Acadian Lives: Joseph D. Samson

The book Acadian Lives consists of interviews with Cape Breton Acadians and was collected and edited by Ronald Kaplan, with Rosie Aucoin Grace. The book was published in 2004, and at the time of the interview, Joseph D. Samson of Petit de Grat was 78 years old.

As Mr. Samson spoke about his life as a fisherman, he reflected on the state of the inshore fishery in the 21st century. At one time, a five-minute sail from shore was all that was required to find a lucrative fishing ground. As fish stocks depleted, the five-minute journey turned into two or three hours with no guarantee of a good catch.

Joseph D. Samson had his own ideas as to the cause of the downturn in the fishery. Although theories abounded as to the reasons for the scarcity, such as the introduction of the draggers and the construction of the Canso Causeway and while Samson acknowledged these as possible factors, he believed that the transition from the trawl to the trap had the greatest impact on stocks. Trawl fishing required such an excessive amount of bait that thousands upon thousands of pounds of bait fell to the bottom creating a fertile food source for the fish. Such was not the case with the trap, and the fish, having lost their food supply, left.

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Asked about his experiences on the water during bad weather, Joseph related the following narrative: It was in the fall of the year on a windy day that seemed to forecast an impending storm. Although Joseph was content to wait until the weather cleared, his fishing partner persuaded him to make for L’Ardoise where they would set three or four tubs of trawl. As they finished their last tub, they noticed a flat-bottomed Swampscot dory struggling in the heavy surf. Within minutes, the small boat was swamped and pulled under with the two fishermen aboard. One had tied himself to the bow; both men were lost. A larger boat in the vicinity attempted a rescue but was damaged when the bow of the dory suddenly rose out of the water smashing the larger craft. The rescue crew then had to abandon their ship and take to their own dory. By towing a barrel behind them to break the waves, they were able to scramble ashore at Gros Nez.

Meanwhile, Joseph and his companion were turning for home when a breaker struck the bow of their boat. The fisherman hauling trawl in the bow was knocked unconscious, the dory was half filled with seawater, and the engine failed. Joseph bailed until his friend revived and they set to securing the engine. By draining the water from it, they were able to restart it and make for land. They made it to Little Anse.

Tragically Joseph Samson lost a son during the October gale of 1974. Repairs were underway on a wharf and a number of logs had gone adrift. His son and a friend set off in a skiff to retrieve them. When the motor broke down, they attempted to reach a much bigger boat. It was blowing so hard that his son could not quite reach the big boat, and he fell in. Both men drowned.