By Laurent d’Entremont
This winter, I read a well-done and long overdue book on an innovative Acadian from my end of the province. The book features one who pioneered in the fisheries and did it all in a sincere and quiet way. It describes the life and times of Bernardin J. Comeau, now 94 years old, of Saulnierville, Digby County, the builder and founder of Comeau’s Sea Foods Ltd. This book, mostly written by the Comeau family, is in both official languages, French and English.
The short biography on Bernardin J. Comeau begins in 1918; Bernardin was born the year the First World War ended. Bernardin was fourth in a family of 10 children; his father was the well-known “P’tit Freddie” and the family became known as “Les P’tit Freddie.” The family was even the subject of a praiseful song called “Les P’tit Freddie” by the famous Acadian singer Herb LeBlanc. Times were tough, and young Bernardin had to get up at five in the morning to help his father with the family farm duties.
The chores included milking the cows, feeding the chickens and the pigs. Then, there was chopping kindle wood to start the morning fire and fill the wood box. Of course, the girls were also helping their mother with the house chores. There was no electricity or running water in those days and the wood stove was the only source for heating the house. The Comeau house had no indoor plumbing and the bathroom was 50 feet from the house, not very convenient in wintertime snowstorms.
It was from this humble beginning that young Bernardin got his start in the business world. In the early 1930s, Comeau, and a helper, started lobster fishing, with a small boat that could carry about two dozens traps. In those days, lobsters sold for 30 cents or so a pound, and on a very good day, he could come in with a catch of 150 pounds, which was good for then. He was not getting rich, nobody was, but he was earning a living.
During the Second World War, Bernardin Comeau served his country by enlisting in the military. During his three years of military service, he was stationed in Canada and served faithfully. After the war, Bernardin built a new house, married a young lady named Therese, and together they raised a family of four - Marcel, Yvette, Denise and Janice. The Comeaus have enjoyed a long and happy life together.
About this time, Bernardin and his brother Clarence went into the smoked herring business and this was likely the start of Bernardin Comeau as a player in the business community. The brothers sold their product on the world market. The business expanded to the point where Bernardin and Clarence founded Comeau Seafood Ltd., selling many different types of seafood products. Comeau’s fleet of scallop draggers became well known and many of the captains were from my Acadian Village of West Pubnico, the late Harvey d’Eon being the first one. The Comeau Seafood Ltd. fleet of herring seiners was also very successful.
Clarence did not stay with the seafood business; instead, he became a well-known, and successful, Saulnierville merchant. Comeau Seafood Ltd. became one of the main players in the seafood world market. Comeau Seafood Ltd. plants opened at various places in our end of the province, while employing hundreds and hundreds of employees. Today one would be hard pressed to go into a supermarket and not see any of Comeau’s seafood products.
Bernardin Comeau was very community-oriented and believed in the true cause of the Acadians, hiring as many of them as he could. Of course, non-Acadians were hired as well. One thing that struck me while reading the book is that Bernardin remained humble in spite of his great success as an entrepreneur. He traveled the world in the interest of establishing markets, yet he remained true to his Acadian roots, all the while sustaining Clare’s economy with his family business.
Bernardin Comeau contributed greatly to the evolution of the fishing industry in Atlantic Canada. One of the last paragraphs in the book serves to describe Bernardin’s unpretentious personality. Playing golf with his friend, James Aymar, one day, Bernardin’s golf party met up with a group of golfers from elsewhere. Both parties asked each other what they did for a living, when it came Bernardin’s turn he simply said, “I worked for Comeau Seafoods all my life.” And indeed he had.
For the rest of the story, read the book Bernardin J. Comeau.