Ice, fire, a race and a brawl …

Arts & Entertainment Community Featured Pictou Island Memories

The Northumberland Strait was full of ice on May 1st 1965.

It has been eight months since we moved off Pictou Island. My parents, however, were going to stay in our house on Pictou Island during lobster season. Four days prior on April 26th there was a lot of scattered ice. Nevertheless, my father and brother Vincent were able to sail through and around the ice to Pictou Island with the Dream Boat III on that day and check on our house.

Three days later on April 29, Arnold MacMillan with his boat the GEA maneuvered through a lot of scattered ice and came over from Pictou Island and docked at the little entrance in Caribou. He and my father loaded dad’s tractor on Arnold’s boat and sailed both their boats back to Pictou Island. They were using the tractor to haul their lobster traps onto the wharf.

Saturday, May 1, was a nice sunny day but there will definitely be no setting lobster traps. Northumberland Strait is white with ice. I accompanied my parents for a drive Sunday, May 2, out to the point at Cape John to see how far west the ice was. All that could be seen as far as the eye could see was scattered ice. Regardless, the Department of Fisheries put the word out on Monday, May 3, that the lobster season would begin on Friday, May 7.

On Wednesday, May 5, the wind was blowing from the southwest and dad, Vincent and myself again sailed through scattered ice to get to Pictou Island. That day and the next, we hauled traps from my father’s trap house onto the wharf and tied them on. The next day being Friday, May 7, was officially the first day to set lobster traps. It is still white with ice from the east end of Pictou Island up and no traps were set from the Island. Some fishermen, however, set a few traps around Toney River, The Cape and River John.

Saturday, May 8, was a fine sunny day with light winds. There was still some scattered ice around the east end of the island however traps were put out and some were set with ice poles for buoys. Strong northeasterly winds were blowing on Monday morning, May 10, and the ice was coming back towards Pictou Island from the east. My father started to take his traps ashore, however, since it was blowing hard, most were left out.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the 11th and 12th, large strips of ice came down from the east and took a lot of gear with it. Dad’s first haul was on Thursday, May 13  and he had 127 pounds but lost about 50 traps with the ice.

That year, canners sold for .55 cents per pound, markets sold for .60 cents per pound. Lobsters appeared to be very scarce for the rest of May with daily landings of between 75 to 100 pounds. However it appears that the lobster began to move once the ice was gone and the water started to warm. Daily landings in June averaged 300 to 500 pounds per day by island fishermen. Dennis Slaunwhite from Pictou fished with my father that year and was paid top rate of $5 per day. That was the going rate for hired help in 1965.

On Tuesday, June 10, Mother was baking bread in our house on Pictou Island. It appears that the frost must have heaved the house during the winter and cracked the flu. A fire started somewhere upstairs and the house burnt to the ground. Many island fishermen arrived to assist but nothing could be done to save the house. All one could do was stand back and watch it burn.

The annual Pictou Lobster Carnival was scheduled for the first week of July in 1965. It was unknown at the time of planning for this event that the lobster season would be delayed because of ice conditions. Most local lobster fishermen were not able to overhaul their boat and motor for the lobster boat races. The lobster boat races took place on Wednesday, July 7, and Dad went in after fishing that day with the Dream Boat III. He placed first in his own class and placed 2nd in the free for all. Dad won a trophy and $50 for 1st and a battery for 2nd place. Lobster season closed that year on July 16th.

Dad hauled the Dream Boat III onto the shore at the Little Entrance in Caribou after fishing ended which allowed her water soaked planking to dry and become a little lighter. A coat of paint was applied to her hull and her 401 cubic inch Wildcat Buick motor was overhauled. One week later on July 21st, my father, brother Vincent, Hughie Turple and Bimer Dalton sailed the Dream Boat  III across to the annual Montague regatta boat races in PEI. They went up against six other PEI boats two of which were the Breeze Quiet skippered by Roulston Graham and the Ruthie R skippered by Preston Higginbothan.

On that day in 1965, the Dream Boat III beat out all other boats. Some PEI fishermen were upset by having this round bottom boat from the mainland beating their fast V- bottom boats. The silver trophy bearing previous PEI winning names was going to be taken from Montague. Beer bottles were thrown at the Dream Boat III and a brawl occurred after the races. Needless to say, that was the last year that the regatta was ever held in Montague. The same large beautiful silver free-for-all trophy was later engraved and presented to my father. The inscription reads, Vincent Turple, 1965 winner with Dream Boat III and crewman Hugh Turple. This was one of many trophies added to my father’s collection for boat racing and is displayed at the Northumberland Fisheries Museum in Pictou.