Cellaring: self-sufficient and food secure

Keynote Blogger: Alison Dyer, Root Cellar Researcher

Maberly Root Cellar, Trinity Bay, photo copyright: Alison Dyer

They were once to the garden and field what flakes and stages were to the coves: built by hand, located for access, and essential for a family’s sustenance. Root cellars, a place of riches and rich memories, have been called both a folk craft and a forgotten art.

Finding one of these cellars in an overgrown meadow is like coming across the closet to Narnia – a passageway to another world.

And so captivated, at first by their simple aesthetic, I embarked on a photo and oral history project to open up that passageway a little. The past few years have been a fascinating journey along which I’ve met people such as Bert White who continues to use the cellar he built many decades ago.

“At one time everyone had their cellar…because you didn’t buy
vegetables all year round and if you didn’t store them you didn’t have them.
It was a necessity, the root cellar was.”

Bert White, Change Islands, NDB

While cellars still exist in this province, many are in disrepair or are not being used for their original purpose. We are losing an important vernacular architecture and, I realize as I interview more elders, on the verge of losing a critical part of our intangible cultural heritage: that of the knowledge associated with cellaring, of how to live well off the land, of how to be food secure.

As I continue my research I’m heartened to see revived interest in these subterranean buildings. And hopefully they’ll not just be for tourists, but for the livyers too.

Writer Alison Dyer is researching and writing a book on cellars and cellaring in Newfoundland & Labrador. She is looking, in particular, for contacts on the west and south coasts to interview. Please contact her at: squidink@nl.rogers.com.