Last of the fishermen – Article by Rick Conroy

November 8, 2014 Borys Holowacz Latest Posts

The Times, November 5, 2014
County musician and writer remembers a lost industry
It started with a row of five white, wooden crosses behind a chapel in Black Creek.
Suzanne Pasternak discovered the chapel when she first moved to the County, over 30 years ago. She began photographing the old, well-tended graves, and she noticed two of the crosses, apparently a father and son, had the same date of death marked.
One night, early in the 19th century, a father and son went out to set their fishing nets. Their boat capsized. Both perished.
“I just got really fascinated by the marine history of the area,” says Pasternak. “That was the very beginning of the photo documentation.”
The photography expanded as Pasternak discovered more. In 1988, she moved to Long Point, where she was surrounded by the last generation of the County’s commercial fishing families. Eager to expand her documentation of a vanishing piece of the County’s history, she urged her new neighbours to tell her their stories.
“They were old guys, with suspenders, from another world. Totally different culture than anywhere else in Prince Edward County— very much marine culture,” says Pasternak. “It all vanished. But I knew it was dying, so there was a real sense of urgency on my part. I started photo documenting right away when they were doing whitefishing in November. And all the fishermen would come from Amherst Island and different areas, and they would take me out on their boats, and they’d drink rum in their trailers and tell me stories. It was really amazing.”
In the midst of her work documenting the fishing village at Long Point, Pasternak was also the host of a news program for Cogeco. Through her connections there, she was able to get the support of a professional sound and video crew to turn the stories and photographs into a televised documentary.
“I proposed to them, ‘let me make a documentary on these fishermen. This is the end of it. No more. There’s nobody taking over the industry. This is the last breath,’ ” says Pasternak. In cooperation with Cogeco, and using her own original music, Pasternak created her first documentary.
In 1995, after Cogeco had already aired the documentary, Pasternak brought it to the Macaulay Museum so that Prince Edward County residents—and especially her neighbours— could see it. She was disappointed by their reaction.
“They said, ‘you didn’t get the whole story, Suzanne.’ I was just devastated. But I was determined. I spent the next four years continuing to research these families. And I realized, these fishermen, many of their families originate with the original settlers here,” says Pasternak. “And so I was able to take it all the way back. To how they landed here and how this whole culture developed.”
The documentary is a soft, poetic snapshot of a dying tradition, full of images of County shores and commercial boats, along with interviews of fishermen recounting stories, both funny and sad, of their life on the water.
None of their children have chosen to continue the business. Only one of the men Pasternak interviewed is still alive.
“Roxy Lancaster. And it’s just so hard, he’s the last man standing,” says Pasternak. “Last summer, the houses on the harbour were torn down, and MNR [Ministry of Natural Resources] shut down Point Traverse Fisheries. It’s all over.”
Pasternak’s documentary, Vanishing Point, along with a documentary by Peter Lockyear, a presentation by Marc Seguin on the County’s threatened lighthouses and a performance by Pasternak and her musical partner, Tom Leighton, will all be part of a night at the Regent on November 27 to raise funds for the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) to continue their work protecting the vulnerable land and endangered species at Ostrander Point.
Continuing the fundraising effort, her documentary will be screened again at the Drake Devonshire on December 2, along with a dinner of fish caught from the lake.
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