New East Coast tra­di­tion: Tow­er­ing Christ­mas trees made of lob­ster traps

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE -

They first started ap­pear­ing along Canada’s East Coast about 10 years ago: tow­er­ing Christ­mas trees fash­ioned out of care­fully stacked lob­ster traps.

Adorned with colour­ful buoys, twin­kling lights and ev­er­green boughs, they are be­com­ing reg­u­lar fix­tures in fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties across At­lantic Canada.

“They are pop­ping up ev­ery­where,’’ said Suzy Atwood, tourism devel­op­ment of­fi­cer for Bar­ring­ton, Shel­burne County, which as­sem­bled one of the re­gion’s first trap trees in 2009.

“It speaks to the im­por­tance (of lob­ster fish­ing) to our econ­omy ... It’s the back­bone of our com­mu­nity.’’

Bar­ring­ton, on Nova Sco­tia’s south­west coast, bills it­self as the “Lob­ster Cap­i­tal of Canada.’’ About 40 per cent of the coun­try’s lob­ster har­vest comes from the area.

Last Sun­day, about 150 peo­ple gath­ered for the light­ing of the lob­ster trap tree, which took place near the windswept cause­way to Cape Sable Is­land.

Bar­ring­ton’s five-me­tre tree is made from about 200 rec­tan­gu­lar, me­tal traps — of­ten re­ferred to as lob­ster pots — re­trieved from the lo­cal land­fill.

It is fes­tooned with 180 wooden and plas­tic buoys, each painted in a pat­tern unique to each fish­ing boat.

Many of the colour­ful mark­ers are in­scribed with the names of fish­er­men lost at sea.

“I’m re­minded ev­ery year that as each of the buoys is put on the tree, they can bring heartache and sad­ness to the com­mu­nity,’’ said Atwood. “But it’s the re­al­ity of fish­ing in Nova Sco­tia.’’

A white, wooden buoy that was added to the tree this year pays tribute to lo­cal fish­er­man Still­man Quin­lan and his nephew James Smith, who both died on Nov. 30, 1964 — open­ing day of the fall lob­ster sea­son — when their boat, Jane and Judy, sank in rough weather.

Res­cue at­tempts by lo­cal fish­er­men were thwarted by strong winds. The tragedy prompted res­i­dents of south­west­ern Nova Sco­tia to per­suade the Cana­dian Coast Guard to per­ma­nently sta­tion a res­cue boat at Clarks Har­bour in 1966.

Other buoys on the tree in­clude the names of lo­cal fish­er­men who have passed away, as well as those who will be away from home dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son be­cause they are busy haul­ing in traps off­shore.

“It’s heart­warm­ing, but it’s heart-wrench­ing at the same time,’’ said Atwood. “But a lot of fam­i­lies have told me that they find a lot of com­fort in the tree.’’

And the colour­ful me­mo­ri­als aren’t just for lo­cals.

Atwood says she re­cently re­ceived a call from a man from Cape Bre­ton who asked if a buoy could be placed on the tree for his son, a fish­er­man lost off the coast of New­found­land. Atwood said she used a spare buoy to grant his re­quest.

Over the years, other Nova Sco­tia com­mu­ni­ties have joined the tra­di­tion, in­clud­ing Lunen­burg, Port Mou­ton and Musquodoboit Har­bour, which has a small light­house atop its tree.

Sim­i­lar trees have ap­peared in Gar­nish in south­ern New­found­land and Tig­nish, P.E.I., where the tree is made from tra­di­tional wooden traps.

It’s be­lieved the tra­di­tion started in 2001 in the his­toric fish­ing port of Glouces­ter, Mass., and has since spread to sev­eral sea­far­ing com­mu­ni­ties in New Eng­land.

A trap tree in Rock­land, Maine — home to the Maine Lob­ster Fes­ti­val — is built with cus­tom­made traps and is one of the tallest around. Stand­ing about 12 me­tres, it is topped by a gi­ant fi­bre­glass lob­ster lift­ing its claws to the sky.

Rock­land de­scribes it­self as the “Lob­ster Cap­i­tal of the World,’’ but so does She­diac, N.B.

Atwood says the coastal town of Ply­mouth, Mass., do­nated a buoy to be dis­played on the tree in Bar­ring­ton, and the Nova Sco­tia town re­sponded by send­ing a buoy to be dis­played on the Ply­mouth tree.

“That’s what’s so great about the tree,’’ she said. “It’s all of the sto­ries that it tells.’’


A Christ­mas tree made of lob­ster traps is seen on Cape Sable Is­land on the South Shore, in De­cem­ber 2016. They first started ap­pear­ing along Canada’s east coast about 10 years ago: tow­er­ing ar­ti­fi­cial Christ­mas trees made from care­fully stacked lob­ster traps.


A white buoy with a tribute to Still­man Quin­lan and James Smith is shown on a lob­ster trap Christ­mas tree in Bar­ring­ton, Shel­burne County. The buoy pays tribute to the two fish­er­men who died on Nov. 30, 1964, when their boat sank in rough weather.

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