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  Fisheries Heritage Preservation Program:   Brochure   |   Red Ochre

  Red Ochre
Ochre is a substance composed of powdered hematite, or iron ore. The word "ochre" comes from the Greek meaning "pale yellow," and it can range in colour from orange to yellow, and from brown to red.  Deposits of ochre are found throughout Newfoundland, notably near Fortune Harbour in Notre Dame Bay and at Ochre Pit Cove in Conception Bay. While earliest settlers may have used locally collected ochre, people were later able to purchase pre-ground ochre through local merchants, largely imported from England.
Click to enlarge
John Quinton Limited Fish Store,
Red Cliff, Bonavista Bay, taken September 2006,
showing Ice Store/Salmon Store to left.

The dry ingredient, ochre, was mixed with some type of liquid raw material to create a rough paint. The liquid material was usually seal oil or cod liver oil in Newfoundland and Labrador, while Scandinavian recipes sometimes called for linseed oil. Ochre paint was sometimes prepared months in advance and allowed to sit, and the smell of ochre paint being prepared is still remembered by many today.

Variations in local recipes, shades of ore, and types of oil used resulted in regional variations in colour.  Because of this, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact shade or hue of red that would be considered the traditional “fishing stage red.” Oral tradition in the Bonavista Bay area maintains that seal oil would give a purer red colour, while cod liver oil would give a “foxy” colour, browner in hue.

The Mixture:

“You’d get some kind of a container, a big container, and twenty pounds of ochre to a gallon of seal oil. That’s the mixture. Twenty pounds of ochre to one gallon of seal oil. And you’d mix it one year, and use it the next. 

Now, you’d use some kind of wooden paddle for stirring it every now and then. Something wide, like a paddle, wooden. You’d stir it, and keep stirring it every now and then, probably twice a month or so, like that.  You’d use it the next year, then. And if you found it too thick then, you’d thin it down with a little bit of seal oil, if you found it too heavy to put on with a brush. 

It would be a good heavy coat, a good coat, then you’d not have to do it twice, just one coat.  Not much smell from it, seal oil. No, not much smell at all. Just a little while, you’d smell it, that is all.”

-  Mr. Gerald Quinton, Red Cliff, Bonavista Bay, September 24, 2006.
Click to enlarge
John Quinton Limited Fish Store,
Red Cliff, Bonavista Bay, taken September 2006,
showing residence to right.

Note: Mr. Quinton’s mixture would work out to roughly as 9 kilograms of ochre for every 4.6 litres of oil.  The John Quinton Limited Fish Store in Red Cliff, which was painted with home-made seal oil ochre paint in 1994, still looked freshly painted in 2006.



Red Ochre entry in Wikipedia

Swedish recipe for "Swedish Red" wooden house paint

Falun Red Paint, from Sweden, with recipes

Traditional Red Ochre paint in Finland, including recipe