Monday, February 18, 2008

A Fish Gone Bad

Hello Everyone,

Perhaps the greatest disservice done to the good name of fish has been the wide-spread assumption that if something smells like a fish, it’s "off". It does not smell good. It has been part of our language for generations: if a statement seems "fishy", we know that there is something bad about it. A fishy excuse, as teachers all recognize, is no excuse at all!

A fresh fish has virtually no smell. In fact, it has a freshness of scent that is quite delightful.

A fish that is not so fresh, however, has that unmistakable smell of a fish gone bad.

When buying fish at your market, the sniff-test is essential. Yes, asking the fishmonger if the fish is fresh is a sensible question, but you need to examine the product before you buy it. Honest sellers may recommend buying fish and seafood frozen at sea, if their "fresh" fish is not top of the line.

Thoughts of fishy smells have transcended into misconceptions about fishing vessels. There are those who equate a fishing boat with a vessel that is unkempt and unclean. Any fisherman knows that the vessels and all of the on-board gear need to be kept scrupulously clean.

A description of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic’s Theresa E. Connor, from the November 1944 edition of "Canadian Fisherman":

While the gang were dressing down, I went below to the fish-hold to see what it was like. Located in the waist of the schooner, it was quite a lengthy compartment and also occupied the whole width of the vessel. Walls and partitions were painted white and shone dazzingly [sic] in the glow of the electric lights. The air below deck was clean and fresh and not stagnant and odorous with the smell of fish as I expected it would be. Were it not for the chill of the atmosphere I would have fancied myself in a hospital corridor. With our vessel just come from having been completely overhauled I thought that this cleanliness was exceptional, but some of the men working below assured me that such was not the case. "The fish-hold has to be clean," said one. "We have to keep washing these storage pens after every trip, or they would go sour on us and spoil the fish."

Wishing you Smooth Sailing,

Friday, February 15, 2008

Canada's Oldest Saltbank Schooner

Hello Everyone,

The flagship of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic is the retired fishing schooner Theresa E. Connor. Launched on 14 December 1938, from the Smith and Rhuland Shipyard in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, the vessel fished until the mid-1960s. In 1967, as Lunenburg’s Centennial of Confederation project, Theresa E. Connor was unveiled as the Lunenburg Fisheries Museum.

The schooner is important because it is representative of thousands of two-masted fishing schooners that plied their trade all along the Atlantic coast of Canada and the United States. In turn, crew life aboard Theresa E. Connor also speaks of the lives of hundreds of thousands of fishermen.

As a saltbank schooner, Theresa E. Connor fished on the fishing banks near Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as those nearer Nova Scotia. The men fished from dories and brought their catch back to the mother schooner. The fish, mostly cod, were cleaned and then preserved in salt, in the hold of the vessel.

Theresa E. Connor was launched into a time that included steel trawlers. The last of the schooners fished virtually side-by-side with side trawlers that hauled their catch aboard their vessels with huge nets.

The fishing history of Theresa E. Connor ended on a bitter-sweet note. In May 1963, Captain Harry Oxner prepared the schooner for one final trip to the Banks. With a few Lunenburg-area fishermen, he set sail for Fortune Bay, Newfoundland, to get the remainder of his crew.
Unfortunately, the steady march of progress and technology made it impossible for him to get additional crew members for the last salt fishing trip. No one was willing to undertake the danger and hard work of dory fishing, when they had the chance to go on trawlers. Although the work was still hard and dangerous, they did not risk the danger of being lost in a dory.

The schooner spent the remainder of 1963 fishing with cod traps, in the Labrador fishery. Theresa E. Connor continued to fish, in a reduced capacity, for Zwicker and Company (Lunenburg) until 1966. The vessel was then sold to the Lunenburg Marine Museum Society.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of visitors have been welcomed aboard the schooner. The retired fishing captains who now work aboard the vessel share their experiences with people from around the world, keeping the memories alive for new generations.
Wishing you Smooth Sailing,

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sailor's Valentines

Happy St. Valentine’s Day Everyone,

The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic has many precious stories, artifacts and images in its collection. On a day like today, though, two items stand out above the rest: our Sailor’s Valentines.

