Bay of Fundy, NS - John Wellner

For many years of my childhood we made summer pilgrimages to my dad's home in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. It was hot and dry and my grandmother had a pantry full of baked goods, but the highlight was always going to the Bay.

I couldn’t wait, and as soon as we’d been once I’d want to go back again. As we drove past the farmland and up over the steep north mountain, my eyes were always glued forward as I pined for the first glimpse of the water. The vista was sometimes denied when we peaked the hill and found ourselves suddenly enveloped in fog. I better remember the days when it was crystal clear and the Bay sparkled before us. When the 50 kilometres to New Brunswick didn’t seem so far and the mysterious, high-cliffed Isle Haute seemed no distance at all. On those sunny days, we glided down into the little village of Morden, where lots of valley folk had cottages. There were dusty dirt roads and an old pier but most important to me was the weir. There are various types of fishing weirs around the world, but the Bay of Fundy weirs were simple and dependant on the world’s highest tides. Swimming with the outgoing tide, the fish would come upon a vertical net and then follow the barrier until they swam into a circular pen at the deep water end, which they had problems finding their way out of. When the water receded, they were easily caught. The Morden weir was a mackerel weir, but much of the magic was that you never knew what was going to be in it. The weir consisted of netting strung on a long line of spruce poles that were stuck into the rocky beach. These poles stretched straight out from the shore for 100 metres or so and when the tide was in all that you could see was their tips in a long line with a circle of them at the far end. When the water retreated down the rocky beach, the poles were exposed. They grew taller the further out they were, to accommodate the deeper water that had been there just hours before. By low tide the only water left in the weir was a shallow mysterious pool surrounded by a circle of netting almost 10 metres high.

There was always anticipation about what had been caught and everyone was anxious for the arrival of Walter the local fisherman. To me and the rest of the kids Walter was a celebrity. It was he who had built the weir, at least the most recent version, and it was he who would expose its gifts at low tide. Walter was the wizard of the weir and that fact that he knew my dad made me prouder than anything. When the tide was all the way out there was less than a metre of water in the pool at the bottom. We stood on the rocks under the towering nets as Walter sloshed through the brown murk in hip waders, carrying a large steel net. We held our breath wondering what he might find. The real prize was a salmon, but even in my childhood they were already few and far between. The large part of the catch was always mackerel, with their sparkling black and blue-green scale pattern that gleamed in the sunlight. The most exciting was when there was something large in the dark water that Walter would bump into, or accidentally step on. Even the old pro would occasionally get spooked and jump back up on the rocks. There could be small sharks or rays, and big ugly deep water fish that I recognized from science books but didn’t know the names of. We would sometimes buy something to take home and cook, yet I remember that far less than my amazement at the perfectly simple weir, the massive tides that made it possible and the mysteries that it exposed from deep under the water.

Bay of Fundy, NS
Mark Mattson
John Wellner

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