Lifelines: Canada's East Coast Fisheries

The Search for Cod, a Delicacy for Meatless Days
A Fishing Expedition on the Saint-André (1754)
The Search for Cod, a Delicacy for Meatless Days: 
A Fishing Expedition on the Saint-André (1754)

By Jean-Pierre Chrestien to TABLE OF CONTENTS


In 1524, fishing vessels from Rouen were already operating in the waters off the coast of Newfoundland. Ships from Honfleur arrived shortly after and soon began making regular trips to the mouth of the St. Lawrence, Gaspé Bay and the area around Percé and Bonaventure islands.

In the seventeenth century, Captain François Doublet of Honfleur was granted a fishing property on the Madeleine Islands, where he made an effort to establish a station for the sedentary fishery from 1663 to 1664. 1 When the 1681 naval ordinance was issued, shipowners from Honfleur tried to organize themselves to meet the challenge of fishing in distant seas. 2 After the Treaty of Utrecht was signed (1713), they engaged in the dry fishery on the coasts of Labrador and Cape Breton Island. However, their preferred fishing grounds were on the Grand Bank because Parisians, like the inhabitants of the coast of Normandy, preferred to eat green cod on the numerous meatless days imposed by the Church. 3

The narrative that follows is both a presentation and an adaptation of the log kept by Jean Marin Le Roy, a pilot from Honfleur who was first mate on the Saint-André. The log describes the ship's voyage to Newfoundland and its fishing expedition on the Grand Bank from Wednesday, January 23 to Saturday, October 26, 1754.

The introduction and conclusion of the narrative introduce Le Roy and provide the context of the expedition, while the other five sections correspond to the stages of the voyage:

  1. En Route to La Rochelle takes us from Honfleur to Aunis and the heart of the salt marshes of Saintonge, where fishermen from Normandy were able to procure salt without paying the gabelle4
  2. In the Roads near Ré Island, we spend some time with the crew in harbours around La Rochelle in search of shelter and the salt needed to preserve the fish.
  3. Crossing the Atlantic provides a day-to-day account of the transatlantic voyage and reveals some of the dangers facing ships engaged in the Newfoundland fishery.
  4. Fishing on the Grand Bank introduces us to the daily life of the fishermen. Since Le Roy provides only an overview of the time he spent on the Bank, I will try to add to his description of daily life on a banker. 5
  5. The Voyage Home takes us back to Honfleur once the hold is full of cod.

I will intervene from time to time as narrator to explain specific situations, give the reader a greater appreciation of the richness of this personal account and break the monotony of the daily report. I have tried as much as possible to maintain the original format of the log. Have a good fishing trip!




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