Charlene Hancock was 18 when she lost her father, Charles, while he was fishing off Nova Scotia’s coast.
“This year marks the 30th anniversary that the vessel that my father was on — the Cape Aspy — was lost at sea,” she told Global News Sunday.
Sunday marked the annual Fishers’ Memorial Service in Lunenburg.
People gathered on the town’s historic waterfront on the second Sunday of September, as they’ve done since 1925.
“Today’s service is dedicated to the memories of those who have gone to sea — and never returned,” shouted Stephen Findlay, the town crier.
Personal stories, like Charlene Hancock’s, are all too common.
For centuries, communities like Lunenburg have relied on fishing to earn their livelihoods.
“It’s a very dangerous vocation,” Hancock says. “I think that some people don’t realize that you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.”
“When somebody goes out to sea, it becomes part of the entire community’s identity,” says Hilda Russell, the curator of interpretation at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. “It speaks to who we are, what we are and what’s important to us.”
After a roll call of people lost in years ending in ‘3,’ fishing boats gathered near the wharf and were sent off with a blessing.
The final vessel took wreaths handed over, representing people lost to sea.
Book to commemorate memorials, monuments
Inside the museum’s Disasters at Sea exhibit, Russell is working on a book highlighting all the ways Nova Scotia pays tribute to fishers lost.
“I could never find a complete body of work that really spoke to all of the monuments or plaques, all the tributes, the ways in which this province acknowledges the fishers and the importance they play to Nova Scotians,” Russell says.
It’s an idea she had a few years ago and she has led the work, along with Rose-Anne Smeltzer. A current — but not finalized — copy is on display.
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She hopes to have a final, polished copy with professional photography completed in the next five years.
“Between her and I, we’ve combed the province,” Russell says.
“It didn’t take me before I started discovering little unknown ones, like in West Baccaro, for example,” she says. “That led into fishers coming to me and sharing: ‘Are you aware of this plaque, this monument, this bench?’”
But they’re hoping to hear from people across the province in case they’re missing any locations.
There’s been a decline in the lives lost, Russell says, something she attributes to increased safety measures and new technology.
But Hancock, who was 18 when she lost her father, wants people to know how important services and memorials are to pay tribute.
“My father was a great family man, always put his family first, loved children, had a great sense of humour and was always willing to help someone else out,” she says.
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