Thursday, June 3, 2010

A New Season!

Hello Everyone,

We have a brand new season at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, complete with new activities, exhibits and artifacts. During the coming weeks I will write up-dates regarding these changes, as well as special events at the Museum.

Thank you for your patience while we were away from this site.

With good wishes,

Monday, January 26, 2009

Early European Fishing

The earliest European fishing vessels that plied their trade on the North Atlantic were square-rigged ships. Fleets from various countries, including France and England, ploughed their way through the often stormy seas, and perched themselves atop the Grand Banks for several months of fishing.

It wasn’t an easy job.

The weather was cold, wet and miserable, even on the best of days. Many of the men who worked aboard the vessels, particularly the crew aboard French ships, were working off debts. Some had been taken from debtor’s prisons and were forced to work as fishermen, having left loved ones at home, to fend for themselves.

The earliest of these fishing vessels were similar to the famous HMS Bounty, but were not quite that developed, in terms of steering. These vessels did not have a ship’s wheel, but were steered by the use of a tiller stick, located aft, below deck. The captain or navigator would stand on deck and shouted directions down through a grill, to the man in charge of the tiller. Thankfully, they rarely had need for quick, nimble maneuvering.

Square-rigged vessels require a larger sized crew than schooner-rigged ships. In the case of these early fishing vessels, the fishermen had to also be able to climb aloft and work the sails. On their voyage to and from the banks, the sails were often set in the same position for days on end, harnessing winds that regularly blew from a steady direction. While on the banks, they stayed in one area for days or weeks, depending on the abundance of fish.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bluenose Builders

The original Bluenose was Canada’s most famous racing and fishing schooner. Launched at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, on 26 March 1921, the vessel went on to be a great success as a fishing vessel and the undefeated Champion of the International Fishermen’s Series.

Many books and documentaries have been created, showcasing the talents of the Captain, Angus Walters, the crew members and the naval architect, William Roue. Given that the vessel fished, raced and toured as a sailing ambassador, the stories are rich with pure history: success, struggles, humour and human nature.

One area of the history is largely unknown, however. We do not have a definitive list of the names of those men who built the schooner, at the Smith and Rhuland Shipyard, between December 1920 and March 1921.

Allan Browne, of Lunenburg, is gathering information on this subject and would greatly appreciate assistance. According to Mr. Browne, "these men would have been born circa 1845 to 1906, being as young as 14 to as old as 75 in 1920."

The information, when compiled, will be made available to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, as part of the archives. In turn, it will be public record, available to all who have an interest.

If you have names to add to the list of builders, please contact Allan Browne at or contact the Museum by either leaving a comment on this blog, or writing to

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Paper Trail

Researchers have long known the benefits of reading through old issues of newspapers and periodicals for information about historical subjects. Items that were once "everyday news" help to back up primary research in a variety of topics. Whether your interest is genealogy, local history or other, more specific subjects, the publications from days of yore are bound to have interesting tidbits of information.

It isn’t necessary to have access to the actual newspapers or magazines. Microfilmed or digital copies of publications are often available for reading in museums, libraries and other research centres. They can sometimes be requested through inter-library loan. Of course, nothing truly compares with the sensation of reading original documents. One of my most thrilling research moments, when in university, came with the opportunity to read bound copies of original issues of "The Gentleman’s Magazine", which was first published in 1731, in London. Contrary to the implications of the title, it was a periodical that had a variety of articles, none of which were of a dubious nature. My quest for information had to do with an early archaelogical dig of Henry VIII’s castle of Nonsuch. Reading about the castle ruins, in dated language, helped to put me "right there" and I loved it.

This leads, however, to one of the perils of archival research. Unless you are particularly gifted with a strong sense of focus, your eyes will stray to interesting bits of news that have nothing to do with the topic at hand. Sometimes the curiosities of the day will strike a responsive chord; the best advice is to bring plenty of paper, or make a special file in your computer, to record snippets too good to be missed.

