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The Fish Shacks at Western Head Cove - Part 2


In last week’s article, we discovered that by 1875, a busy fishing industry was happening in Western Head Cove, a small inlet near the present-day lighthouse. Local fisherman had their own fish shacks to house their bait and gear and to keep their boats safe.

One of the last Fish Shacks at Western Head Cove. Photo was taken after a storm basically destroyed it.

In 1898, it was decided that a breakwater was needed at Western Head Cove to protect the boats, gear and fish shacks from the rough seas. It took about three weeks and eleven local workers to complete the job. The men worked under the direction of John Morton who was Commissioner and Master Workman. The breakwater was completed in late October 1898. John Morton carved his initials and the date, October 30, 1898, into a rock at the breakwater. The rock was still there until about ten years ago. In October 1898, the Liverpool Advance recorded that the breakwater was an asset to protect the fishery at Western Head Cove, which was thought to be the most important one on the Nova Scotia coast at that time. The cost to build the breakwater was about $900. Later, when automobiles came into vogue, the breakwater was wide enough that a vehicle could be driven on it.


Ninety-two year old Avery Croft of Western Head, who was one of the fisherman who worked from Western Head Cove many years ago. Photo courtesy of Tim McDonald

After the Second World War, the fishing seemed to stop at Western Head Cove and most of the fishermen moved their boats and gear to Moose Harbour. The fish shacks were not maintained and their condition continued to deteriorate. By the 1950s, the fish shacks were just about gone. Most of the buildings were torn down or had fallen down. The last remaining fish shack was owned by Willie Hartman. It was sold to Wilbert Frelick, who moved it to Moose Harbour, where it still exists today.


With fish shacks gone, the breakwater was no longer needed.  It was neglected and it continued to deteriorate. Today, there are no noticeable signs to show that a breakwater even existed there.

The road from the Lighthouse Road, leading to the fish shacks. The cookhouses can be seen, as well as the breakwater off in the distance. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Garrett


Recently, I had the privilege to meet ninety-two year old Avery Croft of Western Head, who was one of those fishermen that worked at Western Head Cove. He fondly remembered all of the older guys who fished at the cove; people like Willie and Ray Hartman and John and James Frelick. He said, “Those men worked hard to make a living”. He mentioned that no one could mend nets like his uncle John Frelick. Avery also stated that the shed that is still in his yard on Sand Beach Road was actually one of the old cookhouses. One slippery winter day, Avery and some local guys put one of the cookhouses on skids. They hooked it to his truck and pulled it to his property over the icy road.


The Fish Shacks and Breakwater at Western Head Cove. Photo from the Tim McDonald Collection

As he reminisced about the days at Western Head Cove, he laughed as he told the story of walking on the skids that were slippery from the gurry used on them. He slipped and fell and broke his nose. He also remembered there were four other fish shacks located further along Sand Beach Road. Will Mosher, Tom Croft, Burt Gerhardt and Jack Colp owned them. All four fish shacks have been gone for a long time.


The hustle and bustle at Western Head Cove is just a memory now. Today, you can still see the remnants of a few posts and skids that were once used by the local fishermen. It is difficult to imagine all of the activities and the buildings that had existed there – a place that once provided a very good livelihood for so many families in the area.


For those of you who enjoy my old photos, I will be hosting a photo exhibit, upstairs at the former Liverpool Town Hall, during Privateer Days. I will be there on Friday June 23 from noon until 6 and Saturday June 24 from 1 until 5. Copies of my books will be for sale as well as reproductions of many of my old photos and postcards. Drop by and we can reminisce about days gone by.


Tim can be reached at




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