Last of the Saltbankers: Theresa E. Connor
The 1998 season at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic marks the 60th anniversary for the launching of the schooner Theresa E. Connor. The last of the saltbank schooners to operate from the port of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Theresa E. Connor represents a way of life for generations of fishermen along the Atlantic coast.
Theresa E. Connor is the flagship of the Museum, a unique symbol of our fishing heritage. Visitors are encouraged to go aboard the schooner, walk through the areas below deck and spend time in each of the exhibit sections. Retired schooner fishermen bring the days of dory fishing to life, reminiscing about their adventures on the fishing banks of the Atlantic Ocean.
Theresa E. Connor is an authentic reminder of an age of schooner fishing that lasted for almost one hundred years in Atlantic Canada. The schooner was launched in Lunenburg on December 14, 1938 at the Smith and Rhuland Shipyard, the same yard that built Bluenose. A sister ship, the schooner Lilla B. Boutilier, was launched in October of that year. Theresa E. Connor was originally owned by Maritime National Fish Company, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Captain Clarence Knickle was the first master of the schooner. In 1952, Maritime National sold the vessel to Zwicker and Company Limited, Lunenburg.
The Museum has been gathering information about the crew members of Theresa E. Connor. More than 120 men served on board the vessel, between 1938 and 1966, under the commands of Captain Knickle, Captain Jack Mills and Captain Harry Oxner. Many of the fishermen were from small communities in Atlantic Canada including Blue Rocks and Bayport in Nova Scotia and Beaumont, Poole's Cove and St. Bernard's in Newfoundland.
Theresa E. Connor continued to fish, using double dories, well into the age of modern trawlers. In May, 1963, Captain Harry Oxner prepared the schooner for one final trip to the Banks. With a few local fishermen, he set sail for Fortune Bay, Newfoundland to get the remainder of his crew. The trip was cut short when Captain Oxner was unable to get the additional crew for the salt fishing trip.
The schooner spent the rest of 1963 fishing with cod traps in the Labrador fishery. From 1963 to 1966 Theresa E. Connor fished for Zwicker and Company in a reduced capacity.
The Lunenburg Marine Museum Society purchased Theresa E. Connor and opened the vessel to the public in 1967. Mrs. Roland Hurst, daughter of Mrs. Theresa Eleanor Connor, officially opened the Museum on July 23.
As a Museum vessel, Theresa E. Connor has undergone extensive restoration work, with few physical changes to accommodate visitors. The fish hold has experienced the greatest change since the days when it was filled with the catch.
When fishing, the hold was often dark with very little light filtering down from above the deck. The hold of Theresa E. Connor was constructed to contain 425,000 pounds of fish.
The hold is now well-lit and is filled with exhibits. The displays represent both the salt and fresh fishing periods of schooners. Theresa E. Connor was involved in both types of fishing, although not at the same time. Built for fresh fish, the catch was originally packed in ice, rather than salt. In later years the salt fish trade was pursued.
Visitors will be impressed with the results of the restoration of the forecastle. In 1988 the forward section of the schooner underwent extensive repairs. The forecastle was carefully restored to its original appearance, with meticulous attention to details, including the hand-grained woodwork.
Theresa E. Connor is not alone at the Museum. The schooner is joined by the side trawler Cape Sable and smaller boats. The vessels, theatre and exhibit galleries provide a detailed and entertaining look at many aspects of the Atlantic fisheries.