Margaree Salmon Museum

by Mary Anne Ducharme

Margaree Salmon MuseumThe Margaree River, world famous for its salmon, runs through rural valleys and hills that are a dream come true for photographers, artists, and outdoorsmen. At the Margaree Salmon Museum learn the rich history of salmon fishing in this area and enjoy the incredible collection of salmon flies, rods, reels, and many other artifacts of sports fishing.

The only one of its kind in Nova Scotia, the Margaree Salmon Museum is located in North East Margaree and it celebrates one of world's most famous salmon-fishing rivers. The area has several other Margarees as well: Margaree Forks, East Margaree, Margaree Harbour, Margaree Valley, South West Margaree, and all of them are beautiful little communities along the river basin and among the hills, well meriting their celebration in local poetry, storytelling, fiddle music, and art.

This is the region where Father Moses Coady and Father Jimmy Tompkins grew up, the founders of the Co-operative Movement, the place where legendary "Granny Ross" was midwife, and where Archie Neil Chisholm began a long career as inspired storyteller. By stopping at the Tourist Bureau in Margaree Forks you can gather information about all kinds of activities in the area, including hiking, mountain biking, square dancing, or fishing. You can enjoy fiddle music practically every night of the week in the Margarees.

The Salmon Museum is one attraction that should not be missed. Its mandate is clear: the history of the lifestyle and economics of the people of the Margaree area, the heritage of fishing on the Margaree River, and the conservation of Atlantic salmon and brook trout stocks for future generations. This museum is sponsored by the Margaree Anglers Association, and it contains an excellent collection of fishing tackle, photos and memorabilia of famous anglers. The building, first opened as a museum in 1965, was expanded in 1978 from the old Rossville School.

Margaree Salmon MuseumIt is a fascinating visit for anglers or local history buffs and for those who know little about either, it is a delightful discovery. The facility received a special commendation in 1982 by the American Association of State and Local History; and in 1998, Bob Frame, Executive Director of Nova Scotia Museums commented that it is "one of the finest museums in Nova Scotia. It has a clear focus on its mandate, a fine collection, and a genuine orientation to public service."

The museum not only interprets the history but provides a variety of practical information to anglers including Nova Scotia sports fishing regulations, local season dates, species identification, and guidelines on the Catch and Release program sponsored by the Atlantic Salmon Federation. Fishermen unfamiliar with the area can learn where the best pools are and what local land owners expect in terms of property usage.

Besides a library of local history and fishing interest books for browsing, there are a number of informational and promotional videos available for on site viewing, including some specifically geared for children. A large wall chart shows the life cycle of the Atlantic salmon from the eggs to the time they re-enter the river. There is a display of poaching gear and the staff can tell colorful stories of those activities in the old days, and some not so long ago. A display shows the story of Alfred Taylor's fish cannery at Margaree Harbour in 1886, and we learn that he won first place in an international exhibition for his canned Margaree salmon. Of interest to both young and old is an aquarium containing young trout and salmon.

The treasury of fish flies is ever-expanding because almost every year people contribute to this fascinating display, donating individual flies or sometimes whole collections. The artistic design of the flies, their meticulous attention to detail, and their colorful names all have little histories behind them that museum staff are pleased to share with visitors. For instance, it was Joe Aucoin of New Waterford who designed the famous "Bomber Series" of flies, such as the Black Bomber. Other flies sport intriguing names like Silver Doctor, Dusty Miller, and The Rat. The reel display includes rare and valuable types made of various materials such as wood, brass, deer horn, as well as modern light-metal types.

A three-piece rod is on display, created by the famous Harold "Pinkie" Gillum of Connecticut, a professional rod-maker who fished on the Margaree. In those years, the 1920's, there were truly enormous salmon in this river, such as the one caught by Percy MacKenzie of Big Interval which weighed 52 pounds! Now fishermen are only permitted to keep the grilse, the first-year return salmon, measuring 24" long. Even so, the enthusiasm of anglers has not diminished and sports fishing remains a vital component of the local economy.

The rich and famous have been long attracted to the beauty of the Margaree River and its abundant stocks of fish. For instance, Nobel Prize winner Dr. George Hoyt Whipple who earned his award in the field of medicine, was a regular for many years, as well as Joe Revere, a descendant of Paul Revere. The rod collection is a large and impressive one including a rod dating from 1865, and an 18 foot "Greenheart." John C. Cosseboom was a student of Izaak Walton and a wealthy businessman from Rhode Island who wrote glowing poetry and stories about his experiences on the Margaree River. "Did you ever wield a rod of eighteen feet? A Leonard, old, with handles wound with cane? That's the fishing that they called a sport of kings. When they fished in swollen rivers' springtime flow. For the bright shining fish of other Springs, with that heavy, rugged gear of long ago."

The artwork in the museum is an attraction in itself, including work by Joseph Crilley, and a painting by the famous landscape artist Frank Vincent Dumond who taught summer classes in Margaree in the 1920's and who was an ardent fishermen. Among examples of contemporary artworks are pen and ink drawings by Margaree artist David Brewer as well as "Eco Timerocks" which are created by Nova Scotian artist Gilbert Van Ryckevorsel. The unique artform is reminiscent of the historic mariner°s craft known as scrimshaw, but instead of engraving on whaletooth ivory, this artist employs solid granite. These works are for sale as well as a variety of pins, flies, other small items.

The Handbook for the Margaree by James T. Grey, is an essential guidebook for newcomers to the river, for as Grey says in his introduction: "To fish a river well, one must know the river intimately." The book provides detailed descriptions, both poetic and practical, gleaned from years of experience with the moods of the Margaree.

For those looking for the most recent copy of Mike Allen's update of Jim Grey's benchmark work, it is available at the Margaree Salmon Museum for $24.95 per copy.

 

Click on these links for more information: 

Margaree Salmon Museum  

Margaree Salmon Association

Museum Hours

Open Daily: mid June to mid October

This is a unique museum, healthy, vibrant and growing, and neatly in tune with the beautiful Margaree River. It is well worth a special trip.