Episode 2

Laura Langille

  1. Maritime Packers in 1950
  2. The Acadian Presence
  1. Chapter Reference
  2. Comments

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Maritime Packers in 1950

Laura Langille was 16 years old when she went to work for Maritime Packers in 1950. She worked as a “cookee” or cook’s assistant in Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick where her mother was the cook. Over the years, she worked in fishermen cookhouses at Cape John, Toney River and Caribou. At the Caribou factory there were 400 men and women working in the processing and canning of lobster. The plant there also processed scallops and herring. In the fall there were times when she worked on herring at Caribou, peeling the skins, pickling the fish in vinegar and salt to make Solomon Gundy.

When Laura started working she earned wages of $55 a month. At the Caribou factory people came from Shediac, Yarmouth, Charlos Cove and other fishing communities along the Northumberland shore and the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Her day started at 5:45 a.m. when breakfast was prepared. Breakfast was served at 7 a.m. and the menu consisted of biscuits, eggs, jam, bologna, baked beans, oatmeal, ham, bread and always stewed prunes and gingerbread. Lunch was the main meal of the day. It was served at noon sharp and sometimes included dozens of chickens, half sides of pork or beef, cod, stew, potatoes, vegetables, pies, cakes, cookies. It was hard work at the factory but people never went hungry.

In Caribou, Acadians from New Brunswick made up a large contingent of the seasonal workers. They would all have a great time in the evenings. Everyone from fishermen, cooks, and workers would cram into the bunkhouse and play guitars and fiddles and have a sing song. Although people worked hard and long 12 hour days, they enjoyed themselves and made their own fun.

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The Acadian Presence

Samuel Broidy bought up lobster canneries in River John then moved down the coast to Caribou where his company, now known as Maritime Packers, established its head office in Pictou. From there Maritime Packers eventually operated a far flung network of lobster stations from Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick to the Magdalen Islands and as far as Lark Harbour on the West Coast of Newfoundland. From its earliest days the company established strong relations with Acadian fishing communities and recruited seasonal workers, mainly women, to work in the factory "kitchens" to process the lobster.

"Built on the shores of the thriving harbour in the late 19th and early 20th century were the results of a process that was occurring around the globe. Industrialization came to rest on the shores of Caribou and the results were the appearance of what became known as lobster factories. One that seems to have latched onto a most successful and productive scheme for its era was that of Maritime Packers Lobster Factory. The site of what would come to be known as the world’s largest live lobster factory. The fact that it is the largest is a difficult proposition to uphold, yet it is known that it was to become the largest shipper of live lobster in North America. Developing its system with a complex network of trucking and schooner transports, the factory became the hub of activity for the shipments of lobster and other fish products North and South of the border.

Interestingly there are many memories of the “French speaking ladies” in the local community that would come up every summer to work in the factory “kitchens” to shell the lobsters that were being prepared for canning. Developing from the strategy used in local fisherman’s homes that once were based on subsistence fishing, the new “factory” would mimic a maritime kitchen and allow for many groups of likely Acadian descendants to come from Montreal (in Maritime Packers case) each summer to prepare the fishermen’s harvest from the surrounding oceans up as far as Newfoundland and Labrador fishing areas, and can those destined for areas all over Europe and North America. The success of this particular idea was attributed to Samuel Brody a local businessman of the area with good sense to capitalize on the growing popularity of lobster. Another local lore states however that the success of the factory which grew rapidly during the early twenties when a ban on alcohol was enforced in the States and not in Newfoundland, was the idea that the whole business was a front for smuggling booze across to the states where the North/South border was still very weak especially in the Maritime provinces.

 

 

Whatever the reason the success of this particular factory has attributed to the very character of the harbour and has led to an additional layer of memory to this place that has become a strangely significant crossroads between the ocean and the mainland."

(Quote from: p.113-116, Laxer, James. 2006. Acadians : In search of a homeland. [Toronto]: Doubleday Canada)

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