Smacking Days on Pictou Island

Online First Pictou Island Memories

It doesn’t seen like an awful long time ago but in reality it has been over 40 years since I had fished for lobster with my father from Pictou Island. It was customary for us to rise every morning about one hour before daylight. Mother would always be the first one up and she would prepare breakfast and pack our lunches for us. I assume that was something that she though that she had to do and I as my father sure appreciated it. Even more so now when I look back to those times. It was about one mile on that lone dirt road from our house to the wharf and the journey was sometimes made on Dad’s tractor. I would sit on the hood of the tractor as if I was riding on the back of a horse while dad drove.

Dad would usually sell his lobster catches to whoever wanted to buy them. However, Maritime Packers was the company that he would generally do business with.  Anything that my father would require as in trap materials, oil skins, rubber boots, gloves, boat paint, rope, buoys etc. would be supplied to him by the Packers. Maritime Packers had a large fish processing plant at the Little Entrance in Caribou. Free MacGee also had a fish plant that was in full operation and was adjacent to the Packers plant up until the 1950s. These plants were operating to full capacity and plant workers were observed everywhere during those years. MacGee’s plant was the first to go and Maritime Packers operated solely for many years thereafter. I remember such men as Max & Harold Russell and Gordon Bolter being in charge of the operation. Alex Grover and Elmer Grant were employed as night watchmen. Maritime Packers had a dock boat that would be sailing back and forth from the wharves to their floats where the lobsters were kept alive. The live lobster were stored in wooden crates that would hold 100 pounds.

I recall sailing many times into the Little Entrance after dark and seeing lights lite up everywhere on the factory buildings, buck houses and wharves. There was a cookhouse at this fish plant where the employees would get three full meals plus daily. Some workers came from as far away as Cape Tormentine and they lived in bunkhouses that were located on a hill above the plant. There is nothing left now at this location to remind us of what once was. Even the little entrance waterway that was once so extensively used has long ago filled in with sand.

Maritime Packers & MacGee’s used to send boats over to Pictou Island on a daily basic to buy the fishermen’s lobster catches. Those boats were known to us as the smacks. The men operating these smacks would transport 100-pound crates of salt herring to the island. The fishermen used these salted herring as bait in their lobster traps. There were also weighting scales aboard these boats that were used for weighting the daily lobster catches. The workers on these smacks were kept very busy every day. As the lobsters were weighted and crated, they would be placed in the saltwater beside the smack to keep the lobster alive. Those individuals knew every fisherman that sold them their lobsters. They would not leave the island wharf until every last fisherman returned from fishing each day. Then the lobster that was floating in the crates beside the smack would be hauled aboard and stored on the boat for the return trip to Caribou.

Tommie Boyce and Morris Holmes operated the West End Smack for Maritime Packers. Tommie owned the 42-foot smack “Blue Angle” and he was from from Cape Tormentine. Morris was a born and bred River Johner who teamed up with Tommie. Morris first started smacking on Pictou Island around 1950 with Kermith Boyce and later with Tommie. Kermith was Tommie’s son. Morris recalls one day when he and Tommie transported 110 crates of lobster from Pictou Island to the canning factory in Caribou. There were even some days when they couldn’t get all the crated lobster aboard the Blue Angle. They would then contact Gilbert Shaw who operated another smack to come over to the island and transport the rest. I can bring to mind my father and I sailing into the island wharf after a days fishing and tying up beside the smack. Morris and Tommie always had a smile and a pleasant “Hello Vince” when greeting my father. Any fisherman only had to ask Tommie or Morris to bring them back something from the mainland and they would receive it the following day.

Remember I wrote this some 20-plus years ago.

I had a conversation with Morris Holmes some time ago and he refreshed my memory on a few events that occurred when he smacked on Pictou Island. It seems that then island resident Kenny MacDonald had a young lad named Parker Lewis fishing with him. It was early spring and there were still a few ice cakes floating around. Parker was in real need of a new pair of rubber boots. Kenny asked Morris if he would bring a pair over with him the following day. The next day when Kenny and Parker tied up beside the smack, Morris presented Parker with the new shinny rubber boots. Well it appears that getting those new rubber boots overjoyed Parker. After all, the ones he had worn up until now were full of holes and his feet were wet and cold. He immediately put them on and proceeded to walk down the wash board of the boat. He was so captivated by his new rubber boots that he walked right off the stern of the boat and into the icy water. Arthur Ferguson happened to be right there and he pushed a few ice cakes out of the way and fished him out of the cold water minus one rubber boot that was never found. Morris took another pair over for Parker the following day.

Another story Morris related to me was about Pictou Island’s John Angus MacMillan and Neil “Pinky” Patterson. Pictou Islanders have their gasoline delivered for whatever purposes in 45-gallon drums. Those drums have two twist out covers on the top. A small one to allow air to get into the barrel and a larger one to drain the gas from. It seems that John Angus and Pinky had drained some gas from a barrel on this particular day. Of course some gasoline had spilled unnoticed down the side of the barrel from this drain plug. The barrel had been uprighted but the fill cover was left open. Being preoccupied with something else, John Angus struck a match on the barrel to light a cigarette. Well, I am told that there was one big whoosh and flames shot out about 20 feet from the fill hole of that barrel. There were other full gas barrels on the wharf and Pinky wasn’t sticking around. I assume that he figured that Pictou Island was about to be blown off the map. John Angus however calmly puts his large hand over the fill hole and caused the flame to smother.

Morris memories have him recalling Cameron MacDonald landing a large 12-pound lobster and he also recalls Lauchie Rankin landing 1,440 pounds of lobster in one day.

As I have said before, there never was a dull moment on Pictou Island.

jimturple@eastlink.ca