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Fish Friday: St. Albertans observe Lent

It has its genesis in religion, tradition and a sense of togetherness

At Gaudet’s Seafood on Hebert Rd., owner Shirley Gaudet notes that during the Christian celebration of Lent, fish resting in her display case are quickly purchased. 

Raised in Prince Edward Island, Gaudet is the daughter of lobster fishermen and is proud of introducing her maritime knowledge to Alberta. She is also appreciative of her Catholic roots and the two nuns in her family.  

“I eat fish three times a week and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during Lent. When I was growing up, I never ate anything but fish on Fridays,” said Gaudet, whose first-hand knowledge of the latest catch has kept her in business for 20 years. 

“I have a lot of Catholic families shopping in my store. Lent is a busy time for me. There are a lot people from the East Coast living here. They come from Drayton Valley, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray to shop here. They come in and tell me we’re the last stop before they go home,” Gaudet said. 

The majority of her shop’s products are shipped from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Although fish sales spike during Lent, there is no clear favourite among the 75 fresh and frozen varieties. Gaudet’s offers everything from cod, haddock, salmon, trout, sushi tuna and lobster to mussels, oysters, crab, calamari and squid. 

The assortment is the main reason northeast Edmonton resident Luke Jansen stops by. Although not a deeply religious Catholic, he takes advantage of Lent to slow simmer his favourite seafood dishes. 

“I’m planning on cooking up Louisiana gumbo. I travelled to New Orleans a couple years ago and couldn’t get enough of the food, so I brought back a cookbook,” said Jansen. 

Lent is a 40-day religious observance in the Christian calendar between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday. The 40-day season was modeled after Jesus Christ’s 40-day fast in the desert. It is a time when Catholics and some Protestant churches reflect on and honour Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. 

About 1,400 years ago, Pope St. Gregory The Great made a decree stating Catholics would abstain from meat and all things that come from “flesh” such as milk, butter and eggs. Fasting usually meant eating one meal a day. 

Fish, however, received the thumbs up. Meat was deemed a luxury, and eating fish was considered a sacrifice. By the 20th century, most families ate seafood mainly on Fridays during Lent, the day Christ died on the cross. In 2021, Lent runs Wednesday, Feb. 17, to Thursday, April 1. 

Despite Alberta’s beef country reputation, Gaudet notes fish meals have made huge inroads in people’s diet. 

“People are choosing to eat healthier. They’re eating more at home since COVID started. Some of my customers came in and bought fish during the pandemic for the first time. Now they like it and feel the need to eat more,” she said. 

Jeannie-Lynn MacDonald, a busy professional with little time to cook, has transitioned from eating fish on Fridays for religious reasons to dining on protein-rich aquatic foods after discovering sushi about five years ago. 

“Living through the pandemic and all its variants, it’s difficult to meet up for large gatherings. But at this time, I like to support local restaurants. The Atlantic Kitchen makes a nice halibut steak and when I’m in the mood for something different, Cajun House’s seafood jambalaya is one of my favourites.” 

And here’s a fun fact. McDonald’s, known for its burgers and fries, sells about 300 million fish filet sandwiches in a year. The fast-food chain has stated that nearly 25 per cent of those sales occur during Lent.

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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