Woods Island

Summer 2009.


"Governors Island? Huh? Look at it...it is flat, marshy, uninteresting and has no changes in elevation!"

When my friend suggested visiting an island to camp for the night, I was unbelievably excited. Islands have always been an obsession of mine; but without canoe, kayak or social skills, I haven't visited very many.

Despite my obsession with islands, I wasn't going to simply settle on boring Governors Island. I suggested that we visited Woods Island instead; as Woods Island was bigger, had more geographic features, has more elevation changes and even had a community there until 1962.

Woods Island was clearly, a far superior choice.

Supplemented by topographic maps of the two islands, I won my argument and we changed our destination island to Woods. The only problem was that you can call the B&B in Lark Harbour and have them bring you to Governors Island; but there's no organized transportation to Woods Island. We decided that we would all go to the wharf in Frenchman's Cove and ask if anyone could bring us over...and if all else failed, we could always fall back on Governors Island.

Normally not one to be very forward in social situations, I was pretty determined to get on Woods Island on this day. No difficult socializing was needed though; as we walked up to the wharf in Frenchman's Cove, I heard someone yelling my name. Baffled, I turned around wondering who (of the 10 people I know in NL) was yelling my name.

It ended up being this awesome woman we work with...and she was just about to go for a cruise around the bay with her husband and son.

Their boat sat 3 comfortably, and it looked like our 4 extras would make it overly intimate; but we asked if we could catch a ride to the nearby Woods anyway. Her husband was a bit worried about the waves, but nonetheless, we were into the boat and bearing towards Woods Island.

Still uncomfortable with the ocean, I tightly clutched the small craft in fear. It was an interesting mix of terror and excitement as I could see us crossing the harbour and moving towards our island.

Onto the beach of the southwest side of the island, her husband got us close enough where we didn't even have to get our feet wet. We moved our sleeping bags and tents from the boat to the island and thanked our friends for the favour.

Her husband pushed with his oar and the boat was back into the bay and gone quickly from sight. The four of us stood wondering how we would get home tomorrow...but that was a later concern.

We ate granola and drank water before setting out to explore and discover where we would make camp for the night.

A girl, who couldn't be more than 10, passed us on a 4-wheeler and looked at us in confusion. I grew worried that no outsiders ever came here and that we'd get vibed by the locals.

We only hiked for about 45 minutes before realizing that the island was a lot bigger than previously thought. We concluded that the area where we started would make the best campsite as the winds had grown more apparent during our hike east.

We decided to take a short walk past our boat site and to the northwest. Five minutes into that walk, we were passing through an area with a few houses (see above) and some people were outside drinking. My friend decided to go over and ask where they would recommend camping for the night.

A woman and two men, all somewhere in their 50s, were more than helpful and directed us towards an area some 300m from their house. The area was at the bottom of a small hill, with sparse vegetation and right next to the beach.

One of the men was not just half in the bag, but fully in it...although I can't complain as I was amused by his drunkenness. My one friend who came with us; was what you'd call a strong female - one you really wouldn't want to tangle with...well anyway, the full in the bag guy kept slurring through his words - which I didn't understand a single one - until he would reach the end and conclude with, "ya hear that you old witch! ahahahahaha!" The guy was quite harmless, but it was just funny to watch my friend grow frustrated with being called an old witch.

Anyway, after a bit more talking, and my two friends (who were girls) and myself being compared to Three's Company (which went completely over my head); the fellow who wasn't indulging in the bottle, offered to give us a ride down to the beach on his four wheeler and wouldn't take no for an answer.

After setting up the tents and a surprisingly warm dip in the Bay of Islands, it was time for dinner!

I had packed almonds and fibre bars for myself, but my friend pulled out a stove, some kerosene, sausages and cous cous!

Impressed with the forthcoming dinner, I quickly concluded to accompany her on any future planned excursions.

