Photo courtesy of: Indigenous Geographic       

A Day on the Bay


A day in the life of Métis commercial fisherman Bernie LePage starts like any other; with a coffee, a long drive to work and a short walk into the office. For Bernie, his office is the bridge of his fishing tug, and his workplace is the deep blue waters of Georgian Bay.

A citizen of the Historic Georgian Bay Métis Community, MNO Region 7, Bernie has been fishing off the coast of Lafontaine since he was a young boy.

The LePage family have been fishing out of Penetanguishene Harbour for four generations, dating back to 1861. His ancestors were both blacksmiths and commercial fishermen who used wooden rowboats.

“It was tough work just to catch a few fish back then,” says Bernie.

Times have certainly changed and the vessel Bernie now uses, which was also used by his father, the ‘Laurie E’, is a 1955 Great Lakes “tug”. The boat was built to handle turbulent waters in Georgian Bay while also hauling tons of fish and fishing gear. The name came with the boat and although Bernie doesn’t know the meaning behind it, any marine enthusiast knows that it is bad luck to change it.

Bernie’s father, Henri LePage, was not only a fisherman but also a high-pressure welder and an entrepreneur. He started the “world famous” Henry’s Fish Restaurant on Frying Pan Island (also known as San Souci) on Georgian Bay, selling fresh fish and chips to satisfied boaters and cottagers from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s. The marine restaurant attracted hundreds of customers a day and although it is now under new management, the name remains the same.

Before heading out onto the waters, Bernie takes the waters temperature, while his two deckhands get ready to drop the nets with anchors and floats. It’s an all-day task that they will return to collect the next day. Once the fish are onboard, they are cleaned and filleted as he heads back to port. He sells his fresh catch and smoked fish at his store, B. LePage Fishery, in Nobel, Ont., and also at his sister’s store in Lafontaine. As well, Bernie supplies fish to many Indigenous events such as the annual Georgian Bay Métis Council Rendezvous in Penetanguishene, where he prepares a giant fish fry.

“I just love doing what I do,” says Bernie, who is very proud to make a living that keeps his Métis culture and traditions alive and provides for the community. He is the only commercial fisherman within a 50-mile radius, and one of the only Métis fishermen in Ontario who can land fish for the community on his license.

When asked about the future generations of commercial fishing in Georgian Bay, Bernie says he is concerned about the Asian Carp an invasive species threatening the Great Leaks. Introduced to North America in the 1960s and 70s, they have since migrated north towards the Great Lakes. If the Carp make their way to our waterways it could lead to a decline in plankton, zooplankton, and prey species essential for the survival of commercially harvested native fish. “I’m really scared for the future as a fisherman. If the Asian carp get into Georgian Bay and multiply, they will wipe everything else out,” says Bernie. For now, he remains hopeful that precautions will be taken by the government to prevent this scenario.

Wondering what the future holds for Bernie and his fishing livelihood, and how much longer can he keep up the pace of 12-hour days, seven days a week?

“I’m 69 this year, same age as my boat,” Bernie laughs. He hopes to pass on his fishing business to his great nephew, who is currently one of his deckhands and shows a real interest in learning the ropes of the family business.

For Bernie, the best part of his work is simply being out on Georgian Bay, witnessing the sunrise, while earning an honest living. “I take pride in responsibly harvesting a natural resource that serves the needs of the people,” Bernie says.

The MNO thanks Bernie for sharing a day in the life of a Métis commercial fisherman and wishes Bernie much success and many more fantastic days of fishing on Southern Georgian Bay!