There are two great loves in Norm Ostrom’s life: his boat and his wife.
“A boat is like a marriage,” Ostrom said, “you have to work on it.”
It’s a phrase he’s fond of saying, and he often jokes that he has two wives. He bought the vessel in 1958 from its original owners and married Margaret a year later. After they wed, Norm asked Margaret which came first.
“She said the boat, and I knew I had to keep her,” Ostrom said with a laugh.
As he boards Arne A. at the Rushbrook Marina, Ostrom said, “It’s like stepping into history … I almost feel like the boat should be put in a museum. You don’t see a boat this old, in that good shape.”
So it’s no surprise that Ostrom and Arne A. were featured in the Royal Museum of BC’s “Living Landscapes” project a decade ago — and more recently in this month’s issue of Western Mariner in a profile by Tom Maxie, Ostrom’s grandson-in-law.
Ostrom was born in Bella Bella in 1934, the fourth of six children. He grew up on boats, and said he was always trying to catch fish, no matter what kind of boat he was in. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. The first time he was aboard a salmon troller he fell ill.
“I was seven years old and I went out with my dad. I did get seasick. Oh boy, I’ll never forget that.”
His first job was as on a trapper, at 15 years old. “I always felt that helped me, being in the middle of nowhere. You had to be careful because if something happened you’d be in deep trouble and nobody was around.”
He went on to fish almost nine months of the year, much of it alone. He moved to Prince Rupert in 1952, and kept fishing commercially until he was 82 years old. After 58 years working on Arne A., Ostrom retired in 2016 — accident-free. He credits that to the many first aid and safety courses he took over the years.
“Anything that came along, I took it. That really helped me out, going to all these courses and learning,” he said.
Of course, there’s also his favourite Cetol oil that he used to protect the boat’s wood. He holds up a block of wood with holes coursing through it to show what the damage from sea worms looks like. He preserved that piece to remind himself of what can happen when you don’t take care of things properly, and because he thought it looked like art.
“I’m proud of it because the boat, as far as I’m concerned, it’s in just as good shape as when I bought it.”
Back on dry land, Ostrom still spends his time working on projects for the boat, although Margaret won’t let him paint anything in the house anymore. Instead, he has a shed out back and a section of their basement is dedicated to a stash of fishing supplies, much of which is hard to come by these days. Many of his friends are envious of the gear he has on hand.
“I always bought extra, just in case,” Ostrom said. He grew up during the Second World War, when many things weren’t easy to get, he explained. He always keeps what he thinks he’ll need on hand.
In another corner of the basement, one of the family’s three cats, a Siamese kitten also named Arne, circles a pair of crock pots. Ostrom is getting ready for the holiday season by pickling salmon — a 10-day process. Two days ago, he and Margaret cut up the three fish he caught and salted last summer.
“They’re really good on crackers,” he said with a smile.
Although he doesn’t fish for profit anymore, he still fishes for food. Margaret, he said, is a phenomenal cook, no matter what kind of fish he brings home.
Ostrom always makes sure to give some fish to the “old men on the float,” as he calls them. Maybe someday, when he’s too old to catch his own fish, someone will return the favour, he said.
A radio in the kitchen receives the calls he gets on the boat, for the rare occasion that Ostrom’s not already there. He’ll listen to the weather and conditions, even if he’s not planning on going out on the water that day.
One of his favourite things about living in Prince Rupert, he said, is that the marina is never far away.