Grand Manan and the Great War (Part 22)

Part 22- “Up the Bay” and Beyond: Response to the War

            In many ways 1912 was a critical turning point for the economy and people of Grand Manan. Over the past decade the population had gradually diminished by over two hundred people from a high of 2600 in the census of 1901. During the past ten years the fishery, especially for herring, had fallen dramatically in some seasons. Although lobster fishing and by 1900 the growth in lobster canning factories were a welcome addition to family incomes, new regulations in 1903 on sizes to be taken by fisherman, began to put a strain on plant operations. The Burnham Morrell factory at Grand Harbour (est. 1899), and, John A. Ingersoll’s operation at Seal Cove, flourished and employed upwards of sixty men, women and boys.

In order to increase the taking of pollock, an aggressive campaign was initiated on White Head in the 1890s to use what was called the “dynamite process” adopted from the United States. Fishermen armed with sticks of dynamite would regularly fish inside the three mile limit and toss the lit explosives into schools of fish. One report in 1901 said that “fishermen have landed more Pollock from the use of dynamite [in the first part of May] than ever was taken by the same fleet of boats engaged in fishing in a whole season’s fishing and the fish have only commenced to school or play in schools.” Off White Head alone in one day 30-40,000 fish were killed. Controversy raged between fishermen. Those favouring the process argued that practically all dead fish floated to the surface after the explosion and only the wounded managed to escape their nets. Opposition to this method of catch argued that as much as one half to one third of the dead sunk to bottom and it did not allow stocks of fish to reach inshore nets and weirs. Moreover, the damaged meat became unfit for human consumption.

Even with increased regulations to protect the inshore fishery and regular patrols by the Fisheries vessel “Curlew”, the practice continued for years. In fact, two innovative White Head fishermen, Lewis Frankland and W.J. Morse, drew up improvements to “bag nets” which each claimed could catch up to 400 pollock in one set. This became the earliest record of seining and the introduction of the seiner. There is no mention of whether this approach to the catch was restricted only to rounding up dead fish from dynamiting.

Nonetheless, fishermen seeking to earn a decent year’s wages were drawn more and more to sardine factories scattered along the shores of Maine, especially in Lubec and Eastport. In fact, whole families often migrated for the summer season where men, women and children worked in the sardine packing plants, smoke sheds and making sardine cans. Still other fishermen and processors of fish looked further afield in Nova Scotia but particularly “up the Bay” toward Sackville, Baie Verte, Port Elgin, Bayside and even to Georgetown, P.E.I.

Economic setbacks for the island were made worse with a sudden and devastating fire sweeping North Head at the corner nearest the current ferry wharf office on July 7, 1912. More than seventeen buildings were destroyed including the new branch of the Bank of New Brunswick and the Customs House. About 11:00 in the evening, strong winds whipped up a fire of unknown origins which “swept without hindrance through the single street comprising the village and licked up building after building until it had reached the end of the street and had burned itself out three hours after it was first discovered.” With no available firefighting equipment the conflagration stretched over a quarter mile and left fewer than a dozen buildings in its wake.

Total losses were estimated at over $60,000.00 or more than one million dollars in today’s currency with only a small amount that was insured. Included in the devastation were the residences of Thomas Redmond, Sylvester R. Watt, Mrs. Wm. Watt, Charles Dixon, and Loren Daggett. The Grand Manan Fish Co. lost two buildings and their wharf; Lorenzo Watt, four buildings used in smoked fish operations; and, the general store belonging to S.R. Watt.

Taken together these events forced Grand Manan families to seek new ways to make a living in the commercial fishery. Seasonal work began to take on new impetus when several enterprising fish plant operators and boat owners formed business relationships in Nova Scotia and on the North Shore of New Brunswick near the Northumberland Strait. Before the declaration of war in 1914, a number of merchant/fishermen, particularly from Grand Harbour and Seal Cove, made inroads into the smoked fish industry and lobster canning operations of Port Elgin and Baie Verte.

Charles Edward King

The most influential individual from Grand Manan to directly invest in fishing establishments in that area was Charles Edward King from Seal Cove. Born 14 June 1862 in Lubec to Edward and Elizabeth King, he grew up around the smoked fish stands, especially after his father, a native of Nova Scotia’s Cumberland County, moved the family to Seal Cove about 1866 where he and his sons carried on fishing. During these formative years, Edward earned a place in the fishing community and by 1889 had become one of four charter members of the Seal Cove Reformed Baptist Church. Before a formal building was erected in 1892, which undoubtedly Edward supported financially, it was said that church services were held in the fish sheds of Delhi McLaughlin and Colin Harvey.

