Grand Manan and the Great War (Part 23)

Part 23- A Family Faces a New Way of Life and War

            In the decade prior to the declaration of war in August, 1914, few residents would have realized how dramatically family life and work would change for the island communities. Changes in the way fish would be caught and processed, the introduction of new technologies for fishing vessels and plants, and the increasing migration of families would have a profound effect on the future of Grand Manan.

As early as 1896, islanders and indeed residents from neighbouring Campobello, Deer Island, Eastport and Lubec looked forward to the annual boat races held around Grand Manan waters. Participants in the Grand Manan Boat Club or Yacht Club, as it was sometimes called, included popular island fishermen and their fishing schooners. Over the passage of the next twenty years there emerged perennial favourites. Often the top four island masters of vessels beat out their competition from other areas on both sides of the border. Some of the most popular schooners included:

  • “Ethel and Carrie”-Capt. Albert Wooster; later commanded by Capt. Scott Wooster
  • “William E. Gladstone”-Capt. Judson Guptill; later commanded by Capt. Loren Wilson
  • “Grace and Ethel”-Capt. Irvin Ingalls
  • “Reta and Rhoda”-Capt. Isaac Newton
  • “Ouida’-W. Delhi(Dell) McLaughlin
  • “Valkyrie”-Melville Bancroft
  • “Rough Rider”-Capt. Unknown

The first four vessels were designed and built by Alward Harned in West Saint John. The latter three schooners were built on Deer Island by George Richardson but designed by Capt. Warren Cheney. On most occasions the racing course started at Grand Harbour, on to White Head, Black Rock, Seal Cove Sound and through the Narrows at Wood Island; then back to Grand Harbour. In one race the “Ethel and Carrie” covered the course in two hours, 27 minutes and 36 seconds; two seconds ahead of “Grace and Ethel”. Cash prizes were usually $30 for first; $20 for second, and $10 for third- an equivalent in today’s currency of $500.00 for first place.

Over the period from 1896 to 1910, many races were held at “Quoddy River” against American and other island schooners where the Grand Manan “white squadron” was frequently victorious.

When not taking time out from the fishing season to test their sailing skills, master mariners like Scott Wooster and Irvin Ingalls participated in the freighting and fishing activities that began to expand to new opportunities on the North Shore and head of the Bay of Fundy. As discussed in my previous installment, fish merchants and processors from Grand Manan were branching out into new markets and sources of supply. This was especially the case for the growing importance of the smoked herring industry

Grosvenor P. Newton, Ed King and McLaughlin Bros. were some of the first entrepreneurs to recognize the significance and advantage of the early fishing season in the Northumberland Strait. Newton announced in Dec. 1900 the construction of extensive buildings on leased wharf space in Georgetown, P.E.I., for salting and stringing operations. Captain Judson L. Guptill and John Brown, who were also active in Port Elgin, Baie Verte and Point du Chene, joined him in erecting the new business. It was estimated that the two stringing rooms and nine salting tanks could eventually produce 85-100,000 boxes of smoked herring over a three month period. Along with their Grand Harbour operations the Newton family produced another 75-100,000 boxes annually. Over a twenty year period the price of an eighteen pound box of smoked fish fluctuated from 25-60 cents per box depending on demand. Calculated in today’s pricing terms that would be about twenty times the wholesale price in 1900.

At this time the Grand Manan had upwards of 400 smoke houses shipping approximately eight million boxes of smoked herring through the year principally going to United States markets. The island was considered the capital of the smoked herring industry in Canada.

McLaughlin Bros.

Frederick Sumner McLaughlin’s foray into the smoked fish business along the North Shore was a bold and risky venture. His sense of adventure into new frontiers probably stemmed from earlier travel experiences at age twenty-one to British Columbia and the State of Washington with Creighton Ellingwood in 1888-89. Partnered with his younger brother, Clinton H., they formed McLaughlin Bros., which moved from their father’s farming tradition to fishing. By 1891 it is known that the McLaughlins, especially their other brother Dell (Delhi), had started herring and smoking operations on the Seal Cove Sea Wall. However, they were confronted with a major setback when a fire destroyed their smoke sheds and fish stand along with other residents like John Joy and Jacob Schofield. Delhi was to rebuild by August, 1892. (Daily Sun 30 Aug 1892) Within days of this event Frederick also married Lucy Cronk, daughter of Samuel and Mary Cronk at Mark Hill on Sept. 4th.

Within six years of his marriage, Frederick and his brother, Clinton, had united their efforts under McLaughlin Bros. to expand the base of fishing operations beyond the island. Around Feb. 1899, they forged a partnership with Charles Edward King and five others to invest in herring stands and smokehouses near Baie Verte, as well as twenty miles to the east along the Amherst, N.S. shore. In most cases they concentrated on stringing herring caught in the Northumberland Strait area which would eventually be turned into smoked bloaters i.e. herring with head on that were shipped in 18 lb. boxes to New York and West Indian markets. By April, 1900, King sold his share of McLaughlin Bros. operations in Baie Verte to Captain Irvin Ingalls. (St. C.C. 12 April 1900)

It is evident over the next five years the fish merchants and plant operators awakened to the potential for processing skinless herring by the box. By 1905 Peter P. Russell, McLaughlin Bros. and Charles Edward King introduced Grand Manan to the idea of producing this value-added product. Up to this time fish dealers on the island would ship cargoes of smoked herring to Campobello where they were skinned, the backbone removed and boxed for New York. Grand Manan merchants were convinced they could bring those benefits to island communities.

By the end of the decade the changes in the way islanders caught and processed herring, the introduction of gasoline engines to sailing craft after 1905, and the rise of more and larger vessels participating in the fishery created a major shortage in fish stocks by 1910 and beyond. A special report issued in Nov. 1910, about the failure of the Grand Manan fisheries noted that “the island faces conditions that have not been experienced in a decade, and it is stated by schooner men from the fishing grounds that the situation is serious with winter close at hand and that much hardship will be experienced. No fish spells no money.”

This economic gloom lurked over the island right up to the beginning of the war and became a major motive for young men to volunteer for duty overseas where the promise of regular pay was enticing. Combined with the movement of families to Port Elgin and neighbouring fish stands, or, to Lubec and Eastport canneries, it put a tremendous strain on the local economy.

The shortage of labour became a constant irritant for local fish merchants like Fred McLaughlin who saw his own son, Gerald, and his nephew, Clarence, get called up. Gerald Pratt McLaughlin, born 17 May 1896, was just shy of his twenty-second birthday when he enlisted in the 1st Depot Battalion, a reserve unit to operational battalions overseas. He listed his occupation as a bank clerk and employed, according to the St. Croix Courier, in the Seal Cove post office. (St. C.C.15 Nov. 1917) Joining him the following April was his younger cousin, Clarence Meredith McLaughlin, son of Walter Delhi and Georgianna (Meredith), also a banking clerk residing at the time in Woodstock.

The next installment will explore their life and times and other Seal Cove enlistees.



Library and Archives Canada

Vital Statistics, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Lewiston Evening Journal

Saint John Daily Sun

St. Croix Courier, St. Stephen