Field site: Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland, Canada
Anthropologist George Gmelch, a professor at the University of San Francisco, first came to Newfoundland as an ISER Fellow over 40 years ago. Last summer and the summer before, accompanied by his graduate student research assistant Diane Royal, George returned to Newfoundland work with the On the Move Partnership. Over the summers of 2013 and 2014, the pair conducted employment-related geographical mobility research in Newfoundland’s offshore oil and gas sector.
Community of Bay de Verde with icebergs in background, which may account for the chilly June temperatures! Photo: George Gmelch.
We arrived in St. John’s from San Francisco during a cold snap in early June 2013. Our first day outside had us buying gloves from a downtown shop. While unprepared for the chilly summer weather, we were surprised to find the same warmth and kindness of Newfoundlanders that George remembered from his 1970s research interviewing return migrants in rural outport communities. Back then, when he would knock on the doors of return migrants, he was often ushered in for a cup of tea and a chat. Now over 40 years later, though most interviews were arranged over the phone, we were regularly welcomed into people’s homes for conversations that invariably lasted well beyond the 90 minutes we said they would take.
St. John’s harbour. Photo: George Gmelch.
During the summer of 2013 we tape-recorded employment and life history interviews with workers on tankers and supply vessels. We also conducted interviews with the partners of offshore oil and gas workers – mostly women – to better understand the impacts of this line of work, notably the long absences of offshore spouses and partners, on families at home. Upon our return to Newfoundland in summer of 2014, we realized we were omitting an important category of workers – the men and women who work on offshore oil drilling and production rigs as well as floating production storage and offloading vessels (FPSOs). Still later, we discovered another important category of workers – those employed on lake boats.
Matt Wernette and Diane Royal with students Madison Neece and Heather Mendiola on the road. Photo: George Gmelch.
Between the summers of 2013 and 2014, we conducted 25 formal employment and life history interviews, and many more informal interviews written up as fieldnotes. Two undergraduate students from the U.S., Heather Mendiola and Madison Neece, joined us this past summer and lived with a wonderful family in Old Perlican at the tip of the Avalon Peninsula. They transcribed interviews along with doing participant observation and informal interviewing in their community. As our work progresses into 2015, we aim to do more life history interviews with workers in each of Newfoundland’s offshore work settings – tankers, supply vessels, rigs and lake boats. We will also continue to interview partners of offshore workers.
Now back in San Francisco, George is already looking forward to his return to Newfoundland in fall 2015. Diane who fell in love with anthropology while working in Newfoundland, is now working on a second MA, this one in anthropology at MUN under the mentorship of Dr. Sharon Roseman and will continue working with On the Move Partnership.