Family celebrates late mother with new award at shellfish festival

At this year's P.E.I. Shellfish Festival, the Dowdle family is creating an award for the fastest female shucker in honour of Marlene Dowdle, who died in April.

The Dowdles are offering $1,000 to the fastest female oyster shucker

George Dowdle and his daughter Britteny offer their shucking services at this year's P.E.I. Shellfish Festival. They're also creating an award for the fastest female shucker in honour of Marlene Dowdle, Britteny's mother and George's wife, who died this April. (Nicole Williams)

Oyster farmer and long-time shucker George Dowdle usually attended the P.E.I. Shellfish Festival with his wife Marlene.

This year, things were little different. 

"She ended up with 10 tumours in the right side of her brain," he said of Marlene Dowdle , who died in April. "It's still pretty fresh for me. Not every day is a good day by far."

Dowdle said his wife was fiercely competitive.

"She took great pleasure in beating me when she had the chance," he said with a laugh.

Advocate for women

Above all, Marlene was an advocate for women in the oyster industry, Dowdle said.

"She was always about how women are not really recognized in our industry," he said. "She definitely was very adamant about women … being recognized for the part they play."

That's why Dowdle decided to award a $1,000 to the fastest female shucker at this year's festival in Marlene's honour, a tradition he said he hopes to carry on for years to come.

"It's just all about having long-term members that are female in our industry recognized," he said.

'We were best friends'

Dowdle's daughter Britteny competed and said for her, it's a chance to continue her mom's legacy and remember her the best way she knows how.

"We were really tight. She knew everything about me and I knew everything about her. We were best friends," she said.

George Dowdle says his wife Marlene wanted women in the oyster industry to be recognized. Jen Bolton (pictured) has been shucking for 12 years and travelled to P.E.I. from Toronto to take part in the competition. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Women from across Canada travelled to P.E.I. to take part in the competition, including Sue Chambers and Jen Bolton from Toronto.

"People don't generally think a woman is good at this," said Bolton. "But we're going to show them otherwise."

Dowdle said more women are taking up their shucking knives and competing this year than ever before: something that would have made Marlene very proud.

About the Author

Nicole Williams

Nicole Williams is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. She previously worked as an associate producer with CBC News in Toronto.