News

Netting benefits of blessing

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

Joe Green of Six Nations offers a traditional blessing on the weekend during the Fishermen's Memorial Service and Blessing of the Nets in Port Dover. (Brian Thompson/The Expositor)

Joe Green of Six Nations offers a traditional blessing on the weekend during the Fishermen's Memorial Service and Blessing of the Nets in Port Dover. (Brian Thompson/The Expositor)

PORT DOVER - 

The Lake Erie fishing business can use all the heavenly help it can get, says James Misner.

Misner, whose great-grandfather fished the same waters, attended the annual Fishermen's Memorial Service and Blessing of the Nets on the weekend.

"It's been a bad spring," he said after Saturday's ceremony in Port Dover.

A fifth-generation fisherman, Misner knows the dangers and oddities of the lake.

The Misner family owned the Stanley Clipper, a fish-tug that was caught in a windstorm in 1984, costing the lives of her three-man crew.

This year, they've pulled in their boats after what Misner called "one of the worst springs" he's ever seen.

Normally, he and other smelt fishermen would be trawling for six weeks, gathering 15,000 pounds of the fish a day early in the spawning season.

While they aim for about 24 totes of fish a day, during the last 10 days there were only a few days when they were able to return with a total of 17 totes.

"It wasn't worth the gas to stay out there."

Misner can only guess at the problem: the weather's been cold and the pickerel population is rising (pickerel eat smelt).

He acknowledged that he is working in a changing industry that is facing global outsourcing pressure and demands to computerize.

"I think I'm the last fisherman of the family," he said.

But he said he is happy to be part of the blessing of the nets ceremony, noting only they should have been blessed earlier in the season.

The ceremony, held under overcast skies and amid a light drizzle, drew about 100 people to Riverfront Park,

Mary Ellen DuPon, who read a prayer, drew laughter from the crowd when she noted the event used to be held the first Sunday of March but organizers opted for a later date to take advantage of better weather.

MC Peggy Guiler said the ceremony was originally an Anglican one, brought to the Dover area in the early 1900s and repeated each spring until it died out.

"A bunch of us decided to reinstate it and make it a more public event about five years ago," she said.

Ministers from various faiths offered prayers and blessings, the Port Dover Community Choir and Band led the audience in hymns with a nautical theme and Joe Green of Six Nations gave an Indigenous blessing that involved tobacco smudging.

One ceremonial net, representing all those used in the area fishing industry, was blessed.

Samantha Mayer, 11, of Simcoe, read aloud the names of those who have lost their lives on the lake.

"I'm with the Dover Sea Scouts, which is a water-based group and these guys were sailors," Mayer said about the ceremony. "It makes me sad they died."

Three women, who were bundled up, said they came to honour their ancestors.

"Our families were fishermen," said Bernie Evans Villamere, who grew up in Port Dover.

"They were out in this cold for days, so I guess we can sit here in the cold for an hour."

Helen Chapman Bingleman, whose relatives eventually purchased the Villamere family fishing operation, noted that those who earned their living on the water had to go out in all types of weather.

And Villamere's cousin, Diane Evans Telfer, had a family of farmers but also was associated with fishing.

"I raised my family in Bronte and Oakville but came back to the family home and the lake. You have to come down every day and make sure the lake is still here."

SGamble@postmedia.com

@EXPSGamble

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