Throwback Thursday: William R. Butt

by Deborah Inkpen

On May 27, 1961, William R. Butt started with Canadian National Railways, which of course, later became Marine Atlantic. He started out as a “wiper”, the person who was responsible for cleaning the engine room and ensuring that the machinery was oiled.  From those humble beginnings, Mr. Butt went on to have a career that saw him climbing the ladder to Engineer. He retired in 1992, working on almost every vessel in the fleet over his 31 year career.

“In those days, we did whatever needed doing, from pulling pistons to plumbing.  Whatever needed fixing, we did it,” said Mr. Butt.  “I was pretty much a jack of all trades.  I was good at the electrical components and you learned on the job, so I moved up the ranks.”

Born in Grand Bank, he said he really enjoyed his time going to sea.  In the early days, he was primarily posted on the coastal and gulf service, going up the Southwest and Labrador Coasts.  “You got to know all the people living in the ports along the coast on a first name basis.  We delivered their supplies, as there was no other way for them to get them, except by freighter. It was a nice life, two weeks on and two weeks off.”

While enjoying his time at sea, Mr. Butt has also seen his share of hardships.  He was aboard the MV Patrick Morris, which sank on her run from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port aux Basques, during a storm in the early morning hours of April 20, 1970.

Of her crew of 51 officers and sailors, 47 crew survived.

Mr. Butt also worked as a diver, starting in 1975, when he worked on dismantling the MV Hopedale.  “I became a scuba diver after that in every port that I went in,” he said. “I looked along the bottom for anything that I could find and I came up with a nice few mugs, plates, bowls and silverware with logos of the time.  I gave away a lot to my friends over the years; I still have a few in my collections.”

During his career on the sea, Mr. Butt travelled all over the world including the Far East, Italy, Greece, Mexico and the US.  He was even called up during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, as vessels had to serve and take supplies to the area.

He says he loves the sea and that it was good life working at CNR.  Mr. Butt retired in Fortune, NL and   said he still tries to get out on the sea whenever possible.  He is currently engaged in writing two books on his experiences at sea.

William R. Butt