Anyway, I'd never had cous cous before, aaaaaaand it was tremendous! Another funny thing was when I asked where the buns were for the sausages..."buns? What do you need buns for? Sorry...plain sausage!"

I'm still amused whenever Newfoundland women exhibit that they're far more rugged than my mainland self.

Our full in the bag friend came over for a bit during dinner and tried to brew up some bromance with me by talking about putting women in their place. Thankfully he didn't stay too long, as I grow very irritable when I'm hungry and just want to be left alone with my food.

The funny thing was where he left off to...he went in a boat, back to the Island of Newfoundland so that he could get some tires for us!

Tires you ask? Well yeah, he had some foreign guests, so it was apparent that we should be treated to a sweet tire fire! Equally amusing was how disgusted my friends were, when they wanted to cook and eat dinner, while the full in the bag guy dropped off tires from his 4 wheeler trailer nearby.

I've seen buildings on fire from tires in Detroit, but I don't think I've actually seen a tire fire on its own.

The amount of smoke and fire was actually quite impressive for only 12 tires. I can't imagine what a full on, tire yard fire would be like.

Anyway, I guess I can cross tire fire off the bucket list now. I'm not actually insulting the guy, I was more so just amused at taking a boat to a random island and having the locals start a tire fire for us.

Once the tire fire was done, our Woods Island friends went back up to their house while my two friends & I sat on the beach and drank our wine, Kronenbourgs & Keiths Amber.

After we finished up all of our drinks, we decided to go for a walk and see what the nearby commotion was about.

What we found was a group of 8 or 10 late 30s/40s or early 50s people having a little bonfire and sucking back some brews. This was a whole new ground that had docked here from their boat and some were quite in the bag.

I guess I shouldn't throw stones from my glass house though, as I was full in the bag by this point. After a while, the new group ran out of beer and we caught a ride back to our camp on our original friend's 4 wheeler. We had a beer at his house and my friend had enough and wanted to go to bed...she told me to stay and drink with the guy, but I had enough and decided against staying and drinking and probably ending up on some random Woods Island couch.

(I actually regret that...when I looked at the couch the next day, I imagined the hilarity of waking up there randomly...)

Those celebrations led long into the night and I sure felt it the next day. I was telling my friend about all of my aspirations to get up early and explore the island, but when I woke up at sunrise to use the facilities, I was still extremely stumbly and completely needed more sleep.

Once we finally awoke, we were offered breakfast, but turned it down because my cous cous & sausage friend had brought toutons as well! Toutons are a Newfoundland thing involving some very simple ingredients: fried dough & molasses...

...and oh boy were they glorious! I didn't care much for cod tongues or pork fat cubes...but the Newfoundlanders got it right with these toutons! Mmmmm!

(Another good story is during my first morning in Corner Brook, I looked down at a menu and asked what were 'Two-Tawns'...to which the guy laughed and said "it's towtins" )

It was already well into the day, but I still wanted to go for a walk and explore. My one friend stayed behind, while the other came along with her dog...her dog which was quite interested with the drying cod you see above.

We walked and walked through forests and marshes; more than halfway across the island, when we came into a clearing and saw the above vehicle from a distance.

My friend thought it was neat and moved along, while I fell in love and wanted to spend the next 5 hours taking close up pictures.

My friend waited a bit, but then started moving and I had to run to catch up.

The second collection of houses we found was located near the east end of the island. Above, you can see the narrows which you would pass through into the ocean - all of the water on my side of the narrows in this picture is protected harbour water: it only opens up for a small section at the south (above).

There were actually about 15-20 houses around this superior location - and somehow I didn't get any of them in my picture.

Walking along, the dog in our party ran up to two men working outside and we got to talking. I asked them about the former community here of several hundred people (Innismara). They informed me that nothing was left except for the two old cemeteries...the province had closed the school and the church, forcing people to travel away for schooling and religion...which obviously erodes the foundation of a community until they can abandon it (which officially occurred in 1962). The one man who wasn't preoccupied with getting back to work informed us that everyone on the island just comes over on the weekends or in the summer; and that only one person stays all winter - and that they all sort of fear him in his hermit ways.

