The importance of the humble Dory to the history of Eastern Canada is undeniable. They were a way of life for thousands of fisherman and helped create the fishery as we know it today. The Dories were carried on large schooners (think Bluenose). Fisherman then climbed in and were lowered into the water to venture out, fish for the day and return to the ship. It was dangerous work for many reasons. If a man were to go overboard there was usually only one person to help get him back in, and in the frigid North Atlantic, hypothermia sets in quickly. Tragically, despite painting the boats bright yellow and having fog horns to help find them, some were lost in the thick fog. In spite of the dangers, the men needed to go out so they could put food on the table. Many of the men felt the call to go to the sea deep in their bones.
While in Nova Scotia we took the opportunity to have a “Dory Day” and it was great! We started out at The Dory Shop Museum on the beautiful and historic waterfront in Shelburne. It is a still functioning Dory shop where they build dories almost entirely with hand tools in the same manner that they have been for over 100 years. Downstairs is full of pieces of dory fishing history. Isaac loved the fog horn which our tour guide blew for him. He also loved the swordfish swords. I thought the “fish finder” was interesting. The fish they were catching were bottom feeders so they needed to know what the sea floor beneath them was like. It was a piece of lead with a hollowed bottom. The fisherman would fill the bottom with butter or lard and would lower it to the bottom and haul it back up. There would be an imprint of the sea floor in the butter or lard telling them whether it was sandy, rocky or weedy so they would know whether or not to cast a line or keep looking. There is a short video of shipbuilder Sidney Mahaney, who built dories there for over 75 years. Upstairs there is a dory making shop that you can explore. The shipbuilder on site answered all of our questions and made Isaac’s day by giving him shavings from the dory he was working on. So, we are now looking for something to do with a big bag of shavings. We have a “Canada Jar” with layers of different things from different provinces like red sand from PEI. I think we’ll include these shavings.
Next, we headed down the highway to Barrington to check out the Queen of Hearts Dory Club’s Row and Ride. When we heard about this we jumped at the opportunity. It’s a chance to get in a dory yourself. You can sit and enjoy the ride or try your hand at rowing it yourself. We were all outfitted in our life jackets and crawled in. The man taking us on our ride was so friendly and understanding with my little people. He rowed us out and around and then invited Isaac up to sit with him and row. I swear Isaac was walking taller as he stepped out of the boat. He was sure that he was rowing the dory all on his own and we weren’t about to change that. Some of the dories used here were actually made at The Dory Shop in Shelburne so there is a connection between the two places which made getting in one even more special. The Miss Milfirst was named after the shipbuilder at the museum. My Grandmother’s family is from Cape Sable Island and being there brought back so many great memories of her and how much she loved that little island. This was an experience that will stick with us and I’m so grateful to have the chance. I think we will try and get back again. They run the Row & Ride on Tuesday evening’s beginning at 6:00 by the gazebo at the Causeway as long as the weather is fine. If you can get there, I really recommend it.
Our “Dory Day” was a great day of learning and fun. It’s important to me to ensure my kids learn about Canada’s hard working history, the sacrifices folks made to provide the basic necessities, to be grateful for what we have today because it didn’t come free and to be able to enjoy the beautiful, simple things in life. To me, the dory is symbolic of the all of these things and we can’t wait to get back in and grab the oars.