The $1.7 million sale of the Jackson Fisheries property, at 170-172 Main Street, Port Stanley, may be the final chapter in the endearing story of three generations of Lake Erie fishermen. The real estate transaction – probably the most expensive on local record – may also serve as a primer for future development on the village’s beloved berm.
“I can’t confirm the buyer at this time but will say the investor-owner brings a lot to the table in his plans for this Elgin County harbourfront property,” said Martha Earley, a broker at The Realty Firm Inc., which has offices in London and Woodstock. The Jackson’s fish market closed for business in April 2018 and the property has sat vacant since then.
“I feel he (the new owner) is a great fit for the harbourfront community,” added Earley, the listing agent. “He has completed a lot of projects in the London-St. Thomas area. He is easy to work with and looking forward to this being another piece of his portfolio.”
Earley said it is premature to consider the investor’s plans for the property. However, the timing of the deal comes on the heels of a contentious public meeting on the heritage conservation district plan for Port Stanley. It may also provide fodder for imminent public consultations on Central Elgin’s official plan, as well as the Port Stanley harbour secondary plan.
“No applications have been received,” said Kevin McClure, a planner, in the Central Elgin Planning and Building Services Department. “I am not aware of who the new owner is and have not had any discussions with them about any potential proposals.”
The old Jackson’s building is zoned for commercial fishing uses and the property to the south is zoned for industrial-commercial uses.
“Staff will be reporting on the official plan and harbour secondary plan reviews at an upcoming meeting of Council,” added McClure. “As part of that report, there will be recommendations for public consultation.”
Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn said that the Jackson’s fish market was one of the three prospective development proposals she referred to during the recent public meeting on the heritage conservation district plan for Port Stanley. “Jackson’s was one of the three,” she said. “At present, our official plan limits (the new owner) to three (storeys), but as you saw with Prespa (on William Street, where two five-storey condominium buildings are planned), the Province can overrule us.”
One of the largest individual property owners in the region, David Russell, confirmed that he has not bought Jackson’s fish market.
“People with vision investing in our village is a positive thing,” said Russell, a Port Stanley resident and proprietor at the London rental agency The Apartment Shoppe. “I’m really surprised by the sale for that dollar amount on a site that has lots of difficulties. It will be very interesting to see if they close (the transaction) and if they do, what they will do with the site … I wish them all the success.”
The Jackson’s property has an interesting backstory, according to accounts in the book A Fisherman’s Town: Port Stanley, by Nancy and Frank Prothero, published in 2012 by Nan-Sea Publications, of Port Stanley.
Back in the 1930s, brothers Roy and George Jackson started fishing with two wooden skiffs out of Nanticoke. George Gamble, of Port Dover, eventually built them a small steel tug that was launched in 1937, during the Great Depression, and named Noskca J. (Jackson spelled backwards). Gamble later built them a full-sized tug – named The Long Time, as there was a delay during construction – and the smaller tug was sold.
The Jackson’s fleet was gradually bolstered with other builds and acquisitions, including the Jackson Brothers, as well as the Exceleau, the G&A, the Donna Gay II, H.A. Smith, the Naomi, Capt. J and the KarLou. The Jacksons also expanded the business into Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.
Over time, George’s two sons, Larry and Ed, started fishing with their cousin Bill. However, the partnership dissolved, with Ed and Bill remaining on Lake Huron, and Larry returning to Lake Erie. Larry literally picked up and moved his fishery from Port Dover to Port Stanley in 1975.
“The original twine shanty used by his father and uncle in Nanticoke was built in 1947 and was two and a half stories tall,” according to A Fisherman’s Town. “Larry loaded it onto a barge and towed it to Port Stanley where it was lifted on to property Larry had purchased at the south end of Main Street. Later, the building was moved across the street and became the top two floors of a three-storey structure … ”.
Larry launched a fish processing facility there in 1976 and continued fishing with the G.W. Jackson, a tug commissioned by George in 1963. Larry constructed a cement-block processing plant on the east bank of Kettle Creek. It included a retail outlet, office space, freezer room and net shanty. Bonnie filleted fish and managed the books, among many other tasks.
In 1979, the Jacksons bought a company called Wilson and Loder, and for a period, owned two processing plants, until the site of the new acquisition was redeveloped for use as a large restaurant, Jackson’s Wharf, designed by Hal Sorrenti and built by Bill Cook. With his trusted partner John Cook, Larry continued to expand his fishing capacity, commissioning Kanter Yachts to build another tug, the L.R. Jackson, in 1982.
Joe Jackson kept up the family business – which supplied many local restaurants and retail outlets – until 2018. He sold some of the family’s fish quota and gear to the Weavers. Derek Weaver said his family’s fishery also bought the G.W. Jackson, renaming it G&A Weaver.
Modest by nature, Joe politely declined an interview for this story.