2017-07-27 / Front Page

Fish Feast Begins With Memorial

At St. Ignace, Community Celebrates Fishing Heritage, Remembers Those Lost
By Debra Petkus


Joseph Hock purifies those attending the Fish Feast Memorial at St. Ignace Saturday, July 22. With feathers fanning an incense made of sage and cedar, he went to each participant, and to the memorial and back throughout the ceremony. To the left is Darryl Brown, an Anishinabe Odawa pipe carrier who presided over the service. Next to Mr. Brown is his three-year-old granddaughter, Aralea Brown. Joseph Hock purifies those attending the Fish Feast Memorial at St. Ignace Saturday, July 22. With feathers fanning an incense made of sage and cedar, he went to each participant, and to the memorial and back throughout the ceremony. To the left is Darryl Brown, an Anishinabe Odawa pipe carrier who presided over the service. Next to Mr. Brown is his three-year-old granddaughter, Aralea Brown. A ceremony of solemn reflection remembers local fishermen who lost their lives working in commercial fishing over the years. Most were relatively young men, laboring in an arduous and dangerous occupation. The ceremony at the Fisherman’s Memorial on the St. Ignace waterfront precedes the annual Fish Feast, a celebration of the community’s fishing heritage.

Darryl Brown, an Anishinabe Odawa pipe carrier, has officiated at several of the memorials, and spoke this year, as well, Saturday afternoon, July 22. Around 20 were in attendance. Some family members and friends of the deceased fishermen were among the crowd.


Good weather made for a great turnout at the 11th annual St. Ignace Fish Feast Saturday, July 22. It celebrates the fishing heritage of the area. The St. Ignace marina was filled with people, and lines of people eager to sample various fish dishes filled in as the event continued from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The day was capped off by fireworks over the bay. See more Fish Feast photographs, page 12. Good weather made for a great turnout at the 11th annual St. Ignace Fish Feast Saturday, July 22. It celebrates the fishing heritage of the area. The St. Ignace marina was filled with people, and lines of people eager to sample various fish dishes filled in as the event continued from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The day was capped off by fireworks over the bay. See more Fish Feast photographs, page 12. Ray Halberg of St. Ignace was one of them. His 16-year-old nephew, Terry Halberg, passed away in 1969, and he personally remembers others listed on the memorial plaque who he fished with and one of whom was a very good friend.

Mr. Halberg was a commercial fisherman himself at one time, as were many others in his family, and he understands the dangers work on the water can impose.

“Today, when you are dealing with machinery, there’s always a danger there,” he said.

Jamie Massey of St. Ignace is a sixth-generation commercial fisherman. He heads out on the lake every morning by 5 a.m., casting and checking nets, and returning by 10 a.m. with his catch. He fishes every day he can. He is co-owner of Massey Fish Company, and he said many fishermen use two types of net, a gill net that is checked every day, and a trap net that be checked every few days for fish. For his business, he also purchases catches from other fishermen in the area.

Commercial fishing “is a long, hard road,” Mr. Massey said. There’s a long learning process. This includes the mechanics of where to set a net, at what time of year, reading the currents, and dealing with variations in the water, including algae, green moss, or green slime, Mr. Massey said.

The hands-on labor of today’s fishing is much the same as in years past, however, technology has brought much improvement in safety, especially when it comes to forecasting weather. On the Great Lakes, conditions can be mercurial and intense. Both fishermen have known the imminent danger of being out in the boat, with an unexpected, sudden storm coming on.

“It was a lot more dangerous to fish back when they were losing lives,” Mr. Massey said. “They had a good understanding with the surroundings, but no weather forecasting. No GPS, or equipment, or cell phones. They didn’t have radar.”

The idea of a memorial was proposed by the late Shirley Bentgen of St. Ignace, and a committee was formed, raising $7,000 to erect the stone memorial with a whitefish sculpture on top of it in 2007. It has two bronze plaques attached, one that speaks about fishing in the area, and another listing the names, ages, and towns of the men who have lost their lives.

During its establishment, the committee tried to find all pertinent names and listed all they knew about, Mr Brown said. More have since been discovered, however, including Mr. Brown’s own great-great-grandfather, Edward Bouchor of Naubinway. Mr. Brown discovered it through genealogy records, and reading his relative’s death certificate.

At Saturday’s memorial, Mr. Brown said he was humbled and it was an honor to preside over the event.

“This is a fishing community,” he said.

He grew up here and his family has been in the area for generations.

He said he remembered the fishing wharves and processing houses lining the St. Ignace waterfront years ago. At the memorial, Mr. Brown’s helper, Joseph Hock, kept an incense of sage and cedar burning during the ceremony. It was used for purification of those in attendance.

“Quite a number of those who perished are of Native American ancestry,” said Mr. Brown. And today many of the fishermen are also Native Americans.

Mr. Brown said he wasn’t there to preach, but to teach.

“Anishinabe believe even though we are in a material world, we are spiritual beings. Our body does not stop at the edge of our skin. We can’t live without the air, we can’t without the water, we can’t live without the sun, and we can’t live without the earth,” he said.

“We are always mindful of our environment and we are blessed because we live in such a beautiful community. We’re not looking at smoke stacks and high rises and high pollution.”

He went on to pray for the families of those listed on the plaque. The ceremony was brief, and then he invited those in attendance to share the reasons why they were there.

Barbara Ahlich Crosby came to the memorial for a second time. She graduated from LaSalle High School in St. Ignace and remembers hearing when a former classmate, Sandy Gustafson, lost her father and brother, who are listed on the memorial.

Mrs. Crosby said she went to school with Mr. Brown and appreciated his sharing of Native American culture.

“I wish more people would attend,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

FISHERMEN’S MEMORIAL

Men from Mackinac County who lost their lives while commercial fishing and are listed on the memorial include:

1851 - Michael McCann, 36, Mackinac Island.

1936 - Louis Hart, 28, Epoufette; Robert Goudreau, 33, Epoufette; Jim Dishaw, 47, Epoufette.

1937 - Carl Matson, 28, St. Ignace; Ray McLean, 30, St. Ignace.

1945 - Teddy Paulson, 17, Naubinway.

1946 - Frank L. Brix, 38, Naubinway.

1954 - John G. Ellison, 63, St. Ignace Township; John J. Ellison, 29, St. Ignace Township.

1964 - Art Stiebe, 31, St. Ignace.

1969 - Terry Halberg, 16, St.Ignace; Melvin Frazier, 51, Naubinway.

1977 - Alvin Gustafson, 67, St. Ignace; Gary Gustafson, 37, St. Ignace.

1980 - Cliff Bigelow, 22, Epoufette; Mike Bigelow, 24, Epoufette.

1983 - James Converse Jr., 28, Naubinway; Edward Moses, 27, St. Ignace.

1986 - Edward E. Perkins, 47, Naubinway; Rusty G. King, 31, Naubinway; Kirk J. Peterson, 28, Naubinway.

1993 - Robert Rickley, 23, St. Ignace; Rick Wessel, 35, Mackinac Island.

1999 - Roy C. Frazier, 25, Naubinway.

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