The loss of the "Democracy"

Banking schooner wrecked leaving Fortune

Published on July 15, 2017

A heavy northwest gale of wind proved to be the undoing of the 100 ton banking schooner "Democracy" as she was attempting to leave her home port of Fortune in early May, 1933. Just outside the harbour entrance she struck bottom and ran ashore becoming a total loss. The wooden flakes, which were used for drying the salt cod in that community, can be seen in the photo just to the right of the grounded vessel.

©Robert W. Stoodley Photography

Living in Newfoundland we have no choice but to accept the winter months and the snow, wind and cold temperatures it brings; but when we get into April, May and June we optimistically expect better weather. However, most years we are bitterly disappointed with the weather cards we are dealt during these so called “spring months.”

The month of May in the year 1933 must have been exceptionally bad, as Aaron Buffett of Grand Bank wrote in his diary on May 8 that year: “weather unprecedented for many years. Fourth day of the storm.”
During the first day of the storm, May 5, “the Grand Bank schooner Coral Spray arrived back in port from her spring fishing trip having onboard 400 quintals of cod and reporting two dories and four men astray in the fog since Tuesday last.”
On the following day, quoting again from A.F. Buffett's diary, “A heavy N.W. gale raged all day. The schooner Democracy, in attempting to get out of Fortune this morning, was wrecked and is probably a total loss. She recently landed 1000 quintals of fish.”
Then on Tuesday May 9, 1933,..... “the schooner "Democracy" at Fortune is being dismantled, since she is a total loss. Messrs Harry Lake (owner of the schooner) and George Handrigan, (who was the ship's captain), are gone to Nova Scotia to purchase a vessel.”
On page 150 in his book “Wake Of The Schooners”, well-known Grand Bank author Robert Parsons gives the following account of the loss of the schooner Democracy.
“The banking schooner Democracy struck a rock ledge near Fortune on May 5, 1933. Capt. George Handrigan and his crew of twenty escaped in dories. The 100 ton banking schooner, built at Lunenburg, N.S., in 1919, broke up in the wind storm.”
Switching ahead to the entry in Buffett's diary dated May 12, 1933, we find good news to report on the four missing fishermen from the schooner Coral Spray who “went astray in the fog on the fishing grounds” ten days earlier.
Quote from diary; “The four men who strayed from the Coral Spray on the 2nd May are reported today. Dan (or Dave ?) Meaney and Joe Bond being taken to North Sydney by the Charlie and Eric and the two Clarkes reported as being onboard the W.L.M. King bound for Grand Bank. (..the "W. L. Mackenzie King" was a vessel owned by J. B. Foote and Sons of Grand Bank).
Writer’s Note: Aaron F. Buffett (1876-1948) was my wife's grandfather. He was a well-known Grand Bank businessman and a noted historian of his day with much of his writings being published in St. John's, NL, newspapers and other periodicals.
Robert W. Stoodley (1904-1956) was my father, who was a respected photographer in his day. He captured that "banking-schooner" era of our history on black and white film.
Having at my fingertips the photos taken by my father and matching them with information available through the penmanship of Aaron Buffett gives me the advantage to present through these columns a detailed and vivid picture of events that happened many decades ago.

Allan Stoodley is a long time resident of Grand Bank. He welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written. He can be reached at