Dangers of being a fisherman

Community Featured Online First Pictou Island Memories

The ice had left the Northumberland Strait during late March of 1958. Lobster season was able to begin as scheduled on April 30th. My father fished those years in his boat Slo-mo-Shun. Dad had built this 30-foot long open wooden boat on Pictou Island in 1951. My father powered this boat with a 289 cubic inch Ford and contrary to its name, Slo-Mo-Shun was quite fast. My brother Vincent had just turned 12 years old that winter and I guess that it was apparent for him to also become a fisherman. The only thing that was ever on Vincent’s mind was being out in the boat with our father. 

It was raining and blowing hard on April 30th but my father and Vincent were able to put out 250 traps. The remaining traps were put out the next day, May 1st. Dad and Vincent’s first haul was on May 2nd. and they had 504 pounds of lobster. Price for canners that year was 31 cents per pound. Markets sold for 33 cents per pound. It first appeared that 1958 was going to be a fairly lucrative lobster season.  However, the lobster catches began to drop and by the end of May, the catches were down to 150-200 pounds per day. Lobster catches declined so fast during June that my father began to land his traps on  June 23rd. This being one week prior to the end of lobster season.

Numerous lobster boats would dock at the Pictou Island wharf during those years. Many lobster fishermen would sail into the Pictou Island wharf to sell their daily catches to one of three fish buying smacks. Four or more boats would often be tied side by side. To avoid added congestion around the wharf during lobster season, my father would keep his boat anchored at the Pictou Island beach. This was similar to boats being anchored at the East End breakwater. Fisherman would have to row their dory from the shore to their boat or visa versa.

Dad and Vincent had been hauling their lobster traps off the Pictou Island’s West End reef on May 19th of that year. The wind was steadily picking up from the west and large choppy waves beat against the Slo-Mo-Shun. The traps that would be sitting on the washboard would dip into the water as the boat rolled with the waves. They decided it was getting too rough to continue hauling traps and called it quits for the day.

They sailed into the island wharf where they sold their catch to a fish buyer’s smack. The wind was now howling and a real fierce West/Norwester was brewing. Dad knew that it would be dangerous when rowing ashore in the dory at the beach. He told Vincent to walk from the wharf along the shore to the beach and meet him there. Vincent ran most of the way trying to keep up with the boat as Dad slowly sailed along the shore. He had almost reached the beach when he saw Dad getting into the dory to row ashore. Almost instantly, a large wave hit the small dory and flipped it over throwing Dad into the icy water. Now Vincent became hysterical. He found an old dory high amongst the grass high up on the shore. He tried to drag it into the water and go out and assist Dad. He didn’t realize until later that half the bottom was missing from that old dory.

Ford and wife Dolina Keenon were living in their house up from the beach. Ford was still at the wharf trying to decide whether or not to attempt to sail down to the beach. Dolina was anxiously watching from a window in their house for his return. She saw Dad being thrown into the water and she instantly ran down to the water’s edge to help. Vincent recalls how it seemed like eternity before Dad finally surfaced. My father had been wearing hip waders and when they filled with water, they were like anchors on his feet. He had to kick them free before he was able to surface for air. Dolina would have had her hands full while trying to comfort Vincent and at the same time assisting Dad up onto the shore. Dolina immediately took Vincent and Dad up to her house where Dad was able to change into some of Ford’s warm dry cloths before heading home. Although the ways of fishing have changed dynamically over past years, this illustrates the life of a fisherman.

Another incident that I can recall happened to Art Acorn and a Mr. Compton from PEI. They had their boat smashed on the rocks in yet another storm at the north side of Pictou Island on the night of July 26th. They were both able to swim to the rocky shore and walk the mile long road through the woods behind our home. They changed into some of my father’s dry clothes and spent the night at our place. My father took those men to Caribou in his boat the next day so they could catch the car ferry back to PEI.