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East Harbour Heroes shares NL experience

Wendell Collier on the set of Discovery’s new show, East Harbour Heroes. – Submitted photo

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

EAST COAST — With a rich history, unique culture and beautiful landscape, Newfoundland and Labrador leaves a lasting impression. A crucial part of its distinct culture is the fishery, which is woven into the fabric of the province, from small outport communities to St. John’s. On Monday, May 29, a new show documenting the lives and work experiences of those on the East coast who are working in some of the most difficult jobs in the world, debuted on the Discovery network. From Attraction Media, East Harbour Heroes airs on Monday nights at 11:30 p.m. NL time and the series follows commercial fishers, stevedores, crane operators, welders, and tugboat operators, who all face numerous challenges working on the North Atlantic. From storms and high winds to changing fish populations, they are subject to the uncertainty of nature and weather. Throughout the series, audiences will be shown the resilience, courage, and ingenuity of marine workers as they endeavour every day to ensure the flow of goods and the joys they experience in the wake of a big catch. Wendell Collier, East Harbour Heroes Director and Executive Producer, is originally from Bay d’Espoir and said this show has become a love letter to Newfoundland. “It’s where I’m from. It’s where I was born. You talk to anybody who’s from Newfoundland, about Newfoundland, and they get a little teary-eyed, so it’s great to be able to share that with the rest of Canada. I think we, as Newfoundlanders, have a certain amount of pride about this province. We know it, we love it, and we often forget what we have until someone from somewhere else goes, ‘this place is really beautiful,” said Collier. The unpredictability of the weather became an ongoing theme for the new series. “The weather can throw a curve ball at you at a moment’s notice,” said Collier. “We know that about Newfoundland. If you don’t like the weather, you’ll wait five minutes and you never know what you’re going to get after those five minutes, but it’ll be different than what you’re experiencing right then and there. That kind of became the show. It was about the people and the challenges faced and the fact that everybody has to get up, put on their boots, and put on their hard hats and go to work. You just do what you can to get the job done and get home at the end of the day safe and sound to your family.” Putting the show together and viewing the footage was a great experience for Collier. “I’m no stranger to shooting in industrial environments, but it’s very different when you’re on the coast of Newfoundland. You’re in the harbour of St. John’s and everywhere you look is just breathtaking. I often said these are the best background shots I’ve ever seen of a cargo ship. For me, honestly, it was a double blessing to be able to come back home to Newfoundland, to be able to shoot this project, to be there, to be close to my family, my extended family. It was awesome to be able to go see my grandmother on the weekends, something that I don’t get to do a lot when I’m in Toronto,” said Collier. “So there was a double blessing that way and then, of course, to tell these stories and to kind of paint the picture of how these communities come together, collective spirit kind of reigns supreme, and that’s how it all works. It’s one of those things where you start with an idea and you kind of have an inception of what you want the show to look like, and it kind of gets put into a big blender for a while. Then it comes out and you go, ‘Oh, look at that. There it is. Wow, isn’t that great?’” It was a team effort to bring the series together. “Hats off to the post-production team and to the story editing team and to the story producers. They’ve really done a really great job kind of moving the pieces around and creating these episodes, that we get to dive into these different harbours, step into the boots and step into the shoes of the people who are working there, and then just learn about what they’re doing and then jump to the next harbour,” said Collier. “It’s kind of fun that way. And the fact that we get to move around the Avalon Peninsula, got to see lots of different harbours and coves across Newfoundland, it’s great to see it all come alive on the screen.” One of the many faces that grace the screen in East Harbour Heroes is Ron Curtis, Skipper of the OSC Mariner, the largest boat in the Quinlan Brothers operation. A native of Port de Grave, Curtis has been in the fishing industry for 30 years. He jumped at the opportunity to be on the show. “We were doing some maintenance on our vessel in Harbour Grace and, not sure who came along or who contacted me, but yeah, we had a conversation and I told him what was going on, what we were