In many of Saint John's inhabitants, the memory of the ships of the codfishing fleet docked at the port and the excitement that the crews gave to the city when they came ashore is still present. The arrival of the ships at the port of the largest city in Newfoundland was sporadic and was almost always due to three reasons: to obtain material and fuel for the ship, provisions for the crews or even to safeguard themselves from the adverse weather conditions that battered the large banks. For other reasons, ships crossed Signal Hill to enter the port, such as in the unique event, the centenary of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist of Newfoundland which was attended by many of our fishermen.
The high point of the Basilica's centennial festivities was May 27, 1955, when thousands of Portuguese fishermen traveled the streets that connect the port to the city's highest peak. On this route they took with them nine images that were delivered to Archbishop Patrick James Skinner by the hands of the fleet chaplain António de Sá Rosa.
Once on land, most of the fishermen intended to rest from the life at sea, taking advantage of the few moments to entertain themselves and go shopping.
José Matias Marçalo, a young man on the Neptune ship between 1970 and 71, remembers the first time he went ashore and walked the streets of Saint John's - "As a young man it was rare for me to go out because my colleagues and I had to put the supplies on board, and then we had a day off to buy something to take home".
A certain euphoria took over the men when the long daily work routine at the grand banks was interrupted, so José Marçalo recalls "when a man went to Saint John's it was a wonder". There remain the experiences of hundreds of fishermen who walked down Water Street looking in the store windows for something to take back to their families who they had left on the other side of the Atlantic.
"And then, on land, we would get together with friends from Figueira da Foz, one day we would eat on a ship and the next day we would go to another ship. Then we would go around Saint John's and see good things, the women, and there were many! And there we went to dance parties and bars to entertain ourselves".
Both officers and fishermen take advantage of this time to write letters to their families who were eager for news. When the Portuguese fishermen entered the stores or went to the bars there was always a culture shock and a language barrier, but as Manuel Augusto Lopes Soares remembers, "we always ended up understanding each other with our gestures, and there was always one or the other who knew a little bit of English and then we understood each other".
The memories of the trips to Saint John's are still remembered with joy by thousands of fishermen and by many of these with a particular fondness.
Arquivo de Memórias da Pesca do Bacalhau - Relato de José Domingos Matias Marçalo. Museu Marítimo de Ílhavo.
Arquivo de Memórias da Pesca do Bacalhau - Relato de Manuel Augusto Lopes Soares. Museu Marítimo de Ílhavo.
Jornal o Pescador
Jornal do Pescador, julho 1955, pp.10-38.