The fish hatchery in Baldwin Mills was begun in the spring of 1945 but to understand how it came to be built we must first look at the history of Alvah Patterson who was brought here to establish it. Alvah Patterson was born November 11, 1902 in Wakeham which is a part of the town of Gaspe. He grew up around fishermen, boat builders and lumber jacks and learned many skills from the local people. Gaspe was an impoverished area where to survive you had to work at any available job. Alvah was the oldest of 8 children and his father died when he was 17 and so it was necessary for him to support his mother and siblings. He did many jobs such as a guide for salmon fishermen, logging, tour guide, working around the dock for fishing trawlers and eventually working at the provincial fish hatchery in Gaspe.
One day in 1934 a Mr. Lindsay from the Fisheries Department in Quebec City came to Gaspe looking for someone to build and maintain a small fish hatchery in Cascapedia and raise salmon to stock the fishing rivers; this seemed to be a joint venture between the Quebec Government and an American Fishing Organization. Mr. Lindsay wanted to hire someone from the hatchery and Alvah Patterson said he would take the job.
This was not an easy assignment because the location was several miles outside the village of Cascapedia in a hamlet called Jonathan. Alvah had to move his wife and 3 young children to the backwoods and live in one room attached to a building which contained the fishing troughs. The pay was minimal and to support his family it was necessary to have a cow for milk, butter and cheese and to hunt for meat. During the winter he was able to augment his salary by working as a logger at a salary of $25 a month. The job in Jonathan lasted from 1934 to 1944.
Alvah returned to Gaspe and the fish hatchery in 1944 and then in 1945 Mr. Lindsay appeared again seeking someone to move to the Eastern Townships and build a larger provincial fish hatchery. He approached Alvah and offered him the job because he had been so willing to move before. It wasn't an easy decision for Alvah because by this time he was 43 years old and had 6 children but he consented.
When he arrived in Baldwin Mills in 1945 he had his work cut out for him. The area where the hatchery was to be located was very swampy and was covered with brush. He hired some local men, Denis Valade, Sidney White, M. Tanguay, Clarence Lusty, Orin Haskell and Angus Patterson, to name a few, and started by draining the land and cutting brush. They built the ponds by using horses to pull boards in a circular pattern to dig out the earth. It was very labour intensive work and at the same time it was necessary to put up a small implement shed and a building to contain the fish troughs. The work at the hatchery included the spawning period, the raising of fish from the egg production to a size suitable for stocking local lakes and ponds.
The building of the hatchery was an economic boost for Baldwin Mills because it gave jobs to many local men and women in both the summer and winter. Besides the fish production, the hatchery became re-sponsible for plowing local roads, maintaining a town skating rink and keeping a small swimming park on Lake Lyster.
At first Alvah and his family lived in Coaticook but then in 1952 they moved into a new house that the government had built for them right on the site. For the area of Baldwin Mills it was considered a very prosperous looking bouse and very comfortable for the family of 7 children. (Part of this house today in used at the skating rink In Baldwin Mills). During his 20 years at the hatchery Alvah acted as foreman and helped direct the building of many more ponds, several new buildings and the creation of a small zoo.
The place was opened to all and on a Sunday there would be several hundred people who would come to picnic, spend the day and see the fish and animals. There was a small zoo which contained bears, deer, many types of birds, racoons and of great interest to people was a monkey called Jimmy. It was a great outing for a family and even today there are many people who remember their time at the hatchery with fondness.
The director of the hatchery during this time was Louis Roch Séguin and lie and Alvah had a great working relationship. M. Séguin had the diplomatic skills to work with the Duplessis government and Alvah dealt with the workers and the day to day running of the hatchery. He was known to be a very dedicated worker and rarely took a day off because lie was always concerned about a pump breaking or the electricity shutting off. For a man with very little formal training Alvah knew more about the Gare of fish than most biologists who would come on the scene. There were many times that private organizations tried to lure him away to establish other hatcheries but he chose to stay where he enjoyed the workers and location.
In 1964 Alvah Patterson left the hatchery and went to work for the Department of Fish and Game as an inspector of lakes, rivers and wildlife. He retired in 1970 at the age of 68 but continued his love of running fish hatcheries by building 2 private ones for his sons and supplying fish to local organizations and private businesses. After leading a very full life, Alvah Patterson passed away March 31, 1987 in Sherbrooke, Quebec and was buried in Mount Forest Cemetery in Coaticook. Alvah Patterson was a man of many talents and had an expertise with fish and wildlife; it would be interesting to know what lie would think of the many changes in wildlife management that have been implemented.
By Greta Patterson Nish