There was a time twenty five or thirty years ago when the side of Kelly’s Pub looked like a shipyard. To most it would have appeared that there was a schooner under construction there. A more educated guess would have said it wasn’t a schooner, most likely it was a ketch, and it was the next venture of its builder, Captain Tom Dower.
Captain Thomas B. Dower was born at Conche on the Northern Peninsula, but moved to Grand Falls at a very young age. The 1961 Who’s Who lists his date of birth as September 2, 1918.(1) By 1921 he was living at Grand Falls. Dower grew up and was educated at Grand Falls, at Notre Dame Academy. It was reported that at the age of 17 Dower took a course in navigation. In the late 1930’s Dower also worked at the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company Mill. The Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador also notes that he attended Dalhousie at some point.
With the outbreak of Second World War in 1939, Dower joined the British Royal Navy. Unfortunately, it is hard to track down any details on his naval service, save for the fact that he spent the majority of the conflict aboard British submarines. It is noted that he spent 1942-43 in the Mediterranean. British submarines were particularly active in the theater of operations preying on German and Italian shipping. There is a picture of him on a submarine at the Legion in Grand Falls. He was discharged from the Navy in 1946.
Shorty after the war Dower went back to sea and sailed with Canadian Pacific Railroads, Bowater, Western Canada Steamship Service and the Blue Peter Steam Ship Company of St. John’s. In 1950 he obtained his second officers certificate, followed by his chief officers certificate and in 1958 he obtained his master mariners certificate, Captain Tom actually was a full-fledged Sea Captain.
Around that same time, Dower decided to build a boat and sail it across the Atlantic. If memory serves me correctly, Dower built this first sail boat in the garden of his parents on Monchy Road. In this attempt Dower’s 36-foot sailboat, called the Newfoundlander, was wrecked off of the Canary Islands in a storm. After this, he made his way to British West Africa (possibly present day Ghana), and was reported to have built another boat there. Then for some unexplained reason, Dower returned to Newfoundland to build another boat.
Back in Newfoundland, Dower was in Botwood during the summer of 1961 when the paper ship M. V Atiensis caught fire at the dock. In order to minimize the damage to the dock facilities, she was being towed out to sea. Then it was noticed that three men were missing. Dower boarded the doomed vessel to search for the men. He found them, all dead, but nevertheless took each of them out, while around him flames raged and explosions cooked off. Despite the best efforts of everybody involved, the fire spread and devastated the Botwood waterfront, leading to the loss of 5000 tons of newsprint, three paper sheds and even a fire truck.
Dower was at Botwood building his second boat the Newfoundlander II. Once completed he took the vessel to St. John’s for a second attempt at a solo voyage across the Atlantic. This time, in beginning on November 11, 1962 he was once again headed for Africa. Somewhere on the south coast of Newfoundland he had a collision with a small whale, which forced him to stick to the North American coast, and he ended up the the Caribbean. Dower was reported to have sailed 10,000 miles on that journey, alone, and returned to Newfoundland in July of 1963. While preparing for his next adventure he was tracked down and interviewed by none other than famed Newfoundland novelist Cassie Brown. After finally tracking him down on the St. John’s Waterfront, while they were talking Dower announced he was thirsty and she was free to continue the conversation over a beer. Brown would go on to interview Dower at the Capitol Lounge, where she had been accompanied by not only another reporter but also Dower’s octogenarian father, “Skipper Tom”. (See Story)
At one time Captain Tom bought the HMS Calypso, training ship of the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, with the intent to restore or save her. Dower bought the old hulk in September of 1967 (Newfoundland Quarterly). Ultimately he was unable to restore the old ship, but he did salvage one of the guns off of her, and was instrumental in presenting it to the Royal Canadian Legion in Grand Falls. He was also reportedly involved in an expedition to find the fabled Cocos Island Treasure, on that island off the pacific coast of Central America.
In 1986, while in his late 60’s he was sailing solo off the coast of Virginia and Maryland when he was run down by a larger vessel and was forced to spend a night on the sinking wreckage of his boat. When he was found, some 14 hours later, he had hypothermia, broken ribs and a punctured lung. This still never kept him from the sea. A few years later Dower was building another sail boat, this time in the parking lot along side Kelly’s Pub on Hill Road in Grand Falls-Windsor. I believe he was living there at the time. I am not sure if Dower ever completed that last boat or what happened to it. Interestingly enough, Kelly’s Pub was only around the corner from where his parents had lived on Monchy Road. He was building his last boat only a short distance from where he built his first, decades before.
For all of the risks and run ins on the high seas Captain Tom Dower, he never met a watery grave. Captain Tom died an old man at Grand Falls-Windsor in 1997, he would have been about 78 or 79 years old. He is buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery there.
Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador