I'ze the B'y that Builds the Boat
DESCRIPTION: "I'ze the b'y that builds the boat, And I'ze the b'y that sails her; I'ze the b'y that catches the fish And takes 'em home to Liza." Stories of a Newfoundland life and diet -- and of the odd things that can happen at a Newfoundland party
EARLIEST DATE: 1951 (Peacock)
KEYWORDS: nonballad ship sailor
FOUND IN: Canada(Newf) US(NE)
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Fowke/Johnston-FolkSongsOfCanada, pp. 116-117, "I'se the B'y that Builds the Boat" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke/MacMillan-PenguinBookOfCanadianFolkSongs 43, "I'se the B'y that Builds the Boat" (1 text, 1 tune)
Peacock, p. 64, "I's the B'y That Builds the Boat" (1 text, 1 tune)
Doyle-OldTimeSongsAndPoetryOfNewfoundland, "I'se The B'y" (1 text, 1 tune): p. 30 in the 3rd edition; p. 28 in the 4th; p. 27 in the 5th
Blondahl-NewfoundlandersSing, pp. 40-41, "I'se the B'y" (1 text, 1 tune)
Mills-FavoriteSongsOfNewfoundland, pp. 20-21, "I'se the B'y that Builds the Boat" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 78, "I'ze the Bye" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 129, "I'se The B'y" (1 text)
England-HistoricNewfoundlandAndLabrador, p. 50, "I'se the B'y" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lloyd Soper and Bob McLeod, "I's the B'y That Builds the Boat" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
NOTES [726 words]: Gordon Bok reports the following anecdote:
"A friend of mine came back from fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and he told me he was sitting in a bar in Cornerbrook when the fellow beside him punched him in the arm and said, 'How do you kill a Newfoundlander?'
"My friend says: 'I dunno.'
"The fellow says, 'You nail his boots to the floor and play "I'ze the B'y."'"
This is a very Newfoundland song, both in its geography and in its language. Fogo, Twillingate, and Moreton's Harbour are all small towns on the small islands north of Newfoundland itself -- Fogo on Fogo Island, Twililngate on South Twillingate Island just to the west, and Moreton's Harbour on New World Island just south of there. Bonavista might be Bonavista Bay, or the town of Bonavista on its shores, fifty or so miles to the southeast of the three towns.
The name "Twillingate," according to David J. Clarke, A History of the Isles: Twillingate, New World Island, Fogo Island and Change Islands, Newfoundland and Labrador, DJC, 2016, p. 11, is a distorted anglicized form of French "Toulinguet" (though the meaning of that word is itself uncertain, and might be Breton or even Basque; Clarke, p. 23) the area was explored by the French, and technically their property, until the eighteenth century. It is not certain when Twillingate was first settled, but by 1738, there were 184 people residing there -- 16 families plus supposedly 114 servants (Clarke, p. 27).
"Fogo" is thought to be derived from Portuguese "y del fuego," or "island of fire," although it is not clear just when the name came to be used for the island and town (Clarke, p. 129). Fogo is the name of both the island and its chief town, although Fogo Town has a harbour that is hard to enter due to rocks. But it provided good shelter once past that, which may be why the area was settled (Clarke, p. 145).
At the time when the western part of Newfoundland was still French, the northern islands fell within the French region, but Fogo and Twillingate were English from the start; they marked "the northern boundary of the English settlement in the early eighteenth century" (Clarke, p. 147, who notes on the same page that there were English settlers at Fogo by 1728 despite it being in French territory).
Fogo, Twillingate, and Moreton's Harbour were all the most important towns in their general vicinities, and hosts to many fishermen; Moreton's Harbour was also noteworthy for the production of small boats until the timber supplies ran out (Clarke, p. 111), although the population has declined sharply in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries (Clarke, p. 116). One might suggest, then, that our "b'y that builds the boat" is from there.
G. M. Story, W. J. Kirwin, and J. D. A. Widdowson, editors, Dictionary of Newfoundland English, second edition with supplement, Breakwater Press, 1990, defines most of the special words of the song:
"Hip": "In dancing the lancers, to bump (one's partner) lightly on the hip" (p. 254, citing this song as an example).
A "flake" is "A platform built on poes and spread with boughs for drying cod-fish on the foreshore" (p. 187), i.e. it is a fish-drying platform. Hence it is covered with "sods and rinds": soil (possibly peat) and "The bark or cortex of a tree, specif. a 6-ft. (1.8 m) length of bark removed in one piece from a standing spruce or fir and used for various fishing and building purposes" (p. 411).
"Cake" is often a term for bread, especially hardtack (p. 79).
"Maggoty: "Of cod-fish, improperlly cured and infested with the larvae of blow-flies; spoiled, unsavory; freq. in names of small coves where fish are landed and offal discarded" (p. 319). For some reason, the quality of Newfoundland cod went down over the years, eventually becoming almost unsalable outside Newfoundland in the early twentieth century as the Newfoundlanders failed to dry it properly, so it might make sense that one of the Islanders would think the people of relatively "civilized" Bonavista would dry their cod badly.
"Gravel": could be "a pebble-strewn isthmus or sea-bottom" (p. 223) -- in other words, Liza being "up to her knees in gravel" means that she is in the water up to her knees.
Finally, "fish" in Newfoundland can generally be assumed to mean "codfish" unless otherwise specified; this is the *first* meaning on p. 176 of Story et al. - RBW
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