When the Whales Came Ashore

When you grow up in a small village you realize that there aren’t too many big happenings.  Howard Snow could think of only 3 big happenings during his entire childhood and people would have missed two of them if they had been away for the day.  In fact, Howard missed one of the big happenings - the sinking of the Nelson B. - just by going to town for the evening.  But the sinking of that ship is a story for another day.

So, the second big happening was the time the Wally Byam Airstream trailers came to town.  Well, the trailers didn’t exactly come to Port Maitland.  No, they were headed for a big get-together in Yarmouth and Bob Brooks was going to photograph them from a plane.  The trailer owners were supposed to park their trailers, all lined up nicely so the picture would look good.  Well trailer parking being what it is, soon there was a massive silver trailer backup on Highway # 1, from Darlings Lake clear through Port Maitland and up the line.

You might remember that Howard Snow’s mother was always thinking of ways to keep him busy and many of those activities involved little ways he could make money.  As it happened Marjorie Snow was making cookies on the day the silver trailers blocked the highway through the village.  She quickly realized that all those stuck-on-Highway #1 people might like a little snack.  So she gave Howard her cookies and he went up to the road with their dog Trusty.  Howard went from trailer to trailer selling cookies and visiting with the trailer owners and Trusty performed his little trick of shaking hands for some of them, in return for a small bite of cookie.

But the big happening we will tell you about - and what Howard says was the only proper big event in Port Maitland during his childhood - is the time the whales came ashore.  August 1, 1960 about sixty pothead whales (the real name is pilot, the pothead is just a nickname because of their fat heads) landed on Port Maitland beach.  Now these are very big whales, with the largest weighing maybe three tonnes.  Very, very big.  So picture around sixty of them on one regular size beach.  That was quite a sight and people came from all over to see it.  The people who do the counting for these kind of things said that twenty thousand people came to Port Maitland to see the whales.  Now almost everyone in Port Maitland will tell you that nothing before nor since, in all the history of Port Maitland, has ever caused twenty thousand people to come here. Since most of the time maybe five hundred people live in Port Maitland never, never could you imagine that forty times that number of people would drop by for a visit.

George Snow was coming back from fishing at the Lurcher the morning after the whales came ashore.  Ten miles off shore, about four miles outside Trinity Ledge, he came across another group of pothead whales jumping and diving in the water.  This was the one and only time he had ever seen such a sight in all his years on the water.

Howard and Rod Snow on whale 1960

At first people worried about the whales.  Some of the young men like Bryan and Jack Smith got right in the water and tried to get the whales to start swimming out to sea.  But nothing worked.  The next day, to put the whales who were slowly dying on the beach out of their misery, one of the men - George Snow thinks it was Fred Delaney - got his rifle and shot the whales.

Harry Thurston was a kid from Yarmouth who, like Howard, was about ten years old when the whales came ashore.  Now Harry Thurston was not like other ten year olds.  No, Harry Thurston grew up and studied biology and became a writer and even at ten years old he thought deep thoughts.  This is what Harry Thurston wrote in January 1995 in Canadian Geographic about the whales.

I well remember my mingled sense of loss and helplessness when 58 pilot whales fatally stranded at Port Maitland beach, near my childhood home of Yarmouth, N.S., in 1960.  I walked among the black corpses, bloodied by their own vain thrashings and the callous carvings of souvenir hunters.  Like so many coastal people before me, I asked myself: “Why had these magnificent marine mammals come ashore?”  And especially, “Why in such numbers?”

Now Howard thought more of the regular-little-kid-type thoughts.  He felt bad about all the whales dying, but not so bad that he wasn’t delighted that twenty thousand people came to Port Maitland.  He doesn’t remember anyone trying to get whale bones. Heck, like most people, he only got close enough to get his picture taken with his brother on the whale and then he stood back in case those whales had some disease that had made them sick. 

Charlotte Delaney was another little kid who remembers the whales.  She recalls the cars parked along both sides of the road from the shore most of the way up the hill and the steady stream of traffic.  But she was horrified at the sight of the whales’ dead bodies on the beach.  She carried on so much about it that her parents wouldn’t let her go back a second time.

Finally a grave was dug near the beach and the whales were buried.

So, while there were big happenings in Port Maitland from time to time, more than anything else those big things made the people realize that it wasn’t so bad to live in a small, quiet village.

Christmas 2011
by Howard and Madeleine with thanks to Charlotte Delaney Covert, Susan Snow Moores and George Snow


  1. Very nice stories! Those kids on the whale are very handsome young men!

  2. Any idea what caused the whales to come ashore?

  3. I was told that the male came ashore to die and the females and the rest followed him....I remember me and my Dad Vernon Sollows went up to Port Maitland Cementery to pick black berries as my parents did not want me to watch when they had to destroy the whales

  4. I have some additional pictures if you would like them certainly call me Mike Randall

  5. My family was there that day and took many pictures. When my parents passed away I got most of the pictures and negatives from their collection over the years but no one seems to have either from that day. I wish I could find some photos of us in them. I was about 10 and remember sitting on a whale. My parents and all 6 of us kids were there.
    Connie Adams Marion

  6. Supposedly my uncle Conroy met my aunt Sylvia there that day for the first time