Fish, Farm, and Family

The story of an inshore fishing family, the Myers

Since the 1800s, many Nova Scotian families, like the Myers, have supported themselves by working in the inshore fishery and maintaining a subsistence farm. The story of Ervin and Ethelda Myers and their thirteen daughters is a typical example of this challenging but rewarding life in the early 1900s. Their story is preserved at Fisherman’s Life Museum in Jeddore Oyster Pond, part of the Nova Scotia Museum.

In 1915, the Myers house and eight acres of property in Oyster Pond (now Jeddore Oyster Ponds) were passed from James H. and Hannah Myers to their son Ervin Myers and his wife Ethelda. Their home was ideal for a fisherman’s family with a house, large gardens, a barn, and easy access to the water. This location, caught between land and sea, balanced the family’s many needs. While Ervin worked away from the home during the week, his wife maintained the farm. Together they would keep food on the table, clothes on their backs, and provide several small luxuries for their family of thirteen daughters.

The Nova Scotia fishery has long been split into the inshore fishery, with smaller vessels that returned their catch to shore each night, and the offshore fishery, with large vessels bringing fisherman far and wide for weeks at a time. Ervin Myers, like his father before him, was an inshore fisherman. He fished seasonally (April-October). Days were long, starting before sunset in his dory, and returning around sunset to his fish shack on nearby Roger Barren Island. Ervin, like most inshore fisherman, typically would process his own fish, keeping what was needed for his family and selling the rest to provide the household income.

Over the winter, Ervin Myers, like many fishermen, found additional employment. He was a labourer, cut pulp, and worked as a cook in a lumber camp. But the work of fishing never really ends. After being away lumbering all week, Ervin would often spend time at home in his fish shed repairing his dory and gear for the next fishing season. He also made nets, which were needed to catch fish like herring, cod, halibut, haddock and smelts, while traps and pots were built to catch lobster, crab, and eel.

A family, however, does not live on fish alone. While Ervin was busy fishing and earning an income, his wife Ethelda managed the farm. Livestock was kept (cattle, chicken, pigs, and geese), and several gardens were planted including a large potato garden and a smaller vegetable garden. Nova Scotia’s short growing season required efficient use of land and calculated decisions about crops to ensure enough food was grown to keep the family fed all year. Once grown and harvested, Ethelda carefully preserved the crops without the use of modern refrigeration. The ability to grow and preserve their own food meant that even the largest family could avoid hunger.

With thirteen daughters, even though they did not all live in the house at the same time, there was always help around the farm. This can be seen in the many handmade quilts on the beds and decorative rugs for the floor still found in the house today. After completing their schooling locally, the girls would go on to have their own careers in nursing, secretarial work, and the armed forces.

While inshore fishermen’s families like the Myers needed to be self-sufficient, even making their own clothing, community was key to survival. Families would buy, sell, or share extra resources with their neighbours. Community would gather and support each other at school, the local general store, and church. The Myers would also have commercial and social exchanges with the members of the local Mi’kmaq community, and welcome travelers such as Lebanese peddlers. Although no one was rich in terms of money, there was richness in the Myers’ family that came from the land, the sea, and family.

The Myers’ family home stood the test of time and is now part of the Nova Scotia Museum. Fisherman’s Life Museum honours the independent and self-sufficient nature of settlers along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore by portraying the rural life of an inshore fisherman and his family during the early 1900s.



58 Navy Pool Loop, Head of Jeddore, NS B0J 1P0