Nova Scotia

Families remember loved ones lost at sea during Shelburne memorial

On Sunday, a Shelburne family was keenly feeling the loss of two brothers who went overboard from their fishing boat into the freezing waters of the harbour Feb. 26 1990.

'You lose two brothers, it hurts,' says Shelburne man

Shelburne families hold flowers to be tossed into the ocean to commemorate loved ones lost at sea. (Steve Berry/CBC)

A Shelburne family keenly feels the loss of two brothers who went overboard from their fishing boat into the freezing waters of the community's harbour on Feb. 26 1990.

Sunday they were gathered with dozens of other families at a memorial service on the town's waterfront where a monument bearing the names of fishermen lost at sea stands. 

Joseph and Malcolm Acker, ages 24 and 41, are still very much missed, said their brother Louis Acker.

"It's hard thing to lose two at a time and they were in sight of home," he said.

Lisa Acker lost her father and Louis Acker lost two of his brothers in a Feb. 26, 1990 fishing accident that occurred within sight of the family's home. The bodies were never recovered. (Steve Berry/CBC)

"I lost two brothers, close friends and hunting partners. We did stuff together as a family. It hurts."

Niece Pam Acker travelled from Dartmouth to be at Sunday's event. She recalled the trauma of that day 27 years ago.

"I don't think you ever get over it and in our case, we don't have bodies. So it's hard to believe they are actually gone. You don't have closure. Every year, it comes, that date. It's just a bad day."

A link to loved ones

The first names etched on the three stones that make up the monument in Shelburne are James F. Demings and William H. Demings, who died at sea on Jan. 5, 1856.

The monument is special to the community and is a link to lost loved ones over the generations, Louis said.

"We worked hard to have this permanent structure and it means a lot to me." 

A couple prepare to toss flowers into Shelburne Harbour as part of Sunday's fishermen's memorial service. (Steve Berry/CBC)

All the names on the monument were read out at the service, that also included prayers and music.

The final name and the victim of the community's most recent fishing tragedy was Jim Buchanan, who went overboard while fishing in January.

Families and friends also tossed flowers into the water in memory of their loved ones.

Flowers float on the water off Shelburne following a memorial service for local fishermen lost at sea. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Louis Acker, who retired from the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, goes lobster fishing now, just like his brothers did.

He takes solace in knowing their suffering was brief.

A diver told him the temperature of the ocean that day was about 33 degrees F or 0 C. "He told me they wouldn't have lasted more than two minutes."

'When I'm out there, I'm with him'

Lisa Acker lost her father when she was just three years old.

"I still think about him every day," she said. "I have a 12-year-old little boy who is identical to him."

Pam Acker lost two uncles in a fishing accident off Shelburne in 1990. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Acker also fishes.

"I go lobstering the first two weeks of every season with my uncle Russell." She said it helps her to connect with her father.

"When I'm out there, I'm with him. I feel close to him."

That can make for anxious moments for those still on land, though, said Pam.

"I have brothers, I have uncles that fish. And every day they go out, [you think] 'are they going to come home to us?' she says.

"But this is a fishing community, we are fishing family. They have to do what they love. But you always wonder, are they going to come home to us?"

The Fishermen's Memorial Monument in Shelburne bears the names of fishermen who died on the water, dating back to 1856. (Steve Berry/CBC)

With files from Steve Berry