doing, what we’re up to, and it just snowballed from there,” said Curtis. Having new faces and new experiences to add to the show was important. “When we were shooting, we were just constantly on the lookout for new characters, new stories. We were working with the Quinlan Brothers fishing outfit, and of course, Ron was working with Quinlan as well. We were working with everyone from Quinlan, and then Ron just happened to be introduced to us one day by Chris,” said Collier. “The great thing about documentary filmmaking is when you’re shooting in an area for a long time. They just happen to bubble up and come to you sometimes, which is amazing.” Even though he has been in Port de Grave for 30 years, Curtis didn’t grow up with the fishery. “I grew up in a little farming community on the South coast, on the Burin Peninsula, Winterland, and I always tell people I grew up a farmer and ended up a fisherman. I moved to Port de Grave, started fishing when I was around 25, and that was it. I got hooked,” said Curtis. “I’m not sure if there’s one thing that I can pinpoint that drew me and kept me coming back fishing, but if I had to say one thing, it was probably the beauty and the serenity of being on the ocean, and at the end of the day, being able to bring home a catch and make a payday, it sort of all gels together,“ said Curtis. “I remember when I was younger that I told somebody that I knew who was a fisherman that I would never do that, and here I am 30 years later, and I’m a fisherman.” Some fisheries can be more difficult than others, but like many fishers, Curtis has his preferences. “I would say the most exciting would probably tuna, and a close second to that would probably be red fishing. It’s just a thrill of seeing an 800-pound fish being hauled in on a rod and reel next to the boat or seeing that 20,000 catch come up behind the boat when you’re fishing redfish. I mean, it’s just one of those things that just gets you excited, knowing that you’ve done well. I guess at the end of the day or end of a toll or end of a fishing trip, knowing that it went well just makes it that much more exciting.” The dangers of the fishery and the unpredictability of Newfoundland weather is one of the things Curtis is glad that is able to be showcased. “When it comes to the ocean, everything is so unpredictable. You might have a conversation with someone and it could be like summer weather. Five minutes go by, and it could be like winter weather. I mean, four seasons in a day,” said Curtis. “There is that aspect of danger and people still do it and it’s because of the love of the sea or the love of the ocean, something to do with growing up on an island and then being surrounded by water. It’s just great in your backyard and it’s great to be able to highlight it.” Curtis found working on the show both enjoyable and informative. “Being able to be involved with it and seeing the stories being portrayed on screen from Newfoundland and just being involved and being able to tell a story’s point of view, something that was basically unscripted, and they got to see what we go through each and every day, that was a big part of it,” said Curtis. Some of the show staff even stepped in to lend a hand. “It was fun because the guys that were around filming and talking and documenting things that we do were basically like part of the family. Once they started work, they knew they were there and the biggest thing for me, when I had the guys out at the redfish, was they were like part of the crew. They just jumped in and helped out, whatever. I was blown away.” “To echo what Ron said in terms of what I enjoyed about the show, is that I think it’s great to be able to shine a light into some of these professions to celebrate the hardworking people that do these jobs, because it’s not easy,” added Collier. “Some of them, sure, there’s money involved, but a lot of them are doing it for the love, especially when it comes to fishing sometimes. And it’s a great way to spotlight that and spotlight these professions that don’t get a lot of light on them sometimes, and give us an opportunity to kind of show the strength of the human spirit and community. Because in Newfoundland, as we all know, community is number one. We all look out for each other. We all make sure everybody gets home safe.” Collier is excited about showing NL to the rest of Canada. “Come rain, come shine, come whatever kind of weather is happening, this is what’s going on. I was reminded of a cousin of mine who lives in Alberta. He sent me a message and he said, ‘It’s a good show, loved it, but it made me some homesick.’ It’s great to get a message like that. It means the show is ringing true, because if it makes a Newfoundlander homesick – and I know that’s not really a hard thing to do – but it’s great because it means that we’re showing the island in its best light, and that’s what I want to do.”

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