Being an 11-year-old boy up in his bed, listening as his older cousins tried unsuccessfully to comfort his crying mother downstairs, is a memory
forever etched in the mind of Ron Price.
“It still hurts,” he says, choking back tears.
It was Monday, Feb. 9, 1959, and the news was being broadcast on the airwaves – the Grand Bank trawler Blue Wave had capsized on her way home from the fishing grounds and there was no sign of her 16-man crew.
Earlier that day at 4 a.m., Captain Charlie Walters had sent out his desperate SOS: the Wave was over on her beam ends.
For three days dozens of aircraft and ships scoured the Atlantic vainly searching for the ship and her men. Then on Wednesday, all hope for the safety of the trawler faded when two dories, positively identified as belonging to the Wave, were picked up by search vessels.
Twelve of the Blue Wave’s crew were from Grand Bank and four were from Fortune.
Fifteen of the men were married, leaving 15 wives and 39 dependent children.
Ron Price’s father Michael, 40, was one of the Fortune fishermen onboard the trawler on that ill-fated trip. He left behind his wife Marjorie and three other children besides Ron: Michael Jr., 9, Ambrosene, 6, and Rita, 5.
Less than a year earlier the Price family moved to Fortune in August 1958 from Brunette Island.
“I remember it quite well,” Ron Price recounts. “Dad took our house down stick by stick, brought it over and then rebuilt it at Fortune. It really wasn’t finished when the Wave went down.”
He recalls during the winter months having to sweep snow that drifted in and “tossing it out the window.”
Duck hunting along the seashore
One of Ron’s fondest memories on Brunette was “going duck hunting along the seashore with my father.”
However, the move to Fortune brought many challenges to the young lad and his siblings.
After losing his father the family – like most of the other families left behind – had a very tough struggle financially.
When his new buddies in Fortune went to a movie, “many times I couldn’t, because Mom just didn’t have the money to give me. All she had was a welfare cheque and some funds that came from a disaster fund.”
There was no school on Brunette during the Price children’s last year there. “This meant that when we moved to Fortune I was two to three years behind the other kids of my age,” Price explained, which resulted in him being 19 years old before he graduated from Grade 11.
From a very young age Ron Price loved the sea.
“I wanted to go to sea, but my mother was insistent that after losing her husband she didn’t want to have the worries of me being on the ocean.”
He credits his Grade 6 teacher, Emma Lake, with him staying in school.
“I would talk about leaving school and going to work at the fish plant. Mrs. Lake would tell me that she knows the plant manager well and she will tell him not to hire me.”
Despite the challenges, a determined Ron Price finally graduated from high school and went on to Memorial University where he earned a physical education degree.
During his summers while at MUN, he would return to Fortune with his mother and work at the plant.
It wasn’t long before local welfare office personnel visited his mother to tell her that her welfare payments would be reduced because her son was working and living with her.
Looking for the boat
Michael Jr. remembers after he was told the Blue Wave was missing he would walk up to the Church of England hill “to see if I could see the boat coming.”
His wife, Alva, said he still talks about his father and how much he still misses him. He has a photo of his Dad taken at St. Pierre onboard the vessel Savoyard.
“I cherish that picture,” he said.
He also reminisces about his days on Brunette and spending time on his father’s stage-head with him.
The younger Price children – Ambrosene, who would not turn seven until May and her sister Rita, age five at the time of the tragedy – can’t remember the vivid details of that February in 1959 like their two older brothers can.
Ambrosene can remember “our house not being quite finished” and the fact that “the school uniforms were a blessing” – all children dressed similarly, no matter how well off or how poor the families were.
She tells the story of having a new teacher, Mrs. Monk, come to their class halfway through the school year. The new teacher wanted to get to know the children, so she went around the classroom asking each student who their father was.
When she asked Michael, he didn’t answer. She asked him again.
“He burst out crying and then I started to cry, followed by another classmate, Elias Dodge, who had also lost his father on the Blue Wave. Then nearly everyone in the class became emotional and cried.”
Rita, the youngest Price sibling, remembers “growing up without a Dad, and Mom working so hard to care for the four of us.”
All four children speak about their mother Marjorie “suffering deep depression over the loss and finding it very difficult to talk about it.”
In the words of Ambrosene, “we didn’t have the emotional help that is available today.”
Ron Price went on to enjoy a 30-year teaching career, mostly at the Donald C. Jamieson School in Burin. He also excelled in sports, especially soccer. He was voted MVP in 1967 when he led Fortune to that town’s first-ever provincial soccer championship and is a member of the Provincial Soccer Hall of Fame.
Still today, when he sees a father spending time with his sons or daughters, “it really touches me,” he said.
Allan Stoodley is a long-time resident of Grand Bank. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written.