In the late 1800s, Acadians living along the shores of Pubnico Harbour, near Yarmouth, relied on lobster to feed their families. In those days, lobster wasn’t the luxury item that it is today. A common and easily obtained staple on the coast, it was often written off as “poor man’s food.”
By the early 1900s, Canadian lobster fishers had begun to export lobster to buyers as faraway as Maine and Massachusetts. The lobsters, shipped live on ice, retained their market value only if they survived their long journey by sea. En route to market, lobsters would often bite each other and die from their wounds. Hence, a small handmade wooden plug, measuring just 3-4 centimeters long, was devised to keep the lobsters’ claws closed during shipping. This simple device meant that live lobsters could reach ever more distant markets and, with more lobsters arriving in tact, profits increased. Soon the demand for lobster plugs was skyrocketing.
The industrious Acadians of West Pubnico responded to this growing demand. Soon residents of the tiny community were making enough plugs to supply lobster fisheries throughout Atlantic Canada and along the eastern seaboard of the U.S., earning the town the title “lobster plug capital of the world."
“In West Pubnico, making lobster [plugs] was a pastime that provided an extra source of money for the villagers, especially after the depression when work and money were scarce,” writes Kelly Hartley in The Lobster Plug Story of West Pubnico (from the exhibit in the “Community Memories” collection on the Virtual Museum of Canada website, www.virtualmuseum.ca). “The young, the old, male or female were making these plugs in almost every household in the village.”
The tiny pine plugs were constructed using just a simple homemade knife and a bit of old leather—or part of an old glove—to protect the thumb. Visitors to Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse can still watch as a museum interpreter quickly whittles the plugs—a practiced skill many local Acadians learn in childhood.
In the seventies, Vernon d’Eon, a Pubnico resident and lobster fisherman, sold his fishing boat and gear and began to mass-produce wooden lobster plugs. According to d’Eon, his factory was able to produce up to 400,000 plugs in one day. “This factory was able to mass-produce plugs very efficiently and, in the year 1978, we manufactured and sold over 75,000,000 plugs, distributing to Canadian and U.S. markets, all from this small Acadian village of West Pubnico,” d’Eon says. “According to our records, Vernon d'Eon Lobster Plugs Ltd. made and sold—over the nine years we operated the factory—close to 500,000,000 plugs to the lobster industry and plus the handmade plugs produced in our own village.”
By 1984, rubber bands had entirely replaced the lobster plug and d’Eon began to diversify his products to include all kinds of fishing supplies. However, as d’Eon is quick to point out, the Acadian culture and ingenuity that once allowed this tiny rural village to rise to supremacy in the world marketplace still thrives along this shore. Visit Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse to learn the role Pubnico has played—and still plays today—in the history of fishing and experience the hospitality and rich heritage of the Acadian way of life.
-Visit Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse in West Pubnico (acadianvillage.museum.gov.ns.ca)
-Just a kilometer from Le Village, visit Musée acadien de Pubnico-Ouest. To learn more visit, www.museeacadien.ca
-An exhibit at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic features Vernon d’Eon’s story of how he began to manufacture the plugs.
-Check out the virtual exhibit available on Virtual MuseumCanada’s website: “The Lobster Plug Story in West Pubnico”
-Visit Vernon d’Eon’s website and read his “Lobster Plug Story”at www.vernondeon.com
*Images provided by Musée acadien