BERWICK, NOVA SCOTIA
OCTOBER 4, 1956
Fishing Village Finds Secret Of Prosperity In Sound Co-operation
PORT BICKERTON, Guysborough County, salty hamlet of fish wharves and snug homes is reaping results of community initiative and enterprise that has ushered it into an era of prosperity unknown before in its long history.
Reason for this change is to be found in the rambling buildings on the dockside, in its fleet of long-liners and smaller boats, in its fish dock and its cold storage plant, most of which make up the physical assets of Bickerton Co-Operative Limited.
Its story is inspiring. Its a tale of adventure in ideas; of the determination of a group of fishermen to become masters of their economic destiny.
This movement that was to change Port Bickerton from a relatively unprosperous community had its birth in 1944 the fateful year in which many of the districts young men were sharing a common danger with their comrades-in-arms in the defeating of Adolf Hitler.
While the idea of economic co-operation was by no means foreign to the sturdy fishermen of this district, the idea was not brought into proper focus until 1944. That was helped to a great degree by Rev. Charles J. Forrest. Larrys River, and Reid Sangster, New harbor, both enthusiastic exponents of the co-operative movement. They met with the fishermen and explained the principles by which other fishing communities had pulled themselves up by their own economic bootstraps.
It wasnt a difficult idea to sell. With a vigor and willingness that so typifies the sea-faring clans of Nova Scotia, fishermen of the Bickerton area lost no time in spurring themselves into action.
They had little from which to make their original "kick-off". Practically al the assets of the original group was represented in the eight small boats which they owned and operated. They were organized as Station 132 under provisions of the Fishermens Federation Act of Nova Scotia.
Through financial assistance from the Torbay Canning Company (another co-operative enterprise), the fishermen got together and built a small wharf and set up a modest fish processing building.
While at that period it mightnt be fair to describe the Bickerton community as "poor", it certainly would be a grave over-statement to describe it as "prosperous". While homes were neat and comfortable, they were lacking many of the amenities that contributed to a higher standard of living.
Reason for that state of affairs in no way reflected on the energies or the talents of the villagers. The men worked hard and so did the women, but they were caught in a web of economic circumstances over which they had no control.
Main cause of the latter situation was rooted in the fact that the local fish plant of that time ceased operations in the winter, a move prompted mainly because production would make a winter operation unprofitable.
Such a state of affairs could have only one result. Fishermens earnings accumulated during the summer season petered out before the advent of spring fishing. Thus fishermen oftimes found themselves in debt at the commencement of a new season. Over the years, that became a discouraging pattern.
Coupled with that vicious economic circle was the almost constant pattern of bait shortage. Having no cold storage in which to store bait, the fishermens activities hinged entirely on availability of bait.
It was those foregoing factors that led to the action in 1944. The following year fishermen saw the first fruits of their endeavor. That years catch of 600,000 pounds by the original eight boats was pooled and marketed co-operatively.
The year 1946 saw many of the districts young men discharged from the armed services. As did their elders, these young men saw a future in the co-operative enterprise so boldly started two years previously. New plans were made. The need for larger boats as soon as possible was agreed upon, and fishermen were unanimous that the plant must remain open throughout the winter even if the operation would be unprofitable for the first couple of seasons. Increased production was the ultimate object.
The first couple of years were rough ones. Earle P. Kaiser, present manager of the plant, recalled those lean days with a wry smile. "We had many ups and downs, I can tell you that. In 46 we nearly put padlocks on the place."
But from 1946 on the picture began to brighten. "In 47, 48 and 49 we began to pull ourselves out", said the youthful, soft-spoken Mr. Kaiser, who rose from fish-cutter to plant manager in four years. "In 1950 we built a cold storage plant for $45,000 with the help of government loans". The loans, both from the Federal Government and the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and marketing, have been paid off.
Resolving of the bait problem by the erection of cold storage facilities now marked a turning point in Bickertons economy and in the standard of living of its people. There was an air of confidence in the village. People there looked forward to better things. Homes were improved and conveniences were added that had been so long denied because of lack of means.
From 1950 on the story has been one of steady progress. In that year, the catch was a million pounds of fish. The larger boat program was becoming one of reality. In 1952, the first 55-foot long-liner, built by a member of the co-operative, went into service. Now there are eight, with plans for more to come. The long-liners coupled with the fleet of smaller boats are expected to exceed last years business volume of $325,000. The expected increase would represent a total catch of 4,000,000 pounds.
About two dozen workers are normally employed in the handling and processing of fresh fish for the Canadian and American markets. That, of course, is in addition to the more than three dozen fishermen actually engaged in fishing.
With the plant booming and the income of fishermen and plant workers averaging between $3,000 and $4,000 a year, the organization has no intention of standing still. At the time of this writing, the co-operative is going ahead with expansion plans. A new foundation is being placed under the main building; dock facilities are being improved, new fish cutting equipment is being added, the fish processing line is being enlarged and improvements are being made in the offal disposal system.
Yes, things are going ahead in the Bickerton area. Homes have been improved, new homes have been built and more are being built.
As trucks and trailers roll out of the village bound for the railheads with Bickerton Co-Operative Limited processed fish, more than one villager reflects on what change a decade has wrought a change that brought the formation of a co-operative unit, a higher standard of living and a faith in their ability to make the next ten years even more satisfying.