Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Frederick William Wallace on the Bayshore

Late in the summer of 1911 a young man with a rich Scottish brogue arrived on the Digby waterfront. While he was the son of a blue water Captain, he had never served aboard a ship. As a boy, he had feasted on tails his father told of his adventures in ports around the globe. Wild storms, brawling crewmen and exotic places would have fueled the imagination of a young man. Sadly for young Frederick William Wallace, the path of a blue water Captian was not the one which lay before him. Young Fred showed natural talent as a writer but he refused to attend university opting for a clerk's position with a Scottish shipping line. This position would prove short lived as Fred's father moved the entire family to Hudson, Quebec in 1904.

Despite the change of scenery, life did not change that much. Fred started working in a series of clerk's positions. In his spare time he had taken to writing his father's stories of life at sea and submitting them to various magazines. His first published article appeared in Dominion Magazine in 1908. Wallace was eventually assigned to write a series of articles on the Canadian fisheries by Canadian Century. This is where he made the acquaintance of Alfred Brittain who was the Director of the Maritime Fish Corporation. An invitation was extended for Fred to accompany Brittain to Digby where a Fisherman's Regatta was to take place. This invitation would set in place a lifelong association with the communities around the Digby Gut for the talented young writer.

When Frederick William Wallace arrived in Nova Scotia scenes like today's archival image would not have been uncommon. This photograph was taken circa 1910 in Delap's Cove which sits on the Bay of Fundy shore about a 15 minute drive from Annapolis Royal. This unnamed tern schooner was exactly the sort of vessel in which Wallace first became a passenger and chronicler and later a crew member. It is these experiences which led Wallace to make acquaintances among the community of Hillsburn (beside Delap's Cove). It is these fishermen who became the inspiration for Wallace's first novel Blue Water. While he has disguised some of the locations and magnified some of the personalities, this novel clearly gives a feel for the way of life in a Bayshore community in the early years of the twentieth century. Wallace gives us an intimate portrait of a close-knit, hard working group of people. Most importantly, Wallace gives us a wonderful accounting of the daily details of fishermen at sea during the dying days of unassisted sail.

In a future post I will return to Frederick William Wallace and recount how a shipping clerk from Glasgow became a novelist, the editor of Canadian Fisherman for forty years and the author of works like the Roving Fisherman and Wooden Ships and Iron Men.

All for now,
RGS

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