Dating back to the 1880s boatmen and owners of vessels from Grand Manan recognized the value in freighting smoked and skinless herring from producers located in Westmorland County at the head of the Bay of Fundy and on the Northumberland Strait. Regular trips are recorded in local papers throughout the 1900s where island boats competed in the carrying trade through ports like Sackville to load shipments from producers in Pointe-du-Chene, Shediac, Baie Verte, and Port Elgin for destinations in New York and the West Indies.

Perhaps inspired by the need for more herring supply or encouraged by fish buyers and brokers in New York, Edward King made a decision to invest in plant operations in the Port Elgin/Baie Verte area. As early as 1898 he formed C. E. King and Co. in order to direct investment into the smoked fish business in Port Elgin with partners McLaughlin Bros. (Fred and Clinton) from Seal Cove and John F. Ehrgott, manager of Seaboard Trading Co. of New York and owner of a major wholesale salt fish operation in Yarmouth, N.S. By April, 1900, King divested himself of his share in the McLaughlin Bros. operations in Baie Verte by selling it to Captain Irvin Ingalls. (St. C. C. 12 April 1900)

By 1907, King was one of the largest fish dealers in the Maritime Provinces with two fish processing stands in Port Elgin, one in Port Howe, and one in Northport along the Amherst shore employing about three hundred men and women. To improve the quantity and quality of fish products, the company had taken a five year lease in that same year on cold storage facilities in Westport, N.S., at Brier Island.

Starting usually towards the end of March of each year it became a ritual for men to migrate “up the Bay” to work in the fish stands and smokes houses owned by King. Since the fishing season came earlier to the North Shore than Grand Manan, it provided an opportunity for workers to get a head start on the season and return to their island communities by May in time for the summer fishing. As early as April, 1904 about fifty men left Grand Manan as a group for smoke fish operations in Port Elgin and nearby villages. (St. C.C. 14 April 1904)

By the end of the decade Edward was often joining dozens of other fishermen migrating to Port Elgin to manage his expanding operations. His energy and enthusiasm to get the job done was legendary among fishermen. It was reported that while still on the island he saw the need for a new smokehouse on the shore. “Alone, he built one of the local smokehouses in nine days, a feat often referred to today (1938) by men about the stands.” (St. C.C. 29 Sept. 1938) And like many others who also took their entire families for the early spring fishing season, King was accompanied by his wife Emma, daughter of Finley and Margaret McDonald of Seal Cove, whom he had married 4 April 1885. According to the 1911 census, the King family included sixteen year old Margaret, ten year old Finley, and, three year old Furman. Sometime during the spring of that year they decided to make a permanent move to Port Elgin because they actually appear on both the Grand Manan and Port Elgin census records.

Not surprising their next door neighbour just happened to be Fred Magee, the most influential merchant-industrialist and undoubtedly wealthiest individual in that part of Westmorland County. At age thirty-three Magee had entered political life through election to the Westmorland County Council in 1908, no doubt bolstered by the success of his general store in the village established when he was only twenty-two. Magee and King were therefore not only close in age but peers in the business world. Holding major positions in many of Port Elgin’s corporations including the lobster canning and smoked fish businesses, it is highly likely that Magee was a principal backer of C. E. King & Co. and Elgin Fish Co. owned by Edward King. Magee arrived in Port Elgin from Saint John in 1897 about the time King took notice of the region’s potential. Over the next twenty years Magee established successful lobster factories under the “Mephisto” label, and, expanded smoked fish production to a capacity of 25,000 boxes a year. Moreover, he purchased another 60,000 boxes of smoked product from other packers like King to ship through his trading company throughout the world.

By Dec. 1911 King, who was now closing on fifty years of age made a strategic business decision to move from Port Elgin to Amherst in order to concentrate opening a new fish market and establishing another factory in nearby Tidnish. As a sign of his importance to the civic and business leaders of Port Elgin, a banquet was held in his honour in the town’s major hotel, the Strathcona, as a farewell event. The St. Andrews Beacon reported that he was also intending to sell his home on Grand Manan. (Beacon, 21 Dec. 1911) When the shadow of the war took hold in 1914, Edward and his family were well established in Amherst which became a major staging area, training camp and industrial hub for the military effort.

