For nearly 250 years, Lunenburg has pulled its wealth from the sea. In this port, codfish was king and smelled like money. While the catch is smaller now – deep-sea scallops are brought in by the boats of nearby Adams and Knickle, while lobster, mackerel, haddock... whatever is in season... is landed at the Inshore Fishermen’s wharf – Lunenburg was built on a foundation of fish.
Ah, and when times were good they were very good: hundreds of ships at the docks (even anchored in the harbour when the wharves were too full), a forest of schooner masts that spread the width of the water, fine houses, the latest cars, and four banks in one small town. The prosperity of the fishery’s heyday is still very visible along every street. But it came at a cost.
The price: over 600 men who sailed from this small community lost at sea on 150 ships, 40 of them with every man on board perishing in the cold North Atlantic. And that’s just the numbers since accurate records were kept. Imagine it? As you wander through these granite columns, which form a stylized Compass Rose with its eight directional points, read the names. Read, as they are read each September when the Annual Fishermen’s Memorial Service pays tribute to those who go down to the sea in ships. “Tanner, Knickle, Greek, Levy, Corkum.” Sadness is intermingled with the singing of hymns; thankfulness for their sacrifice and the income the toil provided.
Closer examination reveals more stories. 1926 and 1927 -- 130 souls lost in two seasons; caught in the famed August Gales when the fall storms came early and caught the fleet unprepared for the devastating lashing the sea can lay out. Keep reading; yes three, four, even five names the same. And yes, often from the same family: brothers, fathers, sons, lost together, and leaving families at home devastated with no breadwinners left to feed them. And so from tragedy came wisdom. No longer would more than two members of an immediate family put to sea from port together on the same ship.But please don’t despair. We in Lunenburg take it as part of our legacy, the fibre of hard work and pride in a job well done; the same ethics that drives our working waterfront today, as it finds its way from a fisheries-based economy to one that balances the trades of sea: shipbuilding, equipment repair, sail making, along with tourism. Listen closely and you’ll hear a ship’s bell, a foghorn, and a tour-boat engine all filling the air.