Parks Canada Banner
Parks Canada Home

Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 23

Gaspé, 1760-1867

by David Lee

Part II: The Fisheries of Gaspé

Governor Haldimand and His Seigneury at Pabos

The failure of Frederick Haldimand to establish a fishery in Gaspé shows that it was impossible to operate a fishing industry from a distance. Haldimand was a senior officer in the British army in North America, a man of considerable influence in government circles and eventually governor of Quebec, but these advantages were not enough to help him compete with the energetic traders from the Channel Islands. Haldimand's occupation prevented him from directing his investment on the spot and he was reluctant to endow his local manager with sufficient authority to deal with all the contingencies which arose daily on the fishery. He was also reluctant — or perhaps unable — to invest the amount of capital required to compete with the other more aggressive investors in Gaspé.

Haldimand bought the seigneury of Grand Pabos in 1765, apparently paying more than 1,000 French livres to François Lefebvre de Bellefeuille,1 whose fishing post had been destroyed by Wolfe's party in 1758. By 1768 Haldimand, then posted in Florida, had constructed a sawmill, wharf, houses, an 80-ton schooner — a considerable investment — and hired an agent to run the business from Quebec.2 The agent sent men out to cut timber for the mill and build fishing vessels for future settlers.3 They gave up the idea of trying to export lumber sawn at their mill because it was too difficult to load, since larger ships could not navigate the entrance to the harbour at Pabos. Haldimand hoped to be posted in one of the northern British colonies and have his nephew manage the post, but the nephew died. He then tried to sell the seigneury, but could not get a satisfactory price.4

The Quebec agent was not given enough authority or money by Haldimand to run the operation effectively: it was several years before he could get the remaining parts for the lumber mill and he missed the first fishing season because he had not enough money to outfit the fishing vessels. Haldimand had to be consulted for major expenses, but he was far from Quebec and the Quebec agent was yet another week from Pabos. In 1767 the agent had to turn down an offer by a number of families who wanted to settle at Pabos; he had no authority to guarantee them that they could remain there nor any authority to give them provisions. The agent finally resigned, advising Haldimand to find a partner who would live on the scene and share the profits and losses.5 Again Haldimand tried to sell the seigneury but was unsuccessful.6

In 1772 another of Haldimand's nephews took an interest in the fisheries and directed a small fishing operation at Pabos for a few years. He too encountered problems he could not handle.

In 1776 he suffered the loss of three cargoes; one of the vessels was his own and had recently been built at Pabos at considerable cost. The nephew soon discovered that anyone trying to establish himself in the Gaspé fisheries must have substantial capital to compete with the large local fishing and trading firms whose owners fixed prices among themselves. Because these traders charged exorbitant prices, the Haldimands had to import their own salt, provisions and fishing equipment.

By 1777 Haldimand was governor of Quebec and nearer to Gaspé, but still refused to delegate authority, even to his nephew,7 nor was he willing to risk and invest the amount of capital and time required to succeed in the Gaspé fisheries. By 1779 he gave up all hope and interest in his seigneury and it was eventually purchased in 1796 by Felix O'Hara from the trustees of Haldimand's estate.8

Haldimand probably lost a good deal of money attempting to establish a fishing post on his seigneury although he would have lost less had he been content with the small fee — two quintals of cod per shallop — he could exact from every fisherman who came to catch bait in the Grand Pabos River.9 During the 1760s his rank was sufficiently high in the army that he was able to use his influence to help him with his investment. In the 1760s he got an army surveying party to look into his interests at Pabos (they advised him to sell)10 and after he became governor his secretary, Major Mathews, handled some of the affairs and so did the lieutenant governor of Gaspé, Nicholas Cox, and his subordinate, Felix O'Hara,11 but all of Haldimand's connections and influence could not help if he did not have a resident agent with sufficient money and authority to run the operation from day to day. The fishing industry was capricious and demanded constant attention from management.

previous Next

Last Updated: 2006-09-15 To the top
To the top