Way back when -
From the Barrelman, June 1947
In "The Newfoundlander" for February in your article on old time boats in Newfoundland, you did not seem to be quite sure what kind of material of clothing a "barvel" was. A "barvel" is a garment used to keep the wearers from getting wet or stained with "gurrey" when hauling fish. It resembles a woman's apron, reaching from the neck to below the knees and going further around the body then an apron does. It is held in place by a band which foes around the neck and two straps which are tied behind the waist. It can still be seen in many parts of Placentia Bay, and very likely it is used to some extent all along the coast.
Today it is not worn by men on the fishing grounds, its place hgaving been taken many years ago by oil clothes, which in time are being superseded by rubber suits. Sometimes a fisherman may be seen wearing a "barvel" when washing fish. If he is careful not to slop water too much his "barvel will keep him dry, so that he will not have to wear his valuable rubber clothing which takes more time to be cleaned and dried than the "barvel does". At other times a man may wear a "barvel" when he is splitting fish. Its advantages in this type of work are, it is light and cool and does not hamper his movements.
Today and for the last 25 years, possibly for the last 50 years the "barvel" has been an article of clothing for women much more so than for men. When WWI was being fought, women in this section of the country were still in the habit of going in the stage and washing the fish that the men spent their time catching and salting. These women wore "barvels", occasionally when there were no men around, one of these women to add a little comedy to the days work, would don a suit of oil clothes. At that time the sight was so unusual that the women when first seen was greeted with roars of laughs. The slacks were unknown and as oil pants was to be worn in fun. These women in barvels, though doing dirty work, were a light-heated lot. The boys driving and swimming around the whales or playing "boat" would pause in their play as they hears the "Flying Cloud", the Ryan's and the Pittman's and a great variety of come-all-ye's being sung, to the accompaniment of the plops of the d raw-bucket in the water, the splashing of the water over the fish and the slapping of the fish, one after the other on the waterhorse. When the days work was done if the boats were home from the Cape (Cape St. Mary's) there would be a dance in the hall, and these girls who had been wearing "barvels" all day and had hauled smelly fish would be as fresh as a daisy and ready for the evenings enjoyment.
Though the "barvel" was worn by Placentia Bay women some of the girls who come from the North preferred to wear oiled petticoats, which they said they had been accustomed to wear when they had been working on the Labrador. These were very hardy and enterprising girls. They could dress the fish as well as a man and some of them claimed that they had fished with their fathers. If that were true they would need something better than a "barvel" to keep them dry.
As the woolen stockings are giving way to ski pants and the woolen tippet has lost out to the bandanna so the "barvel" is being replaced by oiled or rubber pants.
Generations of men and women have worn it, that it could be considered as part of our natural costume.