A ride in a dory was one of the things I had never done before visiting Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Paul Gart, boat builder and Milford Buchanan offered travel writers visiting the south shore of Nova Scotia a spin in a dory. It is amazing how small the boat is and how tiny you feel out in the ocean. It is hard to imagine being a fisherman out in the middle of the sea buffeted by waves and maintaining control!
But fishermen did it day in and day out because; a dory was the workhorse of the fishery Milford said. The day after our ride in the dory, we visited The Dory Shop and learned how to build a traditional dory and we listened to stories of how they were used to harvest fish from the Atlantic.
The dory shop was built by John Williams in 1880 and guide Leona Ringer said the shop was one of seven booming businesses in Shelburne that produced thousands of dories for both Canadian and American fishing schooners during the years of the famous Grand Banks fishery (1880 – 1971). “Dories were made from pine and stacked on schooners,” Leona explained.
There were 12 shipyards she added saying the ship builders used oxen to launch the boats and to pull tree roots out of the ground that were used in the boat building process. Leona showed examples of boats to visitors touring the museum that were made by the late Sidney Mahoney who worked at the dory shop for most of his adult life. Sidney was such an icon that a statue of him has been created and remains in the museum. Before the development of the dory clip by Isaac Crowell builders were forced to use curved wood like tree trunks for dory frames. Leona pointed out one dory that Sidney built from apple tree roots. “He had to steam the frame. He built this one at his home after church on Sunday.”
Before dory and trawls were used for fishing, fishermen would fish the banks from the decks of schooners, using baited hooks and hand lines to collect their catch. Leona added, “Realizing they could improve upon this method, crews started hanging lots of hooks off one long line along the ocean floor, where hungry cod and haddock loved to feed. The idea worked and trawl fishing was born. Dory fishing came from the realization that crews could haul in even more fish if the men could spread out to cover more ocean. By piling a bunch of little boats onto the schooner and then carrying them out to the banks, crews were able to split up and maximize their efforts. When combined, the two new methods created a fishing technology that dominated the banks fishery until the 1940s.”
Leona said dories were set out around the schooner much like the spokes in a bicycle, they went a mile out. When in danger, the fishermen would use their fog horn.
The guides that share information with visitors at the dory shop have grown up on the water. Leona Ringer has a unique past; she actually grew up on a lighthouse. “Gull Rock was the last one. My father and grandfather were both light keepers. I wanted to be one. I and my two brothers grew up there, there was no one but us, and we kept ourselves busy. When we reached school age, we moved ashore and would go back and forth.”
Milford Buchanan shared details about how each dory is built and showed us how to build a very cool whirligig as well! He said each dory is different and Milford is still building dories today. “These were throw-away boats; they were the backbone of the fishery.”
Dories were used from 1880-1971 when fiberglass took over Leona said, explaining how the workhorse of the fishing fleet came to an end. “In 1983, we opened our museum. Prince Charles and Lady Di were here.”
To learn more about farming the sea in a dory, log onto the website at https://doryshop.novascotia.ca/about.