The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic – comprising of three packed floors, one schooner and one trawler – is a true mammoth in Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There was so much interpretation and information packed in the museum that we spent nearly the entire day exploring the exhibits.
The museum starts with a mini-aquarium on the first floor showcasing the region’s aquatic life, including the much loved lobster, salmon, cod and halibut. I didn’t know until I saw one swimming around that halibut, like flounder, is a flat fish and swims on its side with both eyes looking up – such a strange looking fellow.
Next it was unto regional history and culture, focusing on the Mi’kmaqs and their interaction with early colonists.
The sea supplied the Mi’kmaqs with about 90% of their food as fish were plentiful and easy to catch – flounder, smelt, herring, sturgeon, salmon, eel all took their turns returning to the coast and running up the river to spawn.
The Mi’kmaqs would construct weirs in the streams, in essence trapping the fish byforcing them to pass through a narrow opening whence they could be captured with baskets or nets. For large fish like the sturgeon and the salmon, a spear was used to trap the fish.
In the main first floor exhibit hall, on display are various sorts of artifacts connected to the local fishing industry – everything you can think of from anchors and clothing down to fishing hooks and transaction ledgers.
A couple that caught my eye were an early IBM time-punch (above) and an ingenious lobster trap made from a recycled tire (below).
Second floor focused on the history of the fishing industry. Volunteers from the South Shore Modellers Guild also man the Ship Model Shop, providing demonstrations on crafting ship models.
Third floors had separate sections dedicated to “Rum Row” and the famous vessel and racing Bluenose schooner honored on the Canadian 10 cent coin (more to come on this).
Also on the third floor were spinning wheels and looms. With the guidance of detailed explanations by the volunteer interpreter, I finally learned how a loom works!
Each strand of yarn is individually strung through a corresponding eye on the parallel wooden horizontal beams. The two wooden beams either rises or drops to separate all the yarn in the top and bottom of a weave. A shuttlecock is then run in between the two layers of yarn and the wooden beam reversed. The most time-consuming is threading the eyes, which for the simple 2-color set-up below took about 4 days.
Bottom right is a walking (great) wheel. You would turn the wheel standing up, good for silks and other fine threads.
Bottom left is a Saxony wheel. Seated, you would give the wheel a turn and then step on the foot pedal to keep spinning.
Lunch was fried local clams and scallops overlooking the habor at the South Shore Fish Shack. That “little” sailboat in the background is the Eastern Star which provides tours of the harbor.
After lunch, we started on the outdoor exhibits in the harbor – the Theresa E Conner and the Cape Sable.
The Theresa E Conner completed in 1938 was the last schooner to be launched in Lunenburg. It is telling that the side trawler Cape Sable was completed in 1962 and in 1963, the Theresa E Conner failed to muster a crew to go out to sea. Both were outfitted with the latest technologies available at the time of their construction.
Below deck on the Theresa E Conner, space was cramped with the big engine taking up a good third of the space. Even so, she relied heavily on sails above deck to gain speed crossing the ocean to reach the fertile Grand Banks near Newfoundland. In turn, the crew sleeping quarters, dining area and kitchen were all combined into one. Moreover, being a schooner, fishing was done using dories, which would be lowered into the water. Fishermen would then use hooked lines to bait fish, pulling up to 200 a time into the dories.
In contrast, the Captain, First Officer and Chief Engineer on the Cape Sable had their own individual rooms with running water. The trawler was also equipped with modern navigation tools and a fish radar. Most importantly, nets would be tossed over the sides of the ship, and then the fish pulled up.
As fishermen were paid only a share of the profits from fish sales, it is little wonder they would opt to go on side trawlers like the Cape Sable.
Just for fun, try to decipher the flag message hanging on the Cape Sable!
Our time at the museum concluded with a schooner model launch demonstration. It’s fascinating the system of moving timbers used to launch the schooner into the water.
To start, the hull is built on keel blocks (stationary jacks) near the edge of the water, and a ceremonial mast installed. Once completed, it weighs about 180,000 kg and is ready to be launched. A day and time would be selected to coincide with high tide, a schooner that hit bottom upon launch would be considered bad luck. Wood packing would be built around the keels to support the schooner, vertical beams would be put in place and secured using iron dogs. Wooden wedges would be inserted between the sliders and the bottom of the packing, the slider greased. The keel blocks would then be lowered (you wouldn’t want to scratch the bottom of the schooner) and iron dogs taken out. The packing, together with the schooner, would slowly slide into the water. The schooner would be towed in, a rope tied to the dock. Outfitting of the schooner would then take another 3-4 months.
We returned to the South Shore side of the South Shore Fish Shack, a raw bar, for some fresh local seafood as an afternoon snack.
The last activity of the day was a harbor sail aboard the Eastern Star – that wooden ketch we had saw sail off while enjoying lunch. The current owner (our Captain’s father) had bought her in 1991 at an auction. Originally built for a Danish diplomat in 1948, she had been confiscated by the government after having made a voyage to Canada stashed with marijuna.
A beautiful view of Lunenburg harbor greeted us upon the waters.
The red building – Adams & Knickle – was founded in 1897 as an outfitting company. The company also owned fishing schooners and more recently scallop trawlers since the 1950s. The white and blue below is one of their trawlers. It finally solved the mystery on why all the scallops we had ate in Lunenburg were said to be Adams & Knickle scallops…
On the right in white and red is the Polar Prince ice breaker, which had in 2017 been re-purposed for the 150-day Canada C3 expedition from Toronto to Victoria via the Northwest Passage to celebrate the country’s 150th birthday, travelling 23,000 km and visiting 75 communities.
Now as promised, below is a view of the Bluenose II schooner, a full-size replica of the original Bluenose schooner. Bluenose had been designed by William Roué for speed. The previous year in 1920, the Nova Scotia schooner Delawana had lost to Gloucester, MA schooner Esperanto in the International Fishermen’s Race which awarded the Halifax Herald’s International Fishermen’s Trophy’ to the fastest vessel in the North Atlantic fishing fleet. The race had been started by a group of Halifax civic leaders in response to the America’s Cup; and to compete a schooner had to have had at least one full fishing season.
So Bluenose and her crew spent the spring and summer of 1921 fishing in the Grand Banks. That autumn, she soundly defeated the competition, including Esperanto. She would continue to hold that title despite the Americans fielding new schooners designed to beat her. She won her last race in 1938. With the decline in schooner fishing, she was refitted as a freighter and laden with bananas, struck a coral reef off of Île à Vache, Haiti on January 28, 1946.
For our harbor tour, we sailed around the edge of the Battery Point Breakwater Lighthouse, and then headed back.
Adding another incredible sunset to the scrapbook.