It was back in 1974 that I interviewed Leonard Matthews Sr. of Grand Bank and wrote an article for the provincial newspaper, the Evening Telegram. To say that at the time the 71-year-old was not a happy camper would be putting it mildly.
The feisty former bank fisherman, farmer, carpenter, rum-runner and boat caulker had taken up model boat building in a big way and was being recognized both locally and abroad for the detailed craftsmanship he was turning out.
The Southern Newfoundland Seamen’s Museum, later renamed the Provincial Seamen’s Museum, opened its doors in 1971. Several years earlier, then-premier J.R. “Joey” Smallwood was so impressed with the Ann Marie – the first large-model schooner built by Mr. Matthews – he told him when the Seamen’s Museum was built, the Ann Marie would be one of the first things to be put on display there.
However, it was not to be.
During the first three years the museum was open, two model vessels were constructed by Varrick F. Cox – a model shipwright with the Newfoundland and Labrador Museum in St. John’s – and installed at the Grand Bank facility. The two models, one of a 10-dory bank fishing schooner and the other a replica of the Flowerdew, a typical three-masted bulk carrier used primarily to carry dried salt fish to overseas markets, are still a very important part of the exhibits at Grand Bank.
Leonard Matthews Sr. was a very determined man who took great pride in the hundreds of models he built over the years. Grand Bank’s foremost model builder of the day would discuss with enthusiasm all of the boats he had made, but the Ann Marie was the one he took the most pride in.
He began building the seven-foot, eight and one-half inch-long schooner in 1945 and named her after his infant daughter, Ann Marie. It was two years later before he finally put the finishing touches on the model. There was a launching party in her honor when she first went into the waters of Fortune Bay in 1947.
Later in the 1970s Leonard Matthews did receive the recognition he deserved when then-MHA and cabinet minister of the day, the Hon. T. Alex Hickman, persuaded the “powers-that-be” to purchase the Ann Marie and permanently display the model in the Seamen’s Museum at Grand Bank, where she rightfully belonged.
In part two we will delve further into the life of Leonard Matthews Sr. and speak with his son, Leonard Matthews Jr., who has also taken up the craft of model boat building thanks to having spent time in his youth learning from his father.
Allan Stoodley is a long-time resident of Grand Bank. He can be reached at email@example.com and he welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written.