East Point
East Point (Pointe-de-l’Est), as seen by the first colonizing families (Photo credit: ShawnAnnelize, without modification)

According to the first census of Isle St. Jean in 1728, East Point (formerly Pointe-de-l´Est) had twelve inhabitants divided into four families, namely the Churin, the Durocher, the Giraud and the Rochefort. Mathieu Churin was the first to settle there in 1719. Joseph Durocher and Nicolas Giraud arrived in 1720, and Rochefort in 1728. All of them did declare to be fishermen to the census official from Louisbourg on Isle Royale. The small community counted six fishing shallops, no schooner however, because there was no sheltered cove at the island’s tip to anchor them safely against high waves. The shallops, being smaller and lighter, could easily be mounted on the nearby beach. More than 25 percent of all kilograms of cod caught at sea were unloaded at East Point. Moreover, according to the 1728 census, East Point was the second busiest fishing port on the island, after St. Peter’s Harbour. Cod was omnipresent along the Northern Coast. Historian Jean-Baptiste Ferland wrote in 1836 “Through the eyes and through the nostrils, through the tongue and through the throat, as well as through the ears, you will soon convince yourself that (in the Gulf of St. Lawrence) cod constitutes the basis of food and entertainment, businesses and conversations, regrets and hopes, fortune and life, I would venture to say of society itself. We are in cod’s country.

The islanders’ term “winter hut” (house) takes its meaning from the fishermen’s rhythm of life which was conditioned by cod. Because this fish migrates, winter is a dead season for fishermen. In turn, the melting snow announces the resumption of activities. In the spring, nets were taken out, boats were caulked, lines were repaired, and instruments were getting ready. With the return of cod, summer and fall are hell seasons. Fishermen get up with the sun, then tirelessly pull the line under its fiery rays or in the humidity of the spray to return only at dusk. Until the morning’s wee hours, the fish is prepared under the light of torches, says Nicolas Denys in 1680. Throughout the 18th century, the scene remains unchanged.

A family affair

Dried cod fishing establishment
Dried cod fishing establishment, 18th Century, as reported in Traité général des pesches, by Duhamel du Monceau in Encyclopedia, drying boards (Paris, Éditions Panckoucke, 1793)

In the 1720s, during the colonization of Isle St. Jean, a large number of Norman sailors were looking for work on cod fishing vessels coming to fish in the fish-rich waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Once the season ended, some of them decided to settle permanently in New France. Most of these sailors were from around Granville in Normandy. From time to time, before returning to France, a few decided to leave their crew and start a family. They took a Mi’kmaq wife or married an already mixed-race woman in “the manner of the country”. It is believed Mathieu Churin (or perhaps Turin) most likely proceeded that way.

Salted cod drying according to tradition
Salted cod drying according to tradition (Photo credit: Radio-Canada / Hélène Raymond, Gaspé Peninsula illustration)

Coastal fishing by islanders was a family affair. When the men came ashore, the whole family helped prepare the catch of the day. Mothers, wives, daughters and boys helped to behead, slice and gut the cod, then salt it and spread it in the sun on wooden boards. This drying process could take several weeks and the family had to bring the fish to a shelter as soon as it rained. Fishermen sold their dried salted cod to lightship operators who transported their loads to Louisbourg to be shipped to markets in Europe and the Caribbean. Four natural preconditions were crucial to the setting up of a coastal fishing establishment, first the proximity of schools of fish and the possibilities of shelter for boats, then the sources of wood and fresh water and, last but not least, the dominant climatic conditions. For example, frequent fog or excessive summer heat had a detrimental effect on cod drying. East Point was a perfect location…

East Point Lighthouse
East Point (Pointe-de-l’Est) east of Souris at the end of Lighthouse Road