Finley Donald King

It was from Amherst where Edward’s eldest of two sons, Finley Donald King, named after his maternal grandfather, joined up on 22 Sept. 1917 and reported for service in Halifax. Although hindered by poor eyesight he entered the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Finley was well aware of other young men from Grand Manan who often came to work on the North Shore. Members of the Ingalls, McLaughlin, and Cook families had already responded to the call. Finley, who was barely seventeen when he enlisted, was born on 4 Sept. 1900 at Seal Cove at a time when his father was just emerging as a significant fish producer with the building of herring stands on the seawall.

It seems Finley may also have inherited his father’s energy and work ethic by engaging in fish operations in Port Elgin and the fish market in Amherst. However, he saw other opportunities to be pursued in a more bustling urban centre where trains and troops were arriving or departing every day. By 1917 he had taken up a position as a chauffeur in and around Amherst taking advantage of the need for taxi services during this extremely busy period in the life of the community. While he may have been able to use his driving skills as an ambulance driver, we cannot know his detailed activities in the war effort until his service record is digitized later this year by Library Archives Canada.

We do know for certain that he survived the conflict and returned to Amherst, maybe to be an employee in his father’s business but by 1921 had tried his hand as a farm worker. On 5 November 1920 in Amherst he married Minerva Dorothea MacArthur, a native of Harvey Bank, N.B. he took up a position in the car works in Amherst, where many train components and rolling stock were produced. How long he stayed with the company is not known but before 1939 he had removed his wife and son, Charles Edward, to Lubec, Maine, where also his widowed mother, Emma, had joined them. His mother and father had apparently moved by 1930 to the Rockland, Maine, from Amherst. There Edward, now sixty-five, was employed as the foreman in a fish packing plant and his son, Furman, who lived next door, was listed as a labourer probably in the same plant. On 23 Sept. 1938, Edward died in the Bangor Hospital and his body was returned to Seal Cove for burial on Sept. 28th where now only his daughter, Margaret Elizabeth, wife of Carroll Wilcox, was the closest living relative on the island. Emma lived out her days with Finley in Lubec when she died at age eighty-three in 1947.

Lawton Craig Guptill

While neither Lawton Guptill nor any of his family enlisted, he, like Edward King, saw immense opportunities to be realized in the smoked fish business in Port Elgin. Lawton, the son of Allen O. and Mary (Craig) Guptill was raised in a fishing and sailing tradition. Since the 1880s his father, Capt. Guptill, regularly freighted cargoes of fish products throughout the Bay of Fundy and to destinations down the New England coast as far as New York. Likely this is where Lawton gained his knowledge of sailing craft, the freighting business and the smoked fish business.

By the turn of the century Lawton also went regularly to the North Shore to transport fish products and probably other fishermen seeking work in the smoked fish stands of Baie Verte and Port Elgin. Witnessing the success of King, the McLaughlins and others like Irvin Ingalls who had invested in fish processing plants and smoked product, he also moved into the area. Similar to King, he likely partnered with Fred Magee; for we know he continued to operate fish stands until 1907 when he sold his interests to C.E. King and Co. (St. C.C. May 1907)

Lawton’s respect and admiration for Magee is revealed in 1903 when it was announced that “L.C. Foster, contractor, has Robert [Bell] & Sons at work on the foundation of a fine dwelling for Lawton C. Guptill at Grand Harbor. The house is to be built after the plan of Fred Magee’s at Port Elgin.” (St. C.C. 28 May 1903) The accompanying photos show the striking similarities.

This reference to Magee and his home in the local paper speaks volumes to the fact that so many islanders would recognize the similarities. The number of Grand Manan fishermen and their families who sailed “up the Bay” to live and work each season must have been more considerable than one can measure accurately from periodic newspaper accounts. The next installment will explore more of those connections and the lead up to war.



Ingersoll, L.K. “Lobsters Galore”, Grand Manan Historian, No.XIV, 1970.

Library and Archives Canada

Vital Statistics, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Busy East Magazine, 1921.

St. Andrews Beacon

St. Croix Courier, St. Stephen