Cookhouses provided virtual smorgasbord of eats

Online First Pictou Island Memories

During the 1960s, one-room community schools in Nova Scotia – including the one on Pictou Island – were in the process of closing their doors. Many Pictou Islanders didn’t want their children leaving their homes alone and moving to the mainland to attend the larger schools.

Several Island families began to leave their roots on the Island and move to the mainland. At this time, fishing shanties were being built at the Pictou Island wharf and at the East End breakwater. Many Island residents who had left the Island would return and stay in their fishing shanty during lobster season. There were also some fishermen who lived elsewhere but fished the waters around Pictou Island who did the same.

I recall three fish buyers in the Pictou area during those years. There was Maritime Packers,  E. P. Melanson and M. Patural. When I was not attending school, I fished with my father and brother from the Island wharf during those years. Maritime Packers had cookhouses built at the wharf and at the East End breakwater so their fishermen could have regular meals. The cookhouse was a building approximately 20 x 30 feet and was constructed with plywood. One end of this building housed the storeroom and kitchen. The other end had two long tables set up with wooden benches on either side. I can envision the faces of fishermen who have since departed and bring to mind the stories they would tell while sitting at these tables.

Except for Sunday, each day would usually began for us at approximately 4 a.m. After washing the sleep from our eyes we would venture toward the cookhouse. Fresh coffee was always a refreshing aroma to get one motivated. One never went away hungry when sitting down to a meal in these establishments. I remember some of Pictou Islands finest cooks doing the baking and cooking at the wharf cookhouse. Janet Rankin, Loraine MacMillan, Thelma MacDonald and Ona Glover provided the best of meals for us fishermen. We never knew what each day might bring on the water so a large breakfast was always welcomed. Everything was set on large plates and containers in front of us and we helped ourselves. I remember watching some fishermen such as Gordie Gratto stack three, four sometimes five eggs on his plate. These eggs could be fried, scrambled or boiled. Also added to the plate would be many strips of bacon, sausage and slabs of ham and all the toast and jams one required. Pancakes and porridge also lined the tables. If one wished to drink a quart of milk with their meal, it was available. If so desired, these ladies would also pack each fisherman a lunch can to take in their boat for a fee of .75 cents. Believe me, these cans would be packed to the brim!

I believe it was either 750 or 800 lobster traps being the limit fished during those years. It would take the better part of the day to properly go over this amount of gear. After spending the day on the water, we fisherman would usually be pretty hungry by day’s end. Nevertheless, we knew that a great meal would be awaiting us when we arrived for supper. Some of the meals that awaited us could be roasted or fried chicken, pork chops, steak, baked ham, liver and onions, fish, fresh breads and biscuits, etc. It was like a smorgasbord where we could eat all that we wanted. The homemade desserts that these ladies made for us was something else. Every variety of pies that you can imagine were home baked and placed on the tables. My brother Vincent and I would sometimes each take a quart of milk and a whole pie out in his boat. We would tie the boat to one end of a trap line and just sit there on the washboard and eat. Oh, was that ever good. My mouth is watering as I write this story. The cost per each meal was $1.75 and was charged to each fisherman’s account. I can’t begin to imagine what a similar meal would cost in a restaurant today if one would be available.

These cook houses ceased operation I believe in the 1970s. I don’t know if we perhaps had eaten all the profits or if it became too difficult to transport fresh produce from the mainland to the Island.

jimturple@eastlink.ca

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