Ken MacDonald writes about his home village of Port Morien in his new column.
Note to readers: This is my first Cape Breton Post column about my home village of Port Morien. It will appear on a monthly basis. It is a continuation of a Community Post column that I had written since 2014. I appreciate all of the positive comments I have received during that time, and I look forward to contributing to the Cape Breton Post.
More than 75 years have passed since a gentleman arrived in Port Morien to start a business; a business that would have a profound effect on the community for decades.
On October 1, 1941, Herb Hopkins purchased the Acadia Products lobster factory from David Thomas Leslie and set up H. Hopkins Ltd.
Herbert Hezekiah Hopkins was born in Bear Point, Shelburne County in 1905. He married Edith Kenney from Doctor’s Cove and they had eight children; one died in infancy. By 1941, Herb was operating a fish business in Woods Harbour and a lobster cannery in Mabou (which he bought at the age of 22). They were eventually sold so he could concentrate on the Port Morien operation.
Herb arrived in Port Morien with two workers, Cleo D’Entremont and Russell Nickerson. They lived aboard their lobster smack, the boat used to collect lobsters along the coast. Shortly after, Pete Blades, Albert Newell and others arrived, and they lived in the old can shop until the cookhouse was built. The cookhouse had sleeping quarters for up to 10 workers, and a cook prepared meals for the workers and visitors. It also served as the company office and headquarters. In the early days, Herb’s bookkeeping consisted solely of a little black book that he carried in his back pocket.
Expansion was in the works. Herb bought a fish plant in Louisbourg in 1943, and started buying swordfish in Glace Bay. He eventually purchased the Lipkus plant there in 1965. In 1962, he set up in Newfoundland, first in Cow Head, headed by his sons Cliff and then Brad. He then went to Fredericton, and then to Arnold’s Cove, Placentia Bay. That was run by Herb’s son, Glenn, and later by Edmund Quinton.
Herb needed large trucks to get his product to market, so Cliff, Brad and Glenn provided these services. They operated from two garages in Port Morien and ran tractor trailers, and later ten wheelers to Boston as well as other destinations.
Herb was indeed generous. Occasionally, a good worker would need adequate housing for his family. Herb would offer to buy him a house if the worker would agree to repay him by payroll deduction. Herb got a reliable employee; the employee became a homeowner with steady employment. My aunt Mary worked in the office at the cookhouse. She recalls Herb quietly paying for milk and groceries for needy families, sometimes even financing needed house repairs. Herb would often hire people solely because he knew they experienced family financial hardship and knew that a job would be their lifeline.
Herb died on February 1, 1974, at the age of 68. Sons Cliff, Brad and Glenn, and later Bill assumed operation of the company. They, along with siblings Katherine, Louise, and Eddy became shareholders. Herb had initiated numerous changes over the years. Boneless salt cod became a specialty supplying the local, Canadian and American markets. Dry, salt cod was also shipped to Portugal. Many other species of fish were bought and processed over the years.
The company persevered through the cod fishery collapse of the 1990s, but in a scaled down operation. Lobsters sustained the operation, and they also bought other species, including crab.
In 2011, the Hopkins family sold the company to Rod Jeffrie. By then, Cliff and Glenn had worked for the company for over 60 years. Mr. Jeffrie retained the company name and continues to operate the business. There is still a Hopkins presence at the plant as Cliff’s daughter Joanne, and Brad’s daughter Edie work in the office at the same cookhouse in Port Morien that Herb built.
Herb Hopkins employed hundreds of people over the years. Herb valued and respected his loyal workers and the fishermen who sold him their fish, and they respected him. In today’s faceless corporate economy, many millionaire CEOs could take a page out of Herb’s book, maybe even his little black book.
Here are generations of Hopkins workers in 2009, including in the front, Glenn, Cliff, and Bill; and in the back, Alex MacKillop, Ian Hopkins, and Glen MacDonald, Glenn’s grandsons.
Hopkins plant workers can be seen in this photo from 1956.
Herb Hopkins is shown here in his younger years.
Herb Hopkins is shown salting fish, with John Metcalfe in the background.