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Sheilah Mackinnon Drover celebrates Newfoundland’s maritime past in new book

Cover of MacKinnon Drover’s book Ted Drover: Ships Artist.
Cover of MacKinnon Drover’s book Ted Drover: Ships Artist. - Submitted

Ted Drover: Ships Artist combines author's father-in-law’s artwork with her research

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Author Sheilah Mackinnon Drover has fond memories of time she spent in Springdale, where she taught for several years.

“Springdale was a wonderful place to bring up a family. My memories of my students, colleagues, friends, and times shared there - especially around the Christmas season - are very special,” she said. “They were years for which I am very grateful.”

Although she has retired from teaching in the classroom, she has found a new way to continue educating people about the heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mackinnon Drover has spent considerable time over the past few years creating a book that celebrates the work and artistry of her father-in-law. Ted Drover: Ships Artist combines graphite drawings by Drover himself with text by Mackinnon Drover to create a sense of how our province’s past was shaped by ships and the sea.

Author Sheilah MacKinnon Drover
Author Sheilah MacKinnon Drover

 

“What made me write was the desire to preserve the past,” Mackinnon Drover said. “Ted’s drawings represent the maritime history of Newfoundland, and they reflect on the life that people lived.”

“All of his drawings were absolutely authentic - not to scale, but rigging and all,” Mackinnon Drover said. “They were in graphite, all in black in white, rubbed with his thumb, or an eraser.”

Over 30 of Drover’s original drawings are part of the collection in the provincial archives but Mackinnon Drover wanted to ensure they were seen.

“From schooners, to coastal boats, whale catchers, to ferries, they are completely accurate drawings, a pictorial history of Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said. “But they are in the archives, so no one sees them. I felt it was important that more people had the chance to see them.”

The book, which was launched at the Railway Coastal Museum in St. John’s on April 25, has been very well received.

“About 100 people came to the launch at the Railway and Coastal museum. Reaction has been phenomenal,” Mackinnon Drover said. “I knew that everyone who appreciates ships or good drawings would like those. I just hoped they would appreciate what I had written. I have received some very kind comments on my writing.”

Ted Drover (1907-1980) went to the Ontario College of Art in the 1920s but, during the Great Depression, he returned home to help run his family’s sawmill in Alder Harbour. Over time, he worked in the Clarenville Shipyard and later operated a charter boat in the Twillingate area.

In 1936, he returned to his art when he was asked to draw portraits for The Book of Newfoundland. In 1965, Premier Joseph R. Smallwood brought him to St. John’s to create a Maritime Museum in the Arts and Culture Centre. It was while collecting artifacts and creating displays for the museum that he began creating the drawings that are now part of MacKinnon Drover’s book.

Despite her enthusiasm for writing Ted Drover: Ships Artist, it was a bigger project than Mackinnon Drover initially anticipated.

“My publisher asked me to write 400-500 words per photo,” Mackinnon Drover said. “I thought it would be a quick project. How hard could it be? Do six lines - photo on one side, writing on the other.”

The selection of images, the research, and the writing took almost five years, but she enjoyed the process.

“The research was interesting and everyone I spoke with at the library and the maritime archives were helpful and cooperative,” Mackinnon Drover said. “It was a good experience.”

In addition to her desire to give her father-in-law’s work a wider audience, MacKinnon Drover was also motivated by her need to ensure that people in Newfoundland and Labrador understand and respect our own past.

“My book is just one of many important books being written about what life used to be like here,” Mackinnon Drover said. “I wish there were books like that in every school, I wish that the study of Newfoundland life was compulsory for all children.

“My writing is a glimpse of what life was like for our grandparents and great-grandparents. Life wasn’t easy but it was good.”

Sheilah Mackinnon Drover’s book Ted Drover: Ships Artist is available from Flanker Press.

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