June Addition: My Personal Anthology of Favorite Poems

“Make and Break Harbour” by Stan Rogers.

June marks the 39th anniversary of the death of Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers, who was 33 years old in 1984 when the Toronto-bound plane he was a passenger aboard made an emergency landing in Cincinnati because of heavy smoke in its rear cabin space. When the doors were opened to allow passengers to exit the plane, the smoke exploded into a flash fire that killed Rogers and 22 others, all of whom died of smoke inhalation. Five crew members and 16 passengers survived the tragic evacuation.

Rogers is judged to have been at the height of his successful music career, and he is still remembered as one of Canada’s brightest recording stars, one who wrote many of the songs he recorded. In 1984, his remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered along the Atlantic Ocean coast in Nova Scotia near the place where Rogers had spent many summers and vacations with relatives. His parents were natives of the Maritimes who had moved to Hamilton, Ontario seeking better working conditions. Stan Rogers was born a year after their move. The singer was raised and educated in Ontario but spent summers with family and relatives in the coastal provincial county of Guysborough, Nova Scotia. Nova Scotians celebrate him as one of their own, and many of his songs reflect the life and times of the Maritime Provinces.

The song “Make and Break Harbour,” which Rogers wrote and recorded in the late 1970s is one of several in the collection titled “Fogarty’s Cove” that carried Rogers and his band (which includes his younger brother Garnet) into the limelight of Canadian folk music.

What Rogers captures in the lyrics of “Make and Break Harbour” provides a poignant recounting of the economic tragedy for the North Atlantic fishing fleet with the development of massive foreign longliner trawlers that fished out extensive portions of cod feeding grounds in Atlantic’s waters between the Canadian coast and the ocean’s Grand Banks. Many coastal families of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador, who made their livelihoods from the sea, were forced to find other incomes, and many of them, especially the young, migrated to the more economically promising locations in Canada and the United States.

My parents were among the migration of Newfoundlanders to the United States just about the time the world was recovering from World War I and diving into The Great Depression of the late ’20s and early ’30s. Newfoundlanders as well as other migrating Indians of Canada and Northern New England became the ironworkers and carpenters who built the bustling metropolises of post-Depression America. And as Rogers notes in his lyric, most of those workers still keep time by the turn of the tide.

I grew up listening to and learning many of the sea chanties, jigs, and comic songs of Newfoundland, and most of them emerged from the experience of hard-working fisherfolk. Both of my grandfathers, neither of whom I’d ever met, were schooner captains for a good part of their lives in Newfoundland’s Bonavista Bay. So, with that in my blood, I include Rogers’ “Make and Break Harbour” in my anthology of favorite poems.

Make and Break Harbour By Stan Rogers.

How still lies the bay in the bright western airs
Which blow from the crimson horizon.
Once more we tack home with a dry empty hold
Saving gas with the breezes so fair.
She’s a kindly Cape Islander, old, but still sound,
But so lost in the longliner’s shadow.
Make and break, and make do, but the fish are so few
That she won’t be replaced should she founder.

It’s so hard not to think of before the Big War
When the cod went so cheap and so plenty.
Foreign trawlers go by now with long-seeing eyes
Taking all, where we seldom take any.
And so the young folk don’t stay with the fisherman’s way;
Long ago, they all moved to the cities.
And the ones left behind, old, tired, and blind
Can’t work for “a pound or a penny.”


In Make and Break Harbour the boats are so few,
Too many are pulled up and rotten.
Most houses stand empty, old nets hung to dry
Are blown away, lost, and forgotten.

I can see the big draggers have stirred up the bay
Leaving lobster traps smashed on the bottom.
Can they think it don’t pay to respect the old ways
That Make-and-Break men have not forgotten?
For we still keep our time to the turn of the tide,
And this boat that I built with my father
Still lifts to the sky! The one lunger and I
Still talk like old friends on the water.

Repeat Chorus

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriter: Stan Rogers

You can listen to Stan Rogers sing “Make and Break Harbour” on YouTube.
I recommend the outtakes from a documentary film on Rogers’ life entitled “One Warm Line.”

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