A Story by Charlie Dennis

Tribute to Frankie Francis–Friend & Cousin

oyster-garden-10bIn our Fall issue, Charlie Dennis described Frankie’s many business ventures that varied according to season. In late fall, Frankie would fish for eels in the Lakes’ mudflats, drawing from the knowledge he had picked up from the Elders.

After fishing for eels, and before the ice came, Frankie would grab his power saw and cut up wood for local contractors, or whoever would buy these eight foot, or three and a half foot pieces, and also pit timber when the coal miners were active. Just before Christmas, he would go after trees suitable for US or local markets.

Selling Christmas trees in Sydney at various parking lots was where the money was, especially when the woods were full of snow. “Have I got a great deal for you!” was his motto, or, “I have been saving this special tree for you”. They always paid the same price, was one of his favourite comments and he’d always chuckle about it. When the ice froze over the Lakes, he would fish for eels through the ice at the same time he would fish for cod, smelts, etc.

If the snow was not too heavy during the winter, he would take his power saw and cut pulp wood or even fire wood. In the spring when the ice was gone, he would go after eels that were still in the mud flats. The water temperature is key when the eels venture out of the mud before they migrate. The eels stay in the Lakes until the temperature rises and then venture into deeper waters where they were not accessible.

Torching for eels during the night time was Frankie’s favourite time. He could and would torch all night long! During times of plenty, he would sort enough for personal use and then take care of the people who were waiting to pay for the delicious product.

Packing and freezing was another of Frankie’s tasks when people and special occasions called for it. Many different species were stored in his freezer; nothing went to waste, including moose meat, deer, etc.

When fishing for the summer was completed, picking blueberries in Maine was another source of income for Frankie, and when he got back from Maine, the local blueberries were ripe for picking. This would take up most of August. Before the oyster season began, there were tasks of preparation, fixing rakes, getting supplies, painting boats, taking care of outboard motor repairs, etc.

One of Frankie’s enjoyments was to attend traditional workshops and talking circles that the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources hosted. These were well attended by Elders from the five Mi’kmaq communities in Unama’ki. Frankie loved to hear stories and to kid around with everybody, and to boast about what he knew of traditional knowledge. Frankie knew all the fishing areas, hunting areas, and he knew his wood land. At times, I would run into him at the doctor’s office and you could write volumes and volumes of stories he had and all his explanations for various things.

Frankie would come over to my house and he would talk about natural resources, and he’d talk about the future for certain species, like the oysters and MSX. He would pick up information from Elders about certain parts of the Lakes that were nothing but oyster shells and no live oysters. He always talked about how interesting this was until he lost all his oysters on his lease in Crane Cove in Eskasoni.

Frankie was a walking encyclopaedia when it came to natural resources and will be missed by everyone, especially other Elders and his family. Frankie passed away July 4th, 2007.