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TIGNISH, P.E.I. - An estimated 600 people were in attendance in the St. Simon and St. Jude Parish churchyard in Tignish Sunday night when the Fishermen Tree was lit for the first time.
Shaped like a Christmas tree with a large angel on top, the display, which stands about eight meters tall, is made of 147 lobster traps, 100 sets of Christmas lights, red buoys and spruce boughs. It’s in memory of all fishermen who have died.
Tignish recreation director Tina Richard acknowledged the deaths of Glen DesRoches and Moe Getson in a Sept. 18 fishing boat disaster off of North Cape was on her mind when she first proposed the lobster trap tree.
But, Richard said the idea quickly grew to include all fishermen lost at sea and then to all fishermen who have died.
“It’s for anyone who finds a little bit of peace and happiness around the holidays around the tree,” Richard said. “If they’re remembering that lost fisherman, that’s fantastic.”
The lighting of the lobster trap tree was the finale to Sunday’s activities which were part of the town’s Kickoff to Christmas weekend celebrations.
It followed a youth talent show at the parish centre. The 200 people who attended the show joined the 400 people who were already waiting in the church parking lot for the lighting ceremony.
Mark Arsenault sang a song he wrote about the Sept. 18 tragedy and then, as Julie Arsenault and Robyn McRae were singing Silent Night, representatives of the DesRoches and Getson families flipped the switch to illuminate the display.
“Sometimes I use the guitar to pray. Music, you know what I mean? It was just kind of a prayer put to words, I guess.”
- Mark Arsenault
“Sometimes I use the guitar to pray. Music, you know what I mean?” Arsenault said about how his song came about. He wrote it about a week or two after the tragedy.
“It was just kind of a prayer put to words, I guess.”
When she first heard about the song Arsenault had written, Richard said she felt it would be fitting to have it performed at the lighting ceremony. Discussing that information with the Getson and DesRoces families, she said they felt the same.
“They were all like, ‘It’s time; it needs to be sung.’”
Arsenault said family members subsequently told him they were pleased with the song.
Richard said a daytime recording of the song will be made around the display to be given to the families.
“This is not the only accident on the Island this summer. When it happened down east, every fishing harbour, every fisherman felt it, but when it’s in your own yard, and your own friends…” Arsenault said, adding he was friends with both Getson and DesRoches.
Since the tree-lighting, Richard has heard from people wishing to sing carols around the display. She’s already working on plans for a Christmas jam session there, possibly on the Sunday evening before Christmas. She’s also heard from a tour operator who wants to include the display in a pre-Christmas tour.
Almost everything for the tree was purchased with memorial donations.
There’s a sign on the tree remembering fishermen who died at sea. Richard said a second one will be erected in memory of all fishermen who have died.
Weather conditions temporarily stalled the tree-building, but the traps finally got piled Saturday morning with about 30 helpers in attendance. Stringing of the lights was delayed until Saturday evening because of the wind. The boughs and the buoys were added Sunday.
Richard estimates about 50 people were involved in the project.
Since the lighting ceremony, many people have added a picture of the lit display as their profile picture on social media and many have commended the community for its tribute.