Life on the St. Lawrence River - An Oral History

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Picture Caption: Ted LaVine holds a small team of draft horses at the family farm on Robinson Bay, near Massena, 1930s. [Courtesy of Ted LaVine]


"Fishing in the Long Sault Rapids"

We'd go over there [across Robinson Bay to Barnhart Island] just this side of Paul's Bay there, then strike out there with the oars, and you had to row like hell, ya know, to get over there, "cause the current was prit'near 28, 30, 35 miles an hour there. Well, there was this eddy, when the Sault come down around it by Sand Bay there, ya know, and then there's a current shot up here, and you had to hit it just right by the boat tippin' up [boat high into the wave]. If you hit it this way, you might flip the boat over. When you get two currents, one going one way and one goin' the other, ya know.....I done a lot of fishin' in there for walleyes. My father-in-law, he was a good fisherman, and I sit in the back of the boat, sometimes he was lookin' up in the air and I'd be down in the whirlpool and I had to look up to see him. But he'd back down on his oars and slide it out, ya know.

"It's a Snake to Me!"

You used to be able to spear in the St. Lawrence, ya know. A lot of people did it. I used to go out there with my father. My father and me were spearin' there one night and we got quite a mess, so he said, 'I'm goin' up,' and I said, OK, it won't take long to get what I want. So the old man's rowin' and pretty soon I see an eel out there. So I lit the eel and put him in the boat. All at once the boat seemed to be floatin' away. I said, Jesus, straighten the boat out! No one answered. I turn around and he wasn't in the boat. I looked and he was on shore. I don't know how in the hell he got to shore, we was maybe 8, 10 feet from shore, ya know. He said, "Get that goddamn snake out of the boat and I'll come in and row for ya.' I said, That's not a snake, it's an eel. He said, 'It's a snake to me!'

Picture Caption: Bernie Haines of Massena, host of an annual carp fishing derby that attracts competitors from North America and Europe, holds up a prize catch from the St. Lawrence, 1996. [Courtesy of Bernie Haines, TAUNY Archives]

"Life Among the Bootleggers"

When I was a kid goin' to school, one day I'd be ridin' with the border patrol, they was always askin' me all kinds of questions, ya know, about the bootleggers. The next time I was ridin' with a bootlegger. It was nothin' to be settin' there at the breakfast table and hear the shootin', and they'd be goin' after a bootlegger, shootin' at him. That was an everyday occurrence down there. Sometimes they'd hide a whole goddamn load of liquor in Pa's cornfield. Pa never knew about it. Government men shot at three or four great big boats there, motor boats, loaded with liquor, and pulled them up on Pa's there. I wanted to take one and put it back in the river. And Pa wouldn't let me. He said, 'You can't touch it.' Goddamn Seaway come and buried 'em, I guess. There was a few bullet holes in 'em, but what the hell!. They used to bring a couple of real speed wagons, the bootleggers, and then they'd have one smaller truck loaded with machine guns in the front. A fella from the Border Patrol was talkin' to me. He said, 'I didn't try to stop 'em.' He said, 'I woulda, but...they'd have killed me! So I let 'em go.' Pa used to pull 'em out of the mudholes. That was a dirt road then. They'd get stopped. Pa, he'd a lost everything if they'd caught him, ya now. But they paid him pretty good, ya know, to pull 'em out.

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