Sailor’s Valentines are relatively flat, hinged boxes, often octagonal in shape. When opened, the viewer is treated to two panels (one in each half) of shells, which have been arranged in gaily coloured designs. Messages are sometimes included, with small seed shells spelling out words of devotion.

Mariners were often away from home for long periods of time. Although the best-known trips were aboard whaling vessels, the North Atlantic fishermen also had their trips "away". When the salt fish were properly cured (dried), the shipments were sent to places as far away as Spain, Portugal, England, the West Indies and South America. Some members of the fishing crews would spend months going to and fro, taking the salt fish to the buyers and returning with cargoes of rum, salt, molasses, bananas, coconuts and other items.

It was during their runs to the south, including voyages to the West Indies, that gave fishermen the opportunity to get shells to craft their Sailor’s Valentines. If they were not artistically inclined, a visit to the West Indies also gave them a chance to buy a Sailor’s Valentine already fashioned with the exotic local shells.

Wishing you Smooth Sailing,


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fish Flakes

Hello Everyone,

Now-a-days the bright red buildings of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic are so much a part of the Lunenburg waterfront that it is difficult to imagine the structures that dotted our shoreline in years past.

Memories and old photographs help to fill in the gaps. Museums depend greatly on oral histories and reminiscences from older generations. Photographic images capture moments in time and help to flesh out the stories.

When I was a child, long before I began work at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, my father told me stories of the fishing schooners, the crews, the captains and the Lunenburg waterfront. I was able to see, through his words, images of things that were no longer in evidence.

Fish flakes were part of that rich heritage.

Does the expression bring to mind tins of flaked tuna or salmon? That’s not what we mean, when we speak of fish flakes.

Fish flakes were roughly hewn structures of wooden poles and branches, located near the shoreline. Salt fish were carefully placed on the flakes and dried in the sun. The people who manned the flakes were sometimes called "fish makers". (The image of the fish makers, at the top of this blog, dates to the 16th century, when European fishermen dried their fish at Newfoundland.)

When the schooners returned home with their freshly salted catch of fish, the fish still needed to be dried, to help in their preservation. Men, women and children all helped in the careful drying of the fish. They made certain that the fish were not scorched by the sun, nor were they exposed to the rain. It meant that for several weeks, the flakes had to be constantly tended.

The time on the fish flakes was a critical time in the fishery. Fish that were damaged during the drying process did not get a good price when the fish companies sold the finished product.
Wishing you Smooth Sailing,

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's Good For You!

Cod Liver Oil

Did your spine seem to shiver, when you read those three words?

If so, then you are probably one of countless individuals, from around the globe, who had to shudder and swallow your morning dose of cod liver oil, with the parental admonition of "It’s good for you!"

Others grew up with a daily ration of halibut liver oil and still some of us had the added bonus of having it given to us in capsule form, rather than the golden liquid in a spoon. A word to the wise: no matter how much trouble you have when swallowing a capsule, do not give in to the urge to bite it.

Now-a-days, the health benefits of an omega-3 oil rich diet are well documented. It just so happens that cod liver oil is an excellent source of this nutrient. Our parents knew what they were talking about, when they said that it would keep us healthy!

Whether we consume the fish oil in the liquid or encapsulated form, we are ingesting processed oil from the fish livers. It’s a step up from what the hardy fishermen of the North Atlantic often took, while at sea.

The schooner fishermen carefully preserved the cod livers in barrels, or butts. The butts were in place amidships, on the deck of the schooners. The oil would be rendered from the livers by putting a metal "stack" deep into the butts. This stack resembled a chimney pipe and held burning hot coals. The heat caused the livers to release the oil.

During the worst of the fishing seasons, when the price of fish was exceptionally low, the fishermen would sometimes earn more money from the sale of the cod liver oil than they did for their catch of fish.

How tough were the fishermen? Many fishing trips have been described with the comments that the fishermen, when they would first come on deck in the morning, would go to the liver butts, take a scoop of raw liver oil and drink it without a blink of an eye.

The thought of it is almost enough to make us feel nostalgic for the spoons of processed oil that were offered to us!

