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CINDY DAY: Lurcher mystery solved

Retired Master Mariner David Walsh shares this lovely old photo of the Lurcher, berthed at the former Coast Guard base in Saint John, N.B.
Retired Master Mariner David Walsh shares this lovely old photo of the Lurcher, berthed at the former Coast Guard base in Saint John, N.B. - Contributed

You are the best readers in the country!  Feb. 26, I wrote about the Marine District named Lurcher, which sits off the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia.  Many of you have asked about the origin of the name and while I did what I could to solve the mystery, I eventually turned to you for some help.  

I received many wonderful emails, some with links, others with lovely personal stories.

Here is a sampling of them:

From Barbara Saderholm, Cape Forchu, N.S.: 

“Lurcher refers to shoals maybe about 20 miles off Yarmouth.  At low tide, they were not far below the surface and presented enough of a hazard that a lightship was stationed out there many years ago.   ... In the ’50s the Bluenose sailed from Yarmouth to Bar Harbour, Me., and went right past.  It was always an event with a toot from the Bluenose fog horn and much waving back and forth between passengers and crew.” 

Deborah Trask, Chester Basin, N.S.:

“…I remember crossing to Yarmouth from Bar Harbour every summer of my childhood on the old MV Bluenose and watching for the lightship Lurcher – the last of which was discontinued in 1969.   

According to this 1947 article from Maclean’s, lurcher means one who lies in wait, and here it is in reference to submerged shoals.

Wally Buchanan, Sandy Point – Shelburne County, N.S.: 

“Growing up in Southern Nova Scotia it was common to hear the old sailors talking about staying clear of the “Lurcher Shoals” during stormy weather as it would be suicide to try to pass through that area.  Over the years the government had Lightships on station.  As for the name Lurcher, it would be right on to describe an area of shallow water that would cause the old sailing ships to lurch and often capsize.  I have also heard it was caused by the strong Fundy tides combining with strong NE winds forcing water over the shoals during storms.”

David Walsh,  Retired Master Mariner, Dartmouth, N.S.:

“…These crews spent 30 days at a time in all weather, marking the Lurcher Shoal to approaching Mariners.  They also provided weather observations to the Atmospheric Environment Service in past days to generate local marine forecasts.  I had sailed with some of these people in my early sailing days.  As you can see, she was a floating lighthouse, stationed off Lurcher Shoal.”

Learning is exhilarating!  Thank you for weighing in.

Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.

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