and decay. The time comes when you get up around the four score and you can’t be too active anymore. I travel by car and do a bit of fishing by the side of the road. The funny thing about the four-score years is now if I put my hammer down, I don’t know what I did with it, but something that happened 25 years ago I can remember easily.”

In 1979, Memorial University awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to him. At the convocation, R.M. Mowbray, University orator said “… we are doing ourselves more good than we are doing good to Lees Hiscock in admitting to our community a craftsman with his wisdom, his know-how, his belief in the work-ethic – in the words of Ralph Mercer, his partner ‘one of the smartest in the country on boats’.”

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Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, January 2021

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.