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Accession number: 
Production Years: 
1960 to 1963


Film Properties: 
Length (feet): 
1056 (16mm)
Length (minutes): 
Holding Institutions: 

University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario: 16mm.

University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario: 16mm.

York University, Toronto, Ontario: 16mm.

Library and Archives Canada: 16mm, betacam, 3/4, VHS.
"Whalehead, a fishing village on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, 600 miles east of Quebec is featured. Situated in a shallow bay nicknamed "the Flat Bay" by local fishermen since it dries up twice a day at low tide, its' inhabitants lead a double life. In winter the village takes refuge on the mainland near the sparse forest. In summer, when the fish arrive, the village is entirely deserted as everyone loads their belongings onto a wooden wharf and leaves in boats for the islands where the cod and capelin are. Each household requires an immense territory of sea for the fish, an island to live on and another island for birds who provide eggs to be sold. The fishermen take any fish they can catch including cod, salmon, capelin, mackeral, scallops and lobster. The sea has changed and the once famous fishing grounds of Whalehead no longer yield the catch that made their fame. Most fishermen use the trap fishing method, stretching a huge net in the sea. Two men, Daniel and Regent, are shown catching cod one at a time using two hooks and pulling in 120 feet of line each time. Other fishermen use gaspesiennes equipped like big trawlers. Loaded with ice they can fish over great distances and even withstand autumn winds - too much for Daniel's boat. They travel 200 miles from Kegaska to Blanc Sablon. The ice lasts one week and the catch must be taken to Tabatière and the fishplant before it spoils. Sometimes the catch is lost because the plant can't dispose of all the fish. If fishing is not successful, cloudberries - white mulberry fruit of a brambly stunted tree - is picked and can be eaten, kept for winter or sold. Sources of income for a family include; fishing, bird eggs, driftwood and cloudberries. Also shown is a house being moved by water, an occurrence when the man dies and the widow requires a new location. The move requires hard work with each man in the village giving two days to the job."

"Shows Tête-à-la-Baleine, Québec, a village with a double life - one on the North Shore mainland during winter months, the other on mossy islands of the Gulf to which the entire population moves for summer fishing."


Online Database National Film Board of Canada.
"Un village de terre ferme pour l'hiver, la chasse, le bois de chauffage et le bon voisinage, n'hésite pas à devenir un village des îles pour passer l'été à proximité du large où il y a la pêche. Mais parfois, la mort change le destin des maisons et tous les hommes et toutes les barques entreprennent de remorquer une maison des îles jusqu'aux rivages de terre ferme où finir ses jours à l'ombre d'un clocher."

"Shows Tête-à-la-Baleine, Québec, a village with a double life--one on the North Shore mainland during winter months, the other on mossy islands of the Gulf to which the entire population moves for summer fishing."

Charlotte Polishuk, "Whalehead," Film News 21 no. 5 (October 1964): 9-10.

"One of the four films in the series ST. LAWRENCE NORTH, this fascinating and informative picture is about a fishing village which, when the sea recedes in the winter, moves from its mossy island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the sparse forests of the mainland. Nature patterns the lives of its inhabitants in this special way and shapes their philosophic acceptance of life.
The documentation here of the move and its hardships is a remarkable testament to the strength and unity that exists between the members of families in this rather primitive society. There is much opportunity for provocative study in the comparison of their lives with ours, and in the question why they continue to lead this hard life. A classroom or group discussion of what there is good about their lives can be of great lesson in understanding other people.

The lovely bits of music, the exquisite photography, rituals such as the 'Blessing of the Boats'; the ability of the boy, Daniel, to 'take the day as it comes' since he has 'no other right than that of hope'; the children who play at being fishermen; the fishermen skilfully handling their boats, nets and tools, are all incorporated into a splendid experience for the viewer, of a very different kind of life.
In academic circles one might question whether there is time for a film in which the vocational aspects of the fishermen are negligible and fragmented. It seems to this reviewer, however, that it is imperative to make time for more films that can widen the world for youngsters as they see members of families that truly share; the cooperation that enables the fishermen to eke out a living; the help given by neighbors to the widow whose house must be moved. The vignette of the house being moved is, incidentally, one of the most exciting sequences in the picture. This scene alone should motivate a wealth of the creative written and oral wealth of the creative written and oral [sic] expression that is the concern of every educator today.

In this age of specialization we select, from the vast array offered, those films which seem specifically to meet the need of a class, group or age level. Seldom is there a film for everyone. WHALEHEAD is one of those rare films.

29 mins., color also b/w. Produced by Crawley Films Ltd. for The National Film Board of Canada (Ottawa). In the U.S.: NFBC, New York and San Francisco."