Sculpture takes her ‘back in time’ says relative of sealers

Josh Pennell
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When Doreen Mercer first saw the clay sculpture of Reuben and Albert John Crewe, she was taken away.

Sculptor Morgan MacDonald stands next to a small clay version of the larger sculpture he has crafted over the past year that will soon be bronzed. He started with a small version of the Sealers Memorial to get out his ideas for the larger sculpture. As he worked, he made changes as he saw fit to the larger sculpture. He plans to pour the metal for the bronzed version today at the Newfoundland Bronze Foundry.

“It’s the same as if he’s there. And how often do you get a chance to go back in time like that?” she asks.

The father and son embracing each other in Morgan MacDonald’s Sealers Memorial sculpture are Mercer’s great-grandfather (Reuben) and great-uncle (Albert John).

MacDonald has been working on the sculpture since last February. Mercer first heard about it last year.  

“It was almost like it put cold shivers over me,” she says.

Other than seeing the clay version of the sculpture, Mercer has only ever seen one photo of her great-grandfather and great-uncle. But she knows the story well of how they were lost on the ice during the great sealing disaster of 1914 and were found frozen together.

“My great-grandfather wasn’t going to go out on the ice anymore. He was finished with it. And his son Albert John wanted to go. He was determined to go.”

Mercer says her great-grandfather promised his son he would take him and promised his wife he would go to keep their son safe. Despite the outcome, it’s a promise he seems to have tried desperately to keep given the way he was found cradling his boy in his arms.

“In the middle of the night — the night that it happened — my great-grandmother, she sat up in the bed and she could see her husband and her son kneeled down at the foot of her bed. And she knew then that they were gone,” Mercer says.

Mercer’s Aunt Margaret used to tell her the story of her relatives on the ice and what it did to the family. It was just last year that her aunt told her what happened to her great-grandmother after the sealing disaster and after seeing her husband and firstborn kneeling at the foot of her bed on the night they died on the ice. Afterwards, she was in and out of the Waterford Hospital for electroshock treatments. She eventually remarried and had more children with her new husband.

Mercer wishes her aunt could have held on a little longer to see the sculpture bronzed and unveiled in Elliston this spring, 100 years after the tragedy. She knew the sculpture was being built and had talked of seeing it.

“If she had’ve lived she wanted to be there,” says Mercer.

Mercer will be there with some of her family.

“I imagine I’m going to be like a waterfall that day when I first lay eyes on it,” she says. “It’s really like looking at Reuben because it’s so true to his picture and everything.”

Before the sculpture was in the works, Mercer says her family’s story was almost hearsay — only something she knew through words.

“But suddenly when I could see the statue, it was the same as if I was gone back in time and I was looking at my great-grandfather. Almost as if I could talk to him. And that was just an unexplainable feeling.”

Organizations: Waterford Hospital

Geographic location: Elliston

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Recent comments

  • Ed baker
    January 29, 2014 - 08:49

    Despite all attempts on to convince this group to find a more suitable spot to erect this statue, they have insisted on putting it on previously conserved land set aside for nesting birds. Not to mention it is practically In the yard of my childhood home. Our family has been vocal about our opposition to this decision and have payed the price for rocking the boat. To hell with this statue. To hell with the people involved. To hell with the seal hunt. In a town so small and hit incredibly hard by the closure of our fishery, seeing millions spent here on nonsense is insulting. Smarten up