Seals love to sun themselves at Pictou Island

Pictou Island Memories

The tiny section of land situated in the Northumberland Strait called Pictou Island consists of approximately 3,263 acres of land. The northern side of this island is mainly covered with a dense growth of spruce trees. Over the past several years, a couple of summer cottages have been built on this side where a thriving lobster factory once stood many years ago.

The shores all around Pictou Island provide excellent hiking areas. Except for a few areas of gravel and one beautiful beach area called John Dan’s Cove, the north shore is mainly laden with rocks and boulders. Seals are often spotted in the water on this side of the Island. The last time I hiked the length of the north shore was in 1996 and I counted 28 seals all in different locations in the water on that day. Some were just a few meters from the shore with their heads pointing in my direction. They were probably wondering what I was and what I was doing there. Out a ways in the water close to the East End lies a huge rock. Sometimes at low tides, seals can be seen sunning themselves upon this rock thus giving it the name of Seal Rock. The huge rocks and boulders generally protect this shore from extensive erosion from the pounding waves.

Directly across from John Dan’s on the south side of the Island lies what is called “The Beach”. Both John Dan’s and The Beach areas are approximately one mile in length. These beaches are covered with white sand and sand bars run out from the shore as far as one can see bottom. Pictou Island fishermen extensively used this beach area into the late 1950s. There is a large bar of sand out from the shore at the beach. The water is shallow over this bar which caused large waves to break before hitting the shore. Just inside of the bar is deeper water where fishermen would anchor their boats and they would be protected from the waves.

Other then my father, some other fishermen I remember who fished from the beach were Campbell, Gordon and Clyde MacCullum, Punch Patterson, Lauchie, Duncan and Cecil Rankin, Ford Keenen, John Angus MacMillan, and Harold Bennett. I believe it was Lauchie, Duncan & Cecil Rankin who had built shanties on the bank at the beach in the late 1950’s. Here was a place where they stored their boat motors, nets, traps, ropes, buoys, etc. during winter months. There is not much of an incline to the bank at this section. Fishing boats averaged 30 feet in length, had no cabins and were much smaller then the ones of today. Because of their size, they were fairly easy to haul or launch from the shore. The fishermen would remove the motors from their boats in the fall. They would assist each other in turning their boats over to prevent any snow from getting inside them during the winter.

This beach area would be full of activities in the spring. The fishermen would be scrapping the faded and peeling paint from their wooden boats and applying a new finish. Once this was completed, they would upright their boats and install the motors, which were usually overhauled during the winter. The men would haul their traps onto the sandy shore approximately one week prior to lobster fishing. They would place their lobster traps on the sand above the high water mark and tie them together into trawls. On the first day of lobster fishing, their boat would be positioned in the water a short distance from shore. An anchor would be dropped from the bow of the boat to prevent the boat from going onto the shore. The lobster traps would be hauled from the shore to the boat the same way as if they were being fished and loaded onto the boat. My dad fished in the Slo-Mo-Shun during those years. This was a 30-foot boat which dad had built and this boat would be fully loaded with probably about 50-60 traps. This loading procedure is still practiced at the Pictou Island East End breakwater. This area is yet another beautiful sandy shore area on Pictou Island.

I also hiked the beach area in 1996 and this area has severely eroded away over past 30-40 years. The buildings, which at one time stood on the bank, have long fallen into the water. A boat that was once fished by Campbell MacCullum is the only reminder left of earlier days. This boat had been hauled about 75 feet above the high water mark over 40 years ago. It has since lain there and decayed over the years. By 1999, the skeleton of this boat had nearly all but fallen into the Northumberland Strait. During the past 40 years, at least 70 feet or more of this shoreline has returned to the waters of the Northumberland Strait.

jimturple@eastlink.ca