By Cynthia Parr
There are many ways to remember and preserve bits of history: through the usual reading and writing or visiting museums, but also through conversation and the crafting of traditional objects. If you drive down the West Jeddore Road, you may notice a garage with around 40 painted buoys hung above the doors. Quentin Brown, a skilled woodworker and local historian, has created these buoys over the last 10 or 15 years.
They are replicas of wooden buoys used decades ago on nets for trawling and fishing. Larger than lobster buoys, the net buoys were painted in colours and patterns of the owner’s choosing. They were also stencilled with the owner’s name and harbour, so if a net was picked up by someone else, it could be recognized and returned. Each boat had around 10 buoys, and many fishers kept their colours year after year; some passed them down to their sons who fished.
For Quentin, making a buoy begins with cutting a fir tree from his property. (Fir was the preferred wood because of its buoyancy. Several buoys could be made from one tree, so their sizes often varied.) Once a tree is cut, Quentin mills the log, then roughs out the shape of the buoy with a chainsaw. He then chips and sands by hand until the buoy is the desired shape and size and then covers it with two coats of white paint. The owner’s colours are applied, and then he uses stencils to paint the names and harbours.
Deciding which buoys to replicate involves curiosity, a bit of travel, and some conversation. He has not been able to find a collective record of the fishers’ buoy colours, so he has to search for each owner and the colours used. He tries to find fishers around his same age who have used wooden buoys. He gets their names and colours, as well as a story or two, sometimes from their family members. Most of his buoys are from boats in Halifax County, although there are also ones from Antigonish and Pictou Counties. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Quentin’s buoys are not for sale, and he doesn’t take custom orders.
Quentin thought of making the net buoys because no one else had done them. “Everyone else does lobster buoys, and it seemed like an interesting project,” he said. He says that the colours of net buoys were being forgotten, and rather than writing about them, he thought it might be good to make the buoys instead. “I can’t waste a piece of board,” he says, and something can always be made from a tree if it’s not going to be burned. His workshop is full of objects he has made from scrap wood, and Quentin continues to come up with ideas. “Projects are therapy: you just forget about everything, get out there, and get to work.”
As for preserving bits of the past, Quentin says that history has not always been saved along the Eastern Shore: “I should have paid more attention to my seniors,” he adds. He is hopeful for the upcoming generation though, some of whom ask him questions about how things were done in the past and show curiosity similar to his for learning the details. Anyone fortunate enough to have a conversation with Quentin Brown comes away with a gift of knowledge worth remembering.