GRAND MANAN — Just about everyone on this island makes their living from the sea.
It has been that way for generations.
But for many, their seafaring trade has cost them their lives.
Now the community is remembering each and every one of those souls who died too young with the island’s first Lost at Sea Monument.
Erected this summer at the island’s Anchorage Provincial Park, the large, granite monument symbolically overlooks one of the most dangerous stretches of the Bay of Fundy.
“There’s a string of ledges out there that have eaten up lots of ships,” says Brian Guptill, president of the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association.
The monument is nestled in a small clearing along a walking trail through a forested area on the southern side of Grand Manan. The waves hitting the rocks often is the only sound on the beach below the monument at this tranquil spot, which faces Long Pond Bay.
The hope is that families will visit the monument to remember their loved ones, said Guptill, a burly man with large, meaty hands and a red, weathered face.
There are no individual names on the monument, but there are plans to incorporate a wall of remembrance with names in the future.
The inscription says the monument is “In memory of those who lost their lives in pursuit of their profession and to those who continue the tradition. Their contributions to the community will never be forgotten.”
Guptill, a fourth-generation lobster fisherman who has spent most of his life on the water, said the association decided it was time to pay tribute to all those who had been lost at sea after two fishermen died on the water last February.
Harold Cossaboom, 47, and his cousin Corey Cossaboom, 36, were scallop fishing off the coast of St. Martins near Quaco Ledge on Feb. 18, 2010, when their scallop dragger, The Whole Family, ran into trouble. The vessel sank in the Bay of Fundy between Black River and St. Martins without sending out a distress signal. Searchers found neither the boat nor the crew.
No one ever found out what happened to the men, both of whom were from White Head Island.
“That was what triggered the realization that we didn’t have a monument … there wasn’t anywhere for people to go to remember,” says Guptill.
The fishermen’s association, which organized the project, decided to erect a Lost at Sea Monument because they wanted to include every person who died on the water.
“There’s been people lost doing things that weren’t actual fishing, but they were making their living from the sea,” he said.
Guptill said there always has been a long list of workers, in addition to fishermen, who “derive their livelihood” from the sea, including merchant marine workers and more recently those who work in the aquaculture industry.
He doesn’t know how many people from Grand Manan have been lost at sea over the past century.
“That’s one of the reasons we didn’t put names on it,” he said.
But it is perhaps telling that two of the association’s past presidents, Harold Cossaboom in 2010 and Wellesley Morse in 1989, died at sea.
Morse was coming back from a fishing weir when he went overboard.
“The boat was found going round and round in circles and the dog looking overboard,” says Guptill. “He religiously wore a floater jacket, but he didn’t have it on that day for some reason.”
Grand Manan, which has a population of about 2,500 people, is a close-knit community where families have lived for generations. There’s likely no family on the island that hasn’t been touched at some point by a tragedy of this kind.
“Every incident is shocking to the community,” says Guptill.
Fishing families also are aware that if something bad does happen, he said, there’s a good chance their loved one never will be recovered.
The Bay of Fundy has some of the roughest water in the world because of the high tides. These conditions make any recovery operation almost impossible.
“In a river, they can always look downstream, but in the ocean, you don’t know where to look,” said Guptill.
The Lost at Sea monument faces the general direction of another monument located on nearby White Head Island.
A short ferry ride from Ingalls Head on Grand Manan, White Head Island has a population of less than 200. It has a school, a post office, a store, a church and about 6 kilometers of main road.
At one end of this road, a stone monument pays tribute to five White Head Island fishermen lost on the vessel Melissa Jean II in the Cabot Strait in 1969. The monument quotes Psalm 68:22: “The Lord said, I will bring my people home from the depth of the sea.”
Grand Manan Mayor Dennis Greene said the Lost at Sea Monument at Anchorage Park is in the perfect location because it’s in a quiet, out-of-the-way place so that families can remember their loved ones and perhaps “bring back memories.”
“You look out and you can see the water and you can see White Head,” he says. “I don’t think you could have found a better location for it.”