Meteghan: Heart of Clare

Brilliant December sunlight glistens on St. Mary’s Bay as Cape Island lobster boats make their way around the breakwater and into safe harbour at Meteghan. There’s a steady procession of traffic on the wharf, directed by genial head of security, Joel Melanson. Fuel tankers and fish plant trucks, wives bringing dinner to their husbands and shore captains hauling bait on their pickup trucks, all contribute to the hubbub of excitement in Meteghan, in the heart of the municipality of Clare.

For someone not from the area, it can be confusing to refer to Meteghan, because four communities clustered along Highway Route #1 bear the name. Meteghan businessman and history buff Harold Robicheau explains that Meteghan River was founded in 1772, while Meteghan itself followed a few years later in 1785. Between the two communities lies Meteghan Centre (established in 1906) while Meteghan Station, a few kilometers inland, was formerly a stopping point for passenger and freight trains.

“They may be on one exchange in the phone book but each community has its own distinct history, character and pride, “Harold says. “Meteghan itself has the ambulance, the fire department, the RCMP, the bank and credit union, and the bigger stores. And Tim Hortons.”

Indeed. The coffee shop in Meteghan is said to be one of the busiest in the province. Overlooking the wharf and the Bay, it surely claims the best view from its windows. People chatter excitedly, switching from French to English more easily than they’d switch from regular to decaffeinated. Although conversations range over current political situations both here and in the US, plans for Christmas and whether the weather will hold, most discussions focus on the lucrative lobster fishery.

“Lobster fishing is the backbone of industry throughout Clare,” says Pamela Thibault, regional development officer for Clare in the South West Shore Development Association (SWSDA). Nowhere is that more obvious than in Meteghan, home to the largest commercial wharf in the municipality. Sixty-one vessels fish from here, although harbour master Gerald Robichaud also oversees seven vessels in neighbouring Saulnierville and fifteen at Cape St. Mary’s. Meteghan River is home to AF. Theriault and Sons, boatbuilders since 1938 and employing up to 150 at peak times of the year.

What binds all the Meteghans together—and attracts people who come from away, be it another province or another part of this province—is the neighbourly attitude of those who live in here. Whether you’re buying gas or groceries, talking to a fisherman on the wharf or a community member over coffee, the ambience is open and hospitable. People talk freely to strangers and pitch in to help one another, whether as neighbours or at a larger community level.

Ronnie LeBlanc crews on the lobster boat Rogie 1 and is serving his third term as one of two municipal councillors for Meteghan and surrounding areas. He speaks with pride of the Clare Curling Club, which operate a rink in Meteghan and host an annual tournament every July all by volunteer effort. “Teams come back every year because they love the hospitality, the food, the area and our people,” he says proudly.

One of the newest attractions in Meteghan is the family fun park. When a former elementary school was becoming an eyesore and scheduled for demolition, local dentist Harold Boudreau was inspired to create a facility that would provide another outlet for healthy exercise and camaraderie. He took a plan to municipal council and received approval to build and operate the park under council’s ownership.

Everything in the accessible park was crafted by local labour, provided through the SWSDA, including swings, child-sized chairs and a choo-choo train, whimsical birdhouses, heated washrooms and a replica lighthouse. Handmade wrought iron gates donated by local artisan Victor Comeau entice visitors to enter, whether to walk the quarter-mile trail around the park’s perimeter or just sit and watch the sun go down. “It’s a park for all ages, and all ages are using it,” Dr. Boudreau says proudly. A work in progress, the park will host an old-fashioned picnic every summer as a fundraiser for its upkeep and development, and Dr. Boudreau, who volunteers his time to look after the facility, plans a contest to have the community name their new park.

As with any rural community, there are problems facing Meteghan, including a significant outmigration of people to Alberta. This past autumn saw fishermen scrambling to find helpers for the first part of lobster season because so many had moved away. Although catches have been good, prices for lobster are significantly lower due to a US economic recession and decreased demand for an item considered by many as a luxury. While fishermen in Meteghan are certainly worried about the price for their catch, Ronnie LeBlanc says it’s the Acadian way to keep working hard and keep optimistic. “We’ve weathered storms before, so we’ll be here when this one passes,” he says.

Did You Know? The parish cemetery at Meteghan includes a large stone marker honouring “Jerome”, the famous legless castaway who washed up on a Digby Neck beach in 1863. Jerome spent some time in Meteghan before going to live out his days in neighbouring St. Alphonse, and is the subject of a recent play written by Ami McKay as well as a new book by Fraser Mooney Jr.