He asked where we were from and my friend answered first. Stating a town on the east coast of Newfoundland, they began to talk about said community and you could tell they were relating a bit...then I had to say that I was from Ontario...which is always met with less enthusiasm than Newfoundland. The standard why am I in Newfoundland and so what do I think of Newfoundland were discussed, before he told me about his daughter who lives in Kingston and his son in Fort McMurray. He himself had lived in Ontario for 18 years, but could now supplement his income enough in Newfoundland.

I asked him for directions to the cemetery, and then began to discuss the car we had seen.

"Oh, yeah, I guess that's left over too. There were only 3 cars ever brought to the island; that is one of them."

I love talking to locals and finding out things like that...it made the car all that much more interesting.

After the harbour, there's a thin strip of land and then the bay (and end of the island).

There was a fantastic place composed of short grass, cool breeze and a great view. My friend and I sat there for a second, but I wanted to wander north to see if I could find anything towards where the old town site used to be (northeast corner of the island).

I ended up getting to a point where I could see that there didn't look like much and it was also getting late...I figured I should return to my friend as I had already been gone for 20 minutes.

The view from the end of the path was worth the effort anyway.

The foreground island is Sleep Island and the background island is Guernsey, or as the locals call it, Weeball.

The Woods Island Harbour local told us that we must have walked right past the Anglican Cemetery. He said there wasn't much left besides a couple headstones though, so he could understand how we missed it.

The problem was that he described it as just past that thicket of alders. My friend was pretty sure she knew what an alder was, so I entrusted her and we took to keeping our eyes open.

That first shot paints a false picture in that you believe the stones were that visible. I actually only spotted one, and then took that picture about 30 feet off the path, as the stones were all highly grown over.

Looking around, we found 4 or 5 markers in a brief search...both amazed at the deterioration of the site.

Googling "Ella Tucker", I found this site, which shows that there should be a total of 13 stones there.

The other cemetery on the island, the Roman Catholic one, is located in the woods and off the (figuratively & literally) beaten path. We had walked past it and came upon some ladies working on a barn, when I asked where it was. They let me know that I needed to turn back at the oil drum and that it could be a little wet, as the path pushes through some low lying marshland.

My friend had enough walking for today, so she left to go back to the campsite. I hurried a bit as I knew it was getting late and I had to get my camp packed up still.

About 10 minutes into the path, you re-enter forest and there's suddenly a chain link fence protecting a graveyard.

It was definitely strange. A deafening silence and not another soul for kilometres...a collection of tombs placed in a haphazard fashion out in the woods.

I still wonder if this was more developed back in the time of Innismara...but it is located in the central portion of the island, as it sits a good 2 km (1.25mi) from where the town site was.

The mysteries, mysteries.

I didn't spend much time in the cemetery as the sunny sky, in combination with the patchy tree cover, made it a nightmare to shoot pictures.

Hustling back to the campsite, I found everything gone - the tents, the dog & the girls. What in the Sam Hell?!?

I asked some guy nearby and he said that they had went back to the island (of Newfoundland). Did my lollygagging leave me deserted on this island?

Thankfully, one of the Woods Islanders I knew, came over and explained that they would come back for me. I was confused, but it was what it was.

Sure enough, the boat returned and I thankfully got back to the Island (of Newfoundland). I hadn't realized or even though about what time it was and I apologized about 15 times to the locals for my delay. My one friend was also angry at me and I still feel like shit about the whole situation.

My dopey self just doesn't think sometimes.

A sour note leaves me with a bitter taste about the weekend. I'd really like to do this again and replace island searching memories with better island searching memories.

Maybe in 2010...


1 - Newfoundland & Labrador Abandoned Community Index - Bay of Islands

2 - Lost Cemeteries - West Coast Newfoundland District


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