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‘I will miss it. There’s no doubt about that’: Caribou Fisherman’s Wharf Harbour Manager retires after 36 years

John Lakerman is retiring after 36 years as Harbour Manager at the Caribou Fisherman's Wharf.
John Lakerman is retiring after 36 years as Harbour Manager at the Caribou Fisherman's Wharf. - Brendan Ahern

Fifty years-ago, the Caribou Fisherman’s wharf would receive routine visits from Bayview boys riding over on their bicycles.

“I was just fascinated with coming to the water or here to the wharf,” said John Lakenman as he drove slowly around his workplace for the last 36 years. “Don’t ask me why, because my father grew vegetables. I just loved it. The peace and tranquility of it all when it’s a real nice day out there, or a nice evening, it’s just something you’re drawn to. It’s hard to say exactly what and why, but you’re just drawn to it.”

The Caribou wharf was a lot smaller back then when there might have been only four boats tied up. The real action was further up the shore, at the old National Sea location or at North Nova Seafood, where there would often be 20 boats tied up and laden with gear for fishing lobster or herring.

“A pile has changed since I started here,” said Lakenman while his pickup truck cruised over the wharf’s newest extension. Today the Caribou wharf could conceivably hold 80 vessels. A younger Lakerman didn’t know that he would one day be in charge of one of the largest wharfs on the Northumberland Strait.

“Never in my wildest dreams,” he said. “I never even knew a wharfinger existed.”

A wharfinger is an older term for the person in charge of checking-up on the equipment used by the fishermen and for making sure that business as usual during the fishing seasons runs smoothly.

“Wharfinger, harbour manager, call it what you like,” said Lakenman. “I guess it was a difficult word for people to pronounce so they changed it.”

In either case, it’s a job that has kept him busy since first taking-up the post nack in 1982. Even in the off-season months of winter Lakenman checks up on the fuel tanks, lights and electrical boxes lining the docks.

“Just making sure nothing’s out of array,” he said. “Mother nature is rough on the equipment. As good as technology is, you might look at it and think that salt will never get inside, but it finds a way.”

And that’s just in the off-season.

“Where there’s people there’s garbage," he said. "Or, there might be a vehicle parked in the road during the season,” he said pointing to where the day’s catches get lifted out of the water by winches.

“Sometimes somebody will come down here and park his car right where the winch is and the fish buyer can’t get to it," he said. "They call and say, ‘John there’s a car in the road, what can you do?’ and we'll have to get a tow truck in here and take it away.”

After Dec. 31, 2018 Caribou Wharf’s routine checkups will be carried-out by someone else, because Lakenman is retiring.

'Put your best foot forward'

“I will miss it. There’s no doubt about that,” said Lakenman “I’ll miss the guys and I’ll just miss being here. There’s great people here. Great people, young and old.”

The fishing industry is an unpredictable one. Some seasons are better than others, and uncertainty for the future has always come with the job.

“Put your best foot forward,” said Lakenman. “There’s always something new that comes up. If it’s not the price, it’s the bait, if it’s not the bait it’s somebody’s boat, there’s always something,” he said. "There's some things you can change and it's in your control, and other things you can't." 

And for whoever takes up his mantle, Lakenman had some sound words of advice.

“Just have a cool head,” he said. “You need a cool head because you deal with people all the time and not everybody sees it the same way you do.”

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