Fisherman, patriarch, entertainer, artist. Born March 6, 1928, in Sambro, N.S.; died June 24, 2013, in Halifax of cancer, aged 85.
Lewie Henneberry was a fisherman all his life and deeply in touch with the spirits of the sea. He held court at the Sambro Museum Liars Club, a cavernous boat shed-turned-museum filled with his imaginative creations. Most alarming were the mummified swordfish and sharks on the walls. They stank and glistened, flesh wrinkled by salt and age, coated with mussel shells, sequins and varnish, like the disturbing emblems of some ancient, animistic religion.
To many, Lewie was a comical eccentric, singing, yodelling and showing off his weird art. But he was much more, and his museum told that story, too. Photos of his beloved wife, Ivy, and their seven children jostled for space with models of his many fishing vessels past and present. Over a lifetime, he guided the development of a multimillion-dollar fishing business.
Lewie was one of 12 children of Gustavus and Helena Henneberry. He was raised on his father’s stories of fur sealing voyages to the south Atlantic and around Cape Horn. At 13, Lewie joined his father and brothers on his first swordfishing adventure. In the decades to follow, he and his brothers invested in larger boats and fished farther afield, ranging the stormy North Atlantic from the Grand Banks to the shoals of Cape Hatteras. It was a risky business.
“There’s always going to be good times and bad times,” Lewie would say. Marriage to his beloved Ivy in 1953, raising a family, profitable years for the swordfishery – those were the good times. “But you have to have the bad times,” he’d add, “that’s what makes the good times good!” The bad times included the ban on swordfishing in 1971, Ivy’s untimely death at 58 and the collapse of the ground fishery in the 1990s.
As Lewie got older he focused on inshore fisheries, allowing him time to expand his museum. He was determined to celebrate the fisherman’s life at a time when so many were rejecting it. He encouraged school tours, cub scouts and 4-H groups. Many kids never forgot their first visit, coming under the spell of this wild old man.
When Lewie’s grandchildren and their friends started school, he thought they were old enough to go fishing. As he had done with his kids, he taught them to set gill nets, trawl and lobster pots. When they were seasick, he’d say it was all in their minds. His enthusiastic praise encouraged many to go on to become successful fishermen.
During his last few years Lewie battled leukemia, but assisted by devoted friends he kept fishing. At the end of May, he came ashore for the last time. On June 21, he entered the hospital, where he died three days later. Practically all of Sambro attended his memorial service, including his seven children and many of his 36 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A fleet of fishing vessels resting at wharves nearby spoke of his influence on the next generation, and his passionate belief that a fisherman’s life was the noblest calling.
John Brett is Lewie’s friend and colleague.