Tuna, lobster, islands, folklore and more.
Driving through Wedgeport you'd think it was a sleepy Acadian village: but I know better.
Tucked away in Southwest Nova Scotia (just under 30 minutes from Yarmouth), Wedgeport is a little gem full of surprises. For starters, check out three sites that are part of the Acadian Shores Interpretive Tour that was launched late last year. You'll find brochures at a new kiosk in the Arcadia Convenience Store parking lot on Highway 3 just before turning off on to the road that leads to Wedgeport. The brochure will direct you to the Founding Families Monument, Butte-de-la-Croix and the Wedgeport Sport Tuna Fishing Museum and Interpretive Centre. Each site has interpretive panels that are chock-a-block full of interesting information.
The oldest deeds refer to this area as Chebec, a native term meaning "a narrow passage of water." Gradually, it became Bas-de-Tousquet, then Tusket Wedge. In 1910, it became the town of Wedgeport. The community voted to de-incorporate its status as a town in 1947 because the tax base was too small to support its obligations, but it remains a vibrant Acadian village.
Much of the life in the community revolves around lobster fishing-an industry with deep roots, especially when it comes to the Tusket Islands. With names like Murder Island, Outer Baldonia, and Turpentine, tales abound. At one time, the Mi'kmaq used these islands for campsites.
Coming into the late 1800s, the lobster fishery took hold. The internal combustion engine had not yet been invented, but the men wanted to be closer to the fertile fishing grounds, so they built fishing shanties on the islands. Some of the islands had barbers, canneries and shoe cobblers. Today, the shanties have electricity and all the comforts of home. Local fishermen still use the islands as home base during lobster season.
A day on the Tusket Islands is magical and can include birdwatching, learning about local lore and-if you are lucky-a feed of steamed lobsters. The trick is to find a lobster pound and a captain to take you on an excursion. The best place to start is at The Wedgeport Sport Tuna Fishing Museum and Interpretive Centre.
Aside from housing information about the Tusket Islands and early Acadian life in the community, the museum also features memorabilia, artifacts, photos, trophies (even a mock tuna boat) related to the days when Wedgeport was the tuna fishing capital of the world.
But what you need to know is that there is a café located in the same building. It's not fancy, but fishermen and residents gather here to yarn every morning at 6 a.m. For sure it's the best place to find someone to take you to the islands and the right place to find out what makes the community tick. So get up with the sun and join the locals for coffee.
If you can line up a trip to the islands, you'll need about four hours. One of the funniest stories is about Outer Baldonia, and how its owner, Russell Arundel, proclaimed it to be a separate state with its own currency and constitution. He declared that fishermen here had the right of freedom from questions, nagging women, shaving, taxes and politics-to name just a few. It's a hilarious (and true) story.
Meanwhile, back at the museum, ask about the famous International Tuna Cup Match that started in 1937. With the exception of the war years, teams from Argentina, Australia, Japan, the United States, Cuba and Britain (naming only a few) came here to fish. The likes of President Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Ernest Hemingway and gangster Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo also visited Wedgeport to fish the mighty bluefins.
Alas, in the late 70s, the tuna disappeared and the tournament was discontinued. But the good news is that Wedgeport is once again hosting a tuna tournament (August 16-21.) Although it takes a few hours to get to the fishing grounds, instead of a few minutes as in the old days, the revitalized tuna tournament is a huge success story.
A team consists of six people and they head out to fish for four days. Last year an all-women's team took part. They were teased about doing yoga to get centered then dancing a victory jig after landing their tuna, but they came in a close second. They'll be competing again this year. One year an entire family of 10 signed up for the tournament.
Aside from the captain's send off on day one, there's a family night, kid's fishing derby, tuna pageant, lots of great food and entertainment throughout the week. The tournament culminates with the last day's weigh-in and closing ceremonies.
There's much more we could say about Wedgeport-but some things you'll have to discover on your own.