Acadian Lives: Wilfred M. Poirier, Lobster Buyer

Poirierville

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.

2. Wilfred Poirier’s favorite job was in a shoe factory where he worked as a laster, the person who just shapes the shoe before handing it on to the finisher. For this he was paid a relatively good wage of $75 to $80 per week. He also worked as a lens inspector before returning to fishing.

Eventually Poirier fell into the job of lobster buyer. It happened this way: a lady in a lobster shop offered him a job as a lobster splitter. He then applied for a position as a buyer in Nova Scotia. Because Nova Scotia was his home province and because he was bilingual, he won the position.

His first posting was on the eastern shore of Isle Madame where lobsters were plentiful but buyers were not. The fishermen sold to local people and canning factories. Poirier worked with clergy to organize the fishermen. The first month he sent 800 crates of lobster to Boston. As time went on, Poirier added other lobster grounds in Maine, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland.

Mr. Poirier acknowledged the role of parish priests in not only organizing the fishermen but also securing them fairer prices for their catches. He also praised the role of the Antigonish Movement in this regard. At the time they were getting from 4 to 7 cents a pound. Poirier raised the buying price to 14 cents and it never went below 18 cents and up.

Poirier admitted that, especially in the beginning, things didn’t always go smoothly. Other buyers were not keen to match the prices paid by Poirier, and some fishermen were difficult to get onside. There were those who distrusted the weighing and culling methods once the lobster arrived in Boston and constantly growled that they were being cheated.

Mr. Poirier swore that he never once stole from the fishermen and was able to build up a trusting relationship with them. At the end of the season he would procure 800 or $1000 and distribute it to those who had experienced a difficult spring.

Parish priest Fr. Poirier was a cousin to Wilfred, but they often found themselves on opposite sides of an issue. The priest demanded higher return per pound for the lobster, while Wilfred needed to balance a fair rate for the fishermen with an obligation to realize a profit for the company he was buying the lobster for.

Wilfred Poirier worked most of the year going from district to district as seasons opened and closed. From March to December he was on the road, at times being away from home for four months at a time. He went through one vehicle per season at times making two trips per week to Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Poirier employed a bookkeeper who worked out of a small office in Petit de Grat, and watchmen were scattered through ten communities in Nova Scotia. Their job was to keep the lobster in clean water and cull the dead and weak.

Before 1950 Wilfred Poirier never had a bad year in the lobster industry. In thirty-eight or forty years, only 1950 proved to be a bad year. The simple fact was that lobster was very scarce. Poirier was certain that the cause of this downturn was directly due to dragging the sea bottom by the beam trawlers. Female lobsters spawned on the ocean floor and the dragging method was devastating.