Rum running and quick thinking …

Featured Online First Pictou Island Memories

Several years ago, large sailing schooners loaded with kegs of rum from other countries would bootleg their products around the shores of Nova Scotia. For fear of being caught, those schooners would often lay approximately 15 miles off shore.

Small, fast, local boats known as rumrunners would transport the rum from the schooners to various landing ports. This was a fast money making adventure providing you didn’t get caught.

One such fast rumrunner that was loaded with over 100 kegs of rum hit Pictou Island’s East End reef and split apart. Jimmy Curry owned several acres of land at Pictou Island’s East End during that time. It has been said that he was one of the first people to witness the disaster.

Curry immediately set out in his own boat and sailed about the floating cargo. It has been passed on among Pictou Islanders that he salvaged about 17 kegs of whiskey. Story has it that Jimmie returned to the island and hid his loot at various locations among the spruce trees around Pictou Island’s Eastern End.

One fall day several years later, Pictou Island’s young Anderson MacLean was hunting rabbits in the woods behind his father’s property. He was hunting within a thick growth of spruce trees when he spotted a rabbit hopping around a large tree. He quietly raised his rifle and bang, down goes the poor little bunny. Now all Anderson was thinking about then was rabbit stew. He dashes up to claim his prize when suddenly a glitter catches his eye. The bunny had fallen on top of what looked like the top of an old jug that was covered with spruce cones. Young Anderson MacLean looked closer and discovered that the jug was full of liquid with its cork tightly in place. Anderson immediately recalled those tales that his father, Long John MacLean, had told him over and over. He knew that he had discovered liquid gold and very carefully dug it up. He secretly took the full jug home and put it where only he knew where it was.

It was several years later on April 17, 1957 when Anderson rowed his dory through scattered ice from Caribou to Pictou Island. It seems that Anderson had been over to the mainland conducting some kind of business with a Thompson girl from River John. Now he was anxious to return to Pictou Island to mend his lobster traps. It has been said that spray was flying of his dory as he made long fast strokes on the oars. I was only a wee lad at that time but I now wonder if perhaps Anderson didn’t consume some of the contents of his find on that day?

It was on a cold windy day later that spring when Anderson, along with his helper Fraser MacLean, were fishing for lobster in the waters of the island’s north side. My informer goes on to say that Anderson glanced over the side of his boat on this one particular day and saw hundreds of lobsters crawling on the rocky bottom in the shallow water. Those lobsters were a sure thing and he immediately set his traps on top of them. Anderson himself informs me that he never seen the likes of so many lobsters at one time. He goes on to tell me that one particular trap that he hauled had 47 pounds of lobster in it. The lobsters were packed one on top of the other in the trap. He had lobsters stacked in crates, in buckets, in lunch cans and they were even crawling on the boat’s floor.

Anderson and Fraser though that they were in lobster heaven when suddenly disaster almost struck them. They were sailing close to shore preparing to hook a trap buoy. Anderson, as usual, cut the throttle on the engine to slow the boat down so that Fraser could catch the marker bouy. Unexpectedly, the old flat head engine stalled. They were now within 100 feet from the shore. A strong north wind was creating waves that would quickly wash the boat onto the rocks. Anderson reached down to restart the engine but nothing, the battery was dead. This was a common occurrence for fishermen during past years so just about every boat carried a Stilton or monkey wrench. This tool was used to grip the boat’s shaft and crank the motor over. That usually restarted the engine.

My informer tells me that Anderson’s boat battery was often more dead then alive. For that reason he always kept his Stilton wrench close. Anderson cranked and cranked that old motor but the old girl would only give a puff of black smoke. By this time the sea was rolling bad and about 20 feet was between them and the rocks. It sure looked as though the boat and catch of lobster was doomed and they were going to get wet. There was no way, however, that Fraser was going down with the ship.

I am told that Fraser was hanging from the bow ready to jump for the shore. Anderson anxiously uttered a few more French words, gave one last quick twist with the wrench and suddenly the motor restarted and backed the boat away form pending disaster.

There was yet another day when Anderson’s quick thinking paid off for him. He would often still set a few traps close to the shore even after that near disaster. One day in 1993, Anderson had three traps on the wash board of his boat when suddenly the trap line appeared to be stuck on the bottom. Anderson glanced over the side of his boat to see what the problem was and even retelling that story today, he couldn’t believe what he saw. There, directly under his boat, was the biggest lobster he had ever seen. That lobster was so big that it had one claw stuck in the trap ring while holding onto the rocky bottom with its other claw. Now they were floating in only about three and a half to four feet of water. Anderson quickly jumped over the side of his boat, reached under the water and grabbed that king lobster before it could escape.

To prove his story true, Anderson showed me a trophy he received in 1993 from the Pictou Lobster Carnival Committee for catching the largest lobster that year. That monster weighted in at 24.5 pounds. Anderson MacLean was also selected to be Grand Marshall for the 2001 Pictou Lobster Carnival. That title is given to the oldest active fisherman on the Northumberland Strait. Anderson MacLean also claims the title for being the fisherman to build a lobster trap in the fastest time. This contest was held at the Pictou Lobster carnival in 1989. He constructed a wooden lobster trap in five minutes flat.

jimturple@eastlink.ca