Southwestern Newfoundland Weekend. Part 2: The Outport of La Poile

La Poile, Newfoundland (Map)

Summer 2011.


The Geographer's Curse struck again.

I knew nothing of La Poile & could hardly find a La Poile picture on the internet, but there was a 90-minute ferry that went to this community of 100...and that was good enough for me.

A named feature on a map. A place I hadn't been. That'll do.

Of course the social anxiety kicked in & I wondered why I was doing this. I love to see these new places, but I also envision an arrival, with every resident on the wharf eyeing this strange, foreign weirdo.

Therefore I was quiet and salty at the beginning of the ferry crossing. As we passed the Rose Blanche Lighthouse, one of the deck hands came out and sat beside me. He had been working on Rose Blanche-La Poile crossing for a couple of weeks and hadn't seen he reasoned that I couldn't have been from La Poile.

When he asked why I was going to La Poile, I replied, "well, because it's there."

"That it is. It is definitely there," he replied satisfied with my answer. "Well, you can hang out with the Scottish guy who's been in La Poile for a few days."

The deck hand went away & I pictured this Scottish guy. In my mind, they're a hearty bunch & I pictured one who came to La Poile decked out in Goretex gear to explore the back country (it would then seem I'd have more in common with the deck hand).

(I also pictured this Scottish guy as Davis Love III for some reason (obviously unaware that DL3 is American...))

Of course the arrival was nothing like the fantasy I was dreaming up. No one seemed to care about the stranger & everyone went about their business.

The Scot was at the dock photographing the day's activities, and all-at-once, my golf-playing, backpacking, Scottish premonition was thoroughly squashed.

Johan seemed alright & we hit it off from the start. He spent a few more minutes capturing the day's highlight of the ferry arrival, before letting me know that he could show me to the spot where he had set up camp.

La Poile doesn't have motels or B&Bs, so I came prepared. I picked up my hockey bag of supplies and followed Johan along the concrete paths towards the elementary school.

(The only open general store in La Poile is in the above picture. The post office is also located in the front of this building.)

Behind the school, Johan's encampment came into view & he had set up a fine resting place.

Now one of the things I hate about this province is that I find I'm quite different from a lot of people. There have been countless times where I start to feel comfortable, only to open up, then receive awkward silence and strange looks towards my (clearly?) oddball self. On the other hand, this is where I knew I would like Johan. Instead of holding some sort of unnecessary distrust/skepticism, he realized that neither of us were homosexuals and that we could share a tent like two grown-ups. It simply came down to having his own spacious tent & there being no need to set up another (tent).

And so it was settled. I unrolled my sleeping bag & I had my accommodations for the night.

My luck in coming to La Poile at this time became even more clear.

I initially planned on coming to La Poile, walking around taking pictures for a couple hours, then retiring to my tent to wait for the ferry crossing in the morning. Now with Johan in tow, or actually, with Navi in tow; those plans had changed. The ferry captain had asked Johan if he wanted to come over for dinner and a few drinks. The fact that Johan was working for The Globe & Mail documenting a story, meant that I'd collaterally get to know La Poile better than I ever imagined.

This night spent at the ship captain's house was great. The crab dip was incredible and the moose stew wasn't anything to shake a stick at either. We sipped Rum & Golden Wedding into the wee hours, while cracking up at the comedy routine put on my the ship captain's friend (he was one of those people who incredibly can remember 75 jokes to consistently tell for hours on end).

The only problem was that I was having trouble understanding the ship captain (especially after a few of those Golden Weddings). He was a really nice fellow, but it took all of my concentration to try & discern what was being said (and sometime it still wasn't enough). I'm sure he's dealt with mainlanders before though.

We left the ship captain's house & shot some long exposure pictures near the town's cannons; before calling it a night.

I was having a great time in La Poile, so I decided to stay another day.

(Someone still came to my tent at 10am to make sure I wasn't sleeping in (because I had mentioned my previous plan of leaving the next day). Friendly folk in La Poile.)

Today was a much more sunny day.

I sometimes feel bad for putting out pictures of these rarely-visited places in crumby weather, so after having such good experiences so far, I was happy that I could take more pleasant pictures.

I even ended up with stereotypical Newfoundland pictures which I don't normally take. This was because Johan was walking around and chatting it up, while trying to capture Newfoundland outport life.

I loved hearing about these people's lives, habits and customs though. It was great that Johan had a legitimate excuse to ask about these things. I also didn't mind that his Scottish accent kept most of the returning questions towards him, while I was a fly on the wall.

When I made up my mind to stay in La Poile, I also wondered about how bored I would get during an entire day spent within such a small, isolated community.

The day flew by though. We went down to the wharf where Johan could get an internet connection to stay in touch with Toronto...

The 'Public Washroom' was down there, but it was simply a room with a hole in the floor - so I'm still unsure if it was a bit of Newfie humour or what...

We also walked past the town cemetery and the town incinerator, up to the highlands behind the community. Johan complained about being out of breath, a product of discovering chicken wings after coming to Canada from Scotland.

In the above picture, you can also see a single home on the other side of the bay. Apparently La Poile used to be on that side, until residents started building on the current side. Once they built a few homes on the current side, they discovered that it was a superior place for a community. So slowly but surely, people moved