Commemorative Christmas tree takes shape in Canso

By Lois Ann Dort    
December 11 2019

CANSO – Many Nova Scotians are familiar with the lobster pot Christmas tree in the Municipality of Barrington on the South Shore. For 10 years, that community has been honouring those lost at sea from around the province with this fitting holiday tribute. In Canso, with its long and storied fishing history, it’s not surprising that a local family has taken it upon themselves to make a similar seasonal memorial constructing a lobster pot tree in their front yard.

Neil Sullivan and Melanie Newell come from Canso fishing families. The couple, who have two teenaged children, have lived away from the community most of their adult lives but moved home when a job opportunity came up for Newell. “We always wanted to come back home—it drew us the whole time we’ve been away. Our goal was always to get back,” she says of the family’s return two and a half years ago.

Sullivan adds, “We like being close to the water, close to where we grew up, and family.”

The family has lived all over Canada and had recently lived on the South Shore and were familiar with the lobster pot tree tradition in Barrington. “I always wanted to do one (lobster pot tree) when we came home and Melanie’s brother Al -- he fishes right out of the backyard here -- he was getting rid of his and his father’s old pots that they weren’t using so I said I’d take them. And I knew right away what I was going to do with them,” says Sullivan, adding that community members have also donated pots to the tree.

And along with pots came buoys; community members have been dropping off buoys -- in memory of fishermen -- to be hung on the tree. Sullivan tries to place those on the front and sides of the tree so they are more visible to the many people that have stopped by to look at the tree. Both Sullivan and Newell come from families who have lost loved ones at sea, “We’re all from the sea,” says Sullivan.

Some people are spending a lot of time making the buoys that are donated to the tree, says Sullivan, who is an artist in his own right. He carves large sculptures and upcycles old fishing gear into picture frames, shelves, and more. “It means a lot to me. Every time I put one on, it’s not just a name, I know it’s one of their loved ones, so I take pride putting them on the tree because I know what it feels like to have people lost at sea…I take care with every one.”

The community has put their full support behind the tree and some have told Sullivan that they were wondering when someone would take on such a project. “Everybody said to me, ‘I was wondering why no one had done this before. I was waiting for someone to do it.’ The amount of buoys we are getting, they are coming in every day, obviously the town is taking pride in it,” says Sullivan.

There have been many comments about the tree on social media and in the community. Newell tells of one such encounter which made her smile, “I was in the store the other day and a lady said to me, ‘I love your pot tree…Oh my God, that has a whole new meaning now, I better be careful.’”

The family has been very pleased with the response to the tree and plan on continuing the practice in years to come. “I’m just worried about how big it’s going to get,” joked Newell, adding, “We have quite a bit of room in our yard.”

The lobster pot tree is located on Tickle Road in the community of Canso.