Wishing you Smooth Sailing,


Friday, February 8, 2008

March Break Ahead!

Hello Everyone,

Glimpses of sunshine and a renewed freshness in the air give hope of springtime, even when we are going from pillar to post between snowstorms.

The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, is making plans to celebrate during next month’s spring break for school students. The March Break takes place between March 10 - 14, in Nova Scotia.

Special events will be held each day, at the Museum. Highlights include building your very own Styrofoam tugboat with the help of the South Shore Ship Modeller’s Guild. This enthusiastic group of volunteers will be at the Museum on Friday, March 14, with the programme running at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Other activities will include films, crafts and stories. Our aquarium, as well as other exhibits, will be open to the public, ensuring that there is something fun for everyone!

Please check our website, for updates for the March Break Special Events. Pre-booking for registration will ensure that you have a space. Registration can be done by email, or by calling the Museum at 902-634-4794.

Wishing you Smooth Sailing,


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dory Fishing

Hello Everyone,

The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic is perched on the edge of Lunenburg’s front harbour. In fact, we’re actually out over the edge, between land and sea, with some of our buildings and the wharves. Our largest vessels, the schooner Theresa E. Connor and the trawler Cape Sable, float alongside, at dock.

Lunenburg really does offer the best of both worlds: history is alive within this UNESCO World Heritage Site and modern technology thrives, with businesses such as HB Studios and Composites Atlantic.

Given that this is not the land where time stood still, it is heartening to look out at the harbour and see authentic Lunenburg dories being rowed. The young women and men who practice their rowing skills in the dories are doing it for many reasons, including the International Dory Races, which are held each year.

The Lunenburg Dory is as essential to the story of the schooner fishery as the larger vessels themselves. Dory fishing changed the landscape of Lunenburg and all coastal communities that were involved in the schooner fishery.

Although there is scholarly debate in terms of when dory fishing began, the date is usually set in the 1850s. As late as the 1830s-1870s, fishermen fished from the decks of the schooners, each using one or two long fishing lines. This began to change on this coast in the 1850s, when enterprising American fishermen began to go out in dories, from the mother schooner. This was called "single dory fishing", as each dory contained only one fisherman. They still fished with one to three lines (one would be tied to a tholepin).

In the 1860s, double dory (larger dories with two men) fishing changed the schooner fishery forever. Instead of a few lines, with one or two hooks each, fishermen now set long lines of trawl, with thousands of hooks per dory. The resultant economic boom in the fisheries meant that communities enjoyed financial rewards far beyond anything that had gone before that time.

In Lunenburg, double dory fishing began in 1873, with Captain Benjamin Anderson at the helm of the schooner Dielytris. He took four dories and a crew of 13. Four other vessels were similarly equipped and went with him to the Western Banks, near Sable Island. The companion schooners went home, quickly disheartened with the experiment. Captain Anderson stayed on and had a very successful fishing trip.

Dory fishing caused such a dramatic change in the industry that Lunenburg went from a fishing community with 15 schooners, in the mid-1800s, to a thriving port that was home to more than 100 schooners at the turn of the 20th century.

Wishing you Smooth Sailing,

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bluenose II

Hello Everyone,

When I look out my office window, at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, part of my immediate view is of the ratlines of the schooner Bluenose II. A closer look reveals the masts and deck of this famous sailing ambassador of Nova Scotia.

Bluenose II is owned by the Province of Nova Scotia and is operated by the Board of Directors of the Lunenburg Marine Museum Society. This same organization operates the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic for the Nova Scotia Museum.

Bluenose II is history renewed, revitalized and alive. Built at the Smith and Rhuland Shipyard, here in Lunenburg, in 1963, Bluenose II is a tribute to the original Bluenose, built at the same Yard in 1921.

The original vessel won international acclaim as the undefeated champion of the North Atlantic. Bluenose raced against the best of the American fishing schooners, in the International Fishermen’s Series, from 1921 to the last race in 1938, winning each Series. The schooner was a fishing vessel, a racer and an ambassador, travelling as far as England during the King’s Jubilee in 1935.

