Select Page

My column has recently elicited two letters, one from Cliff Kulak of Devon, Alberta and the other from Ingrid Ledoux of Nanaimo, British Columbia.

Cliff mentioned that he bred Newfs and, like most breeders, found that this “has to be a labor of love”. To demonstrate what he meant, he enclosed a testimonial letter from a family in Florida who had obtained a pup from him. If this Newf was resident in Canada, she would have been a serious contender for the Nanny of the Year award just for her adventures on one day at Disney World. Unfortunately I don’t have enough space allocation to reprint the letter in this column. Cliff also made a request for a little on the Chesapeake Newf history; this I can oblige.

In 1807 an English ship was shipwrecked near Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The ship had two Newfoundland pups aboard who were saved along with the crew. The Newfs were then given to local residents. The male, Sailor, went to live on the Eastern Shore and the female, Canton, on the Western Shore. Instead of being bred to each other, these two Newfs who had become known for their retrieving abilities, were crossed and re-crossed with local dogs. Then they crossed and re-crossed their progeny. Despite the mish mash breeding done on both sides of the Bay, the dogs resulting from both shores were found to be so remarkably alike that they were recognized as a single breed by the late 1870’s and called the Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dog or Chesapeake Bay Retriever. In 1850, iron statutes of Sailor and Canton were made and are hopefully still standing today at the entrance to a plant in Baltimore.

Ingrid’s letter mentioned another possible ancestor of the Newfoundland, the American Black Wolf which is now extinct and the Malamute. I had never heard of the Mal being an ancestor of our Newfs, but who knows? As for the Black Wolf, this was my favourite theory until about a decade or so ago when Newf fancier and biology professor, Dr. Roger Powell of Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote an article on the subject. He claimed that analysis of the jaws of wolves and domestic dogs ruled out any such direct heritage.

Ingrid also enclosed excerpts from The Newfoundland Journal of Aaron Thomas, 1774, published in 1968 and edited by Jean M. Murray. These notes from more than 200 years past were particularly interesting because they not only reaffirmed that the Newfs caught and ate fish back then but also asserted that they foolishly made such a racket that they scared away any possible prey on land and by implication would have starved to death were it not for their great ability as fishermen. Mr. Thomas puts it much more colourfully than I ever could and here are a few sample phrases:

“… the Dogs commonly are their own caterers. They chiefly live on Fish and many of these sturdy race fish for themselves. … Bitter hunger is their monitor and as it presses upon them they go to the waterside and set on a Rock, keeping as good a lookout as a Cat ever did for a Mouse.”

“… I am told that in winter these Dogs were the greatest enemys [sic] to themselves … they collect’d in great numbers, four or five hundred in a drove. Everyone of these would give his yell and the horrible Harmony produc’d by this tumultous assemblage must, no doubt strike terror into every Animal within the limits of the frightfull [sic] sound. Thus Beasts, who otherwise might have become their prey had they travelled orderly and quietly like peacefull [sic] citizens, made all haste in their power to escape from so piercing a clangour.”

Now what can you say to this except Thank God fish don’t have ears!

Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979.  In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada.  When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.

Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.

Dogs in Canada

May 1998