Robert Tulk

My name is Robert Tulk. I have been a full time fisherman for as long as can remember. For the last few years I have been interested in furthering my education. In my spare time I write. Here is my story.

I was sixteen years old and in grade eight when I quit school. I had learn read before kindergarten, so reading wasn't a problem. My partial deafness and speech impediment, however, were part of it.

The hardest thing I found while growing up was the lack of attention by the teachers. Back then teachers had up to a hundred students and taught a subjects. On top of all that, they considered me to be a problem student. At times I was.

I was never allowed to take part in the Christmas Concert. At the time I had a big problem ... People found it hard to understand me. The teachers made me stay in the back room. At those times they used to make ice cream and sell it. Well, there was one time they didn't have any ice cream to sell, because I ate it all.

I got a hidin' for it, as usual. The hidin' came in the form of a strapping across the hands, legs or wherever could be reached. When I visit what is now the Parish Hall, I fancy I can see my picture or name, in a particular corner. I spent more than one hour in that corner.

I'll tell you another story about a geography test we had once. The day before the test, I got into a fight with one of the boys at school. The teacher got kinda mad with me, so he put me right up front. In them days we never had written tests where you'd pass in a piece of paper. The teacher would stand up behind the desk and ask the questions. I could see his lips perfectly and I could hear him good. I got 100% on that test and I got the biggest kind of hidin'.

Because I had failed all the other tests the teacher accused me of cheating. It didn't make any difference that I couldn't have cheated because the teacher had asked the questions verbally, I still got the hidin'. I got lots of hidins that didn't make any sense. But I received one for taking comic books to school; I hid them inside the big geography book.

After I quit school, I worked as a Fuller Brush Salesman for a while. Mostly everyone around was poor, so I didn't do too well at that. I tried going to Trade College, but I felt my biggest problem was fitting in with people because of my speech.

Growing up in a small town can be tough, and people can be cruel you know. If you're called stupid long enough, you end up believing it. I used to go out of my way to avoid people, but eventually I got over that. Much to my shame I started drinking, but that only made things worse, so I soon gave that up.

I began fishing with my father and Uncle Dave Black from Newtown. We fished cod but there wasn't much money in it. I got tired of not catching anything and decided to go away to the mainland.

The day I told my family I was leaving home everyone laughed at me; they thought I wouldn't be able to stick it out. I told them I had enough money to see me through, but when the boat landed in Port aux Basques I had only ten cents in my pocket. Wasn't much you could buy outta that.

I found a few odd jobs and worked my way to Ontario. While in Ontario, I had an ear operation that restored part of my hearing. But because I've been a lip reader all my life, I still need to look at people when talking to them.

I bought an old fashioned hearing aid at one time, the kind that had a cord going down into the pocket. When people talked to me they would get close to it and talk at the top of their voices.

When I was going across the Gulf, I said to my buddy, 'I'm going to make a clean break,' and I took the hearing aid and threw it out into the Atlantic Ocean. It was nine years before I returned to Newfoundland.

Newfoundland is something that gets in your blood. I came back home and went fishing again.

These days, due to the cod moratorium, I fish mostly lobster. I fish alone and haul the gear manually. The lobster fishery wasn't too good this year and I believe the reason for it is the pressure put on the lobsters by the moratorium.

Before the moratorium, some fishermen stopped fishing lobster in June and started fishing cod, now they continue with the lobster. Some people think the Government should have closed the whole fishery down instead of just the cod fishery. Even though there was a lot of unfairness with the moratorium, I don't think closing everything down would have been the way to go.

With the moratorium in place, quite a few people were going back to school so I decided to give it another try. In 1993, at the age of 47, I signed up for the ABE class in Valleyfield. Although I had quit school at grade eight, a Canadian Adult Achievement Test (CAAT) started me at Level Three.

The first day of school I walked up to the entrance but didn't have the nerve to go in. I turned around and went home again. I figured everyone would laugh at me if I went inside. My cousin Katie Bungay, was a councillor at the time and she called me a coward.

I said to her, "Never call me a coward."

After three more failed attempts, I convinced myself I had to go back a fourth time. The first problem I ran into was Math... After failing my first math test, I was going to quit. One of my teachers convinced me to forget reading and writing for a while, and concentrate only on math. By the time I finished, I'd gone through every math book and passed every other test.

Before I finished Level Three, Centrac closed their school. I then signed on with the FFAW Learning Center in Templeman. I hitch-hiked to school every day. My son and I would get ready for school around the same time. He would say, "Now Father, you stay in the house until I get on the bus." At first he was a little embarrassed, but he soon got over it.

My instructor Guy Perry, asked why I spelled certain words the way I did. "That's the way I hear them," I told him.

Mr. Perry told me to slow down and my writing would get much better. I started doing just that, and before long I realized when something was written wrong and could fix it. I also keep my dictionary close by. Writing is my life. I really enjoy it.

I received my Level Three Diploma in 1994. If I went back to school again, I would like to learn more about writing. I've considered taking a correspondence course, but being a single income family man, I think the tuition would be too high for me.

I'm glad I decided to go back to school; it has increased my self-confidence, made me stop looking at myself as being stupid, and has given me a sense of accomplishment.

In September 1996 I will be fifty-one years old. I have put in a bid for the Licence Buy Out Program, but I don't know what will come out of it. If I ever retire from the fishery I will write full-time, fix up my house, and plant the garden that I've always wanted to plant.


  1. Why was he accused of cheating?
  2. What was the biggest problem Robert had to face after returning to school the second time?
  3. What has going back to school done for him?

Table of Contents