On April 7th, 2012, the SS Kyle celebrates one hundred years. The SS Kyle was completed on April 7th, 1913 and officially launched 17 April 1913 by Mrs R. G. Reid, wife of president of the Reid Company of Newfoundland, long before Newfoundland became a province of Canada.
It is moored today in Harbour Grace, where people often photograph the boat because of its long attachment to the Labrador Fishery. The SS Kyle had several phases of existence. It was a ferry on the Cabot Strait run between Port aux Basques in the country of Newfoundland and North Sydney, NS in Canada; it was a coastal boat bringing fishers to take part in the Labrador fishery; and in 1960, it was purchased by the Earl Brothers Fisheries of Carbonear and used in the seal trade until 1967 when an iceberg accident caused it to be moored in the Harbour Grace. During a storm, the SS Kyle broke its moorings and drifted to Riverhead where it has been standing ever since.
The SS Kyle and the Labrador Fishery
Fishermen and workers bought tickets at the Railway Stations in Conception Bay North to go the Labrador Fishery on the SS Kyle. Ted Russell’s Famous Story Poem, Smokeroom on the Kyle, recounts the experience of storytelling while traveling to and from Labrador.
Tall are the tales that fishermen tell when summer’s work is done,
Of fish they’ve caught, of birds they’ve shot, of crazy risks they’ve run.
But never did a fisherman tell a tale, so tall by a half a mile,
As Grampa Walcott told one night in the Smokeroom on the Kyle.
 Smokeroom on the Kyle Ted Russell, The Chronicles of Uncle Mose (Flanker Press, 2006)
The SS Kyle was an important part of the lives of many people of this region. For example, when the Bay Roberts Cultural Foundation, the Bay Roberts 50+ Club and Ascension Collegiate conducted interviews with seniors for the “Holdin’ Ground Project” (which was supported by New Horizons Canada), we found that the Kyle had played a pivotal role in many of their lives.
Interview with Mr. Cecil Greenland (who was 104 years old at the time.)
(These interviews are online http://holdingroundproject.com/interviews.htm)
The role was so important that when a film festival was held during Culture Days in 2010 at the Amalgamated Academy to show the interviews, students from each class recited one verse from “Smokeroom on the Kyle” and there was a Kyle Cake to celebrate the occasion. The whole event was broadcast to the full school with their internal video system.
Mr. Gus Menchions, who has traveled on the Kyle many times and who has made a model of Kyle, participated in the Labrador Film Festival and displayed his model of the Kyle. As well, Mr. Menchions was special guest during the opening of the Model Boat exhibition during last year’s Holdin’ Ground Festival.
The Rorke Store Museum in Carbonear houses an Exhibit called Balancing the Scales, which chronicles the connection to the Labrador fishery which was very much an integral part of the Rorke legacy. Florence Button from Carbonear has written a play about the role of women in the Labrador Fishery entitled “Connecting Rooms: A Tribute.” One story is about a young women, at nineteen, going to the Labrador on her Honeymoon on the Kyle – but the men were in one section of the ship and the women in another!
Florence Button reading from her play:
At the Cupids Legacy Centre in Cupids, there is a large display about the Labrador Fishery.
Pat Collins of Harbour Grace last year published “The Spirit of the Kyle.” From the description of his book:
The S.S. Kyle, a 220-foot steam ship that is a cherished icon to generations of people in Newfoundland and Labrador, was launched in 1913. In February of 1967, it ran ashore in a gale and it now lies aground in the harbour of the town of Harbour Grace. The ship proudly known as the ‘Bulldog of the North’ was used mainly for transportation of people and goods from St. John’s to Labrador. It also transported soldiers from Newfoundland to mainland Canada during World War Two. The Kyle was part of the Reid Newfoundland Company’s Alphabet Fleet: ships that all bore the names of a Scottish town. The Spirit of the S.S. Kyle, author Pat Collins recounts the history of the incredible ship by intertwining real life with a love story that encompasses murder, romance, forgiveness, and the mystic Seaman’s Ghost that continues to guide and watch over the Kyle.
Pat Collins (l) with his book and Dennis Flynn, author and photographer with close ties to the SS Kyle
For the past three years, Libby Earle, daughter of Guy Earle, the last owner of the Kyle has carried out a “Swim the Kyle Event” to bring attention to the SS Kyle in Harbour Grace and to highlight its importance to the history of the area and to raise money to preserve the SS Kyle. This year’s 4th Annual Swim will take place on Saturday, September 14th, 2013.
Libby Earle, daughter of the last owner, Fred Earle, Reaching the SS Kyle in 2012.