The History of Long and Brier Islands

THE “LAST WEIR”

by | Feb 25, 2022 | Brier Island, Freeport, Long Island, Videos, Westport | 2 comments

The Last Weir

Most of the information regarding the land used by the Mi’kmaq on the Islands area occurs after the settling of the Europeans mainly because that is when the history of our area began to be written down. A few explorers, such as Champlain and Lescarbot who traveled the land and waters of the Digby Neck and Islands area provide mainly natural descriptions of our area, but mention hunting and fishing. Seasonal encampments and hunting villages have also been documented.

         Mi’Kmaq were recorded living at Sand Beach in Freeport by these early settlers. Nearby was located a weir, where they fished. The rocks that anchored the weir poles can still be seen at low tide today.

Weirs were erected in a semicircular manner (Heart Shaped) in the water which encouraged the fish to swim into the enclosed area. The weir is created by attaching nets to long poles driven into the sea bottom.

As herring swim near the shore at night, they encounter the weir’s net covered fence. Following the fence, the herring arrive in the weir. Swimming around inside the weir, the inward-turned mouth of the weir redirects the herring to the center, thus preventing escape. Eventually, enough herring accumulate in the weir, and the fisherman closes the weir’s door (another net at the weir’s mouth) and seines out the herring.

The Bay of Fundy and the Saint Marys’ Bay were once teaming with fish. The Mi’Kmaq at some time started trapping these fish along the shores of these bays. It was only made possible because of our unique tides. We have the highest and lowest tides in the world. The Indians most valued fish was the porpoise. The porpoise gave the Mi’Kmaq the oil for their light and was used in their trading. These weirs caught a lot of different species of fish at one time.

When I was a young boy I would go to wharfs here on our Islands to catch fish from the wharfs. At high water there was lots of large fish to be caught. Some of the younger kids would catch fish from the wharfs and then sell them to the fish plants. After the mid 1960’s fish around our wharfs became scarce, and today maybe you will only see a few small pollock if you are lucky. 

I do not know the exact date when our weirs stopped, the weirs on Digby Neck kept working longer. This is the story of the “Last Weir” to catch fish.

Weirs dating back to 1854 at Brier Island

Journal of the Legislative Council of New Brunswick 1854

The immense catch of herring has been this season more favorable in the weirs at Grand Manan and those of Quoddy River, than at Digby, Brier Island, and St. Mary’s Bay, where it has proved a partial failure, on account of the fish having taken a different course in their annual immigration, but  on the other hand, the catch of mackerel at the latter places have been more plentiful than usual, which partially compensates the fisherman for his disappointment, and which probably explains the scarcity of herrings. The pollock has also been exceedingly abundant.

 I frequently boarded schooners from Brier Island, laden with “Tinker” mackerel for the United States market. The Tinker mackerel are very small in comparison to the usual size, but fetch at the rate of four, and sometimes five dollars per barrel, which is equivalent to a barrel of herring, making up for the loss sustained by the latter.

 The greater part of the pollock and codfish from Brier Island and the immediate vicinity, are exposed to the West Indian Markets; but those from Grand Manan are shipped for St. John New Brunswick and the United States.

Empting the Weir at low tide

New Weir at Cow Ledge, Freeport

Source; Digby Courier May 13th,1904

Rebuilding Weir at Cow Ledge

Source; Digby Courier; June 24th,1904

Rebuilding Weir at Cow Ledge

Source; Digby Courier May 17th,1918

Westport Weir 1950

Fish weirs located near ‘Irishtown’, Brier Island 1940

This is a movie clip of a documentary that was done in 2004 about the last weir for Digby Neck and Islands. Some is about fighting to save our land and lively-hood. It seems there is always something to have to fight for now. This movie was in VHS format so I had to change it to DVD format a number of years ago. It is in its original Aspect Ratio (4:3), so it does not fill today’s screen. Hope you enjoy it.

“The Last Weir” (2004 Movie)

2 Comments

  1. Richard McDormand

    Hi Rodney, there was another weir on Brier Island located where the present ferry wharf is located.

    Reply
    • Rodney Stark

      Hi Richard, I was not aware of a weir at that location. Do you know at what time period was it there? It must of been hard to maintain due to the proximity to the strong running tide.I wil add the new information. Thanks

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *