The fundamental question of the determinants of form for the fish stage remains, in spite of varying technologies used in its construction. The form of the fish stage--from its earliest examples to the twentieth century--can finally be explained by recognizing the close connections between the agricultural building vocabulary in both the Old and New Worlds, and how this language was adapted to the fishery. As Glassie and others have pointed out, Anglo-American vernacular architecture generally has relied on the building unit of the square as the basic component, and often squares sixteen or twenty feet per side. The smallest house unit in the Anglo building vocabulary is the one-room cabin plan using the minimal square: a multi-purpose living space. This unit certainly influenced the development of outbuilding forms in Great Britain: replicated almost completely in the stable--a building to house animals. Multiples of this unit also shaped the dimensions of the larger barn in Britain--the outbuilding housing grain. Transfer of this one square unit to all areas of British settlement in North America was common, and executed in a wide variety of technologies. The one room house was found in Newfoundland, but surviving examples are rare. However, the outbuilding tradition of the stable was transferred here, and numerous examples of this square building unit are still evident. What seems likely is that the fish stage simply was a development from this stable tradition (figure 7).
Residents built similar sized buildings not to house livestock, but fish--a new building form that was used not in making hay but in making fish. The basic 16' by 16' or 16' by 20' unit (or multiples of the square) could be expanded and contracted, linked together in a string beginning on the shore and extending back over the land depending on the needs of the operation (just as in Denys' description). The early migratory fishery of Denys' time obviously needed only small stages, especially since they were dismantled each year. But the eighteenth century led to an expansive building vocabulary as stages became factories; and the nineteenth century led to a contraction, when the stage became the focus of individual family labour. The form of the stage looks remarkably similar to the multiple square units used in houses or stables built at the same time period; people literally built the same size house (or a proportional unit) for humans, livestock or fish (figure 8).
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|(figure7) Calvert stable,|
similar in form to typical stages.
Poor Jack lived in at least the same size structure as a dwelling (if not larger), using the same architectural rule system. Fish were indeed as important as humans.
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|(figure8) Similarity of Calvert building forms:|
(a) house plus additional square unit (Hannorah Rossiter's); (b) stage (Tom Sullivan's); (c) stable (Lloyd Sullivan's).
The form of the fish stage, then, essentially derived from the agricultural outbuilding tradition and (more basically) the housing tradition that had developed in the British Isles and transferred to Newfoundland. Yet, this building vocabulary explains only the basic shape, the basic dimensions of this building tradition. The form of the fish stage was determined not just by this building vocabulary, but also by the needs of the interior layout, as well as the architectural structures located near it. The stage form has as much to do with actual work processes as it does with formal architectural rules. These work processes are often difficult to document historically. In many cases the surviving artifacts along with memories of this work, can help to explain this structure. Let me turn to recent fieldwork I have conducted primarily on Fogo Island in northern Newfoundland. The extant stages that I have documented seem to reflect many of the earlier traditions only briefly described by earlier commentators.