Bluenose II has made her own splash in history and continues to bring the experience of going to sea alive for both crew and visitors. Each year, Bluenose II travels to a variety of ports and welcomes thousands of visitors aboard. Short cruises are available, when weather permits.
Nothing compares to the sound of the sails filled with a breeze, on the great Atlantic, or even in the waters of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.

In 2008, the ports of call include Gaspé, Montréal, Toronto, Quebec City, Gloucester and, for the first time, Sainte-Pierre.

The website for Bluenose II contains up-to-date information about the comings and goings of the schooner.

Wishing you Smooth Sailing,

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Under the Seas!

Hello Everyone,

The aquarium at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, gives visitors a chance to get up close and personal with a variety of species that are important to the east coast fisheries.

The centrepiece of the display is a large vista tank, which holds 22,706 litres (6000 gallons) of water. It is home to a variety of salt water species, all living in harmony with each other. It’s not unusual for visitors to see a haddock or cod come to the surface, to take a look around! If you look closely, you are apt to see a large lobster nestled into the rocks, at the bottom of the tank.

Fishermen sometimes help us with the most interesting examples of lobsters. Over the years, blue lobsters, white albino lobsters and those that are half green and half red have resided with us, all courtesy of enterprising fishermen who decide to donate their freshly caught crustaceans to the Museum.

The aquarium is one of the largest in Atlantic Canada, with eleven salt water and three fresh water tanks, operating with three enclosed water systems.

Popular with all ages, the displays of fish and shellfish are augmented with colourful, descriptive panels of text and images. Museum staff are stationed in the area, especially during the full open season from May to October, and provide lively talks and detailed information about the species.
Interactive touch screens allow visitors to explore the underwater world. Tantalizing questions such as: "Do fish sleep?" "How can you tell a cod's age?" "How do lobsters grow?" combine with modern technology to make learning highly entertaining.

The inhabitants of the aquarium live in a calm, tranquil environment that offers a pleasing area for contemplation and enjoyment for visitors to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.
Wishing you Smooth Sailing,

Monday, February 4, 2008

Green Fishing

Hello Everyone,

One of the most fascinating exhibits at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, in Lunenburg Nova Scotia, is a Parks Canada installation called The Bank Fishery ~ Age of Sail. The exhibit covers a 400-year period of fishing on the banks of the North Atlantic.

Detailed models of the vessels provide the highlight of the experience, covering the time of green fishing (1500s - 1700s) through to the schooners of the 1930s.

Green fishing means that the fish that were caught and salted were still wet when the vessels returned to their ports. The fleets from France were outfitted with large amounts of salt, which were readily available to them because of their unending supply of solar salt, at home. The fleets from Britain did not have the same amount of the resource and had to go ashore, usually at Newfoundland, to partially dry their catch in the sun.

The method of fishing, in these early years, is almost unimaginable by today’s standards.
The vessels were square-rigged, which required a large enough crew to climb the rigging and set the sails. This same crew did the fishing, from the deck of the vessels, while standing in tall barrels. The barrels were used for stability and to provide some semblance of warmth. The men would lower their fishing lines, which were usually at least 300 feet long, and would work for 10 or 12 hours, hauling the then-huge cod to the deck, all by hand.

The men were paid according to the number of fish that they caught. In order for the captain to keep an accurate tally, the tongues of the fish were cut out and driven on a short iron pole, one for each fisherman.

Research based on logbooks and legal depositions from the time period show that the amount of fish caught varied greatly. One voyage, in 1754, on the Saint-André, of Honfleur, France, showed that in some weeks the average catch per man was 10 fish per day. At other times, the men averaged 100 or more on a daily basis! Considering that some of the cod would have weighed several hundred pounds, the effort of hauling the deadweight of the fish aboard the vessel, from at least 300 feet, would have been backbreaking, dangerous work.

A common practice was that whoever caught the lowest number of fish, each day, had to clean up the deck and working areas, while the other men were able to go to their meals and bunks.
The men came to know coastal areas of what is now Canada with great intimacy. Some of the men from Britain eventually settled in ports of Newfoundland, making the fishery a leading contributor to the settlement of Canada.

Wishing you Smooth Sailing,