Two such instances were found during the course of other research:

From the "Digby Weekly Courier" - February 2, 1906
Fish Story: Smelt Swallows Bottle Contains PEI Man’s Note

New York, Jan. 31. While cleaning a large bloater smelt that came in a consignment of fish from New York this morning, Fred Ivamy of West Second Street found in the fish’s stomach a bottle about the size of a man’s thumb. It was securely corked and contained the following message written on a small piece of paper. "Whosoever gets this note will confer a favour by replying to undersigned. Harry Durant, Margate, Prince Edward Island, Canada, January 4, 1906."
The bottle holding it was stamped with the firm name of the T. Eaton Company Ltd. Toronto and though almost as large as the smelt’s mouth could easily have been swallowed by it.

From the Lunenburg "Progress-Enterprise"
September 29, 1909
One day last week while D. V. Richard, of West LaHave Ferry was fishing about seven miles off Indian Island, he captured a seven foot shark. When the shark was opened he found a French briar pipe half full of shag tobacco. What an awful thing the tobacco habit must be when even the fish of the sea cannot keep clear of it, or is it possible the tobacco trust is looking for a new market?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Family Photographs #1

This is the first in a series of articles about the care and investigation of family photographs.

Many of us have family photographs that have been passed from one generation to the next. However, we’re rarely lucky enough to have the names, dates and locations included with these treasures. This leads us to try our hand at unraveling the mysteries of the image; while we may never be able to answer all of the questions (like "why" the group has gathered together), we can still learn a lot and have fun.

The historic images that you have are at their peak, in terms of condition. Each passing year adds to their deterioration; visuals fade, the paper becomes weaker and accidents happen. One of the first things that you should do is make a copy of the photograph. Scan it or take it to a professional photography studio. Keep the original in archival-quality storage (search on-line or ask at a local museum or photography shop) and then work from your copied image. If you are fortunate to have the original negative, store it in an archival negative sheet. Again, discussing your concerns with museum or photography specialists is a wise choice.

This is probably a good time to realize that the photographs that you have from your own immediate past require tender care. Scan them to ensure that the images have a viable future and make a written record in terms of who is in the photograph, when it was taken, if it was a special occasion and the location. Never write on the back or front of the photograph! If you keep the images in an album, write on a piece of paper and insert it behind the image; if you are making a scrapbook type album, write beneath the image. At the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic we often make a photocopy of a photograph and write on the photocopied page. In this way, we can mark on the image and not damage the original.

A further safety precaution is to keep copies of your images and the information in another location. You might consider making it a joint project with a relative, with each of you keeping copies. Remember, the finished product (or even the work-in-progress) makes a cherished keepsake for family members - a wonderful present to give and to receive!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Fisher-Wife

Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894), an outstanding poet in Victorian England, is best known for lengthy works, including "Goblin Market". However, her ability to capture depths of emotion within just a few verses should not be overlooked.

The following poem strikes a chord in all who live by the sea.

A Fisher-Wife

The soonest mended, nothing said;
And help may rise from east or west;
But my two hands are lumps of lead,
My heart sits leaden in my breast.

O north wind swoop not from the north,
O south wind linger in the south,
Oh come not raving raging forth,
To bring my heart into my mouth;

For I’ve a husband out at sea,
Afloat on feeble planks of wood;
He does not know what fear may be;
I would have told him if I could.

I would have locked him in my arms,
I would have hid him in my heart;
For oh! the waves are fraught with harms,
And he and I so far apart.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Navy and Lunenburg

One of the new research projects at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic is taking a look at Lunenburg and its relationship with the navy. Over the centuries, our port has been known as a fine harbour for vessels, and representatives of various navies have stopped in, dropped anchor and visited with us.

When the Fisheries Exhibition and Reunion was at its peak, during the mid-1900s, there was always a "navy boat" in port for the week. Most often the vessel was from the Royal Canadian Navy, but sometimes there were vessels from the American fleet.

The heyday of the relationship between the navy and Lunenburg certainly falls within the time period of the Second World War. Vessel repair kept the Lunenburg Foundry busy and the town did its best to welcome the sailors.

After the War, naval vessels maintained the good relationship, often visiting port.
If you have any stories regarding the navy and Lunenburg, we would love to hear from you. Please contact me at .