“In the harsh, bitter, cold environment we work in, seal harvesting and fishing are two of the most dangerous jobs in the world. The North Atlantic has no friends. It just makes you believe it is your friend when it offers up its beauty and bounty. Without notice it can turn ugly, a ravenous enemy ready to devour! It doesn’t matter if you are the greatest or the worst fishing captain in the North Atlantic: if the sea wants you, it will get you.” This is the memoir of John Gillett, a fisherman and staunch advocate of the Newfoundland seal hunt. He grew up in Twillingate in the 1950s, idolizing the fishermen and sealing skippers who would visit his home to yarn with his father, the famous sealing captain George Gillett. John spent most of his adult life as a sealer, beginning in the early winter of 1971, when he wrote his uncle and asked for a berth out on the ice with him aboard the Arctic Endeavour. As a participant in the most controversial animal hunt in the world, John also describes his run-ins with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and animal rights activists, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). In Leaving for the Seal Hunt, he shares stories of working with fellow sealers, of friendships that lasted a lifetime, of his many adventures on the ice . . . and of defying death at every turn.
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About the Author
John Gillett was born in the small outport of Hart’s Cove, Durrell, Newfoundland and Labrador. He grew up in Twillingate in the 1950s, always listening with fascination to the sea stories shared by his father, Captain George Gillett, and the other sealing captains in the area when they came by for a yarn. The sea became a way of life for John at the tender age of eight, when he would go on sea voyages with his father, who was captain of the schooner Grace Boehner. At sixteen, John went to sea on the El Amigo, a cargo boat that carried lobsters from Placentia Bay to Gloucester, Massachusetts, then later collected salt fish from around Newfoundland. When he became a young man, he put aside the life of a fisherman to find work in Toronto. However, the sea continued to beckon him and, a few short years later, he returned to Newfoundland and didn’t look back. On his return to his home province, he secured a berth on a ship carrying freight to the Arctic. When that season ended, he returned to school to become a journeyman electrician. But fishing would always be in his blood. In late 1970, he made the decision to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a full-time fisherman. In 1971, John secured a berth for the seal hunt with his uncle, Captain Jim Gillett, which signalled the beginning of a lifelong career for John. Today, he continues to fish and participate in the annual commercial seal hunt. John Gillett lives in Twillingate with his wife, Linda. They have two children, Sherry and Richard, and five grandchildren. In his spare time John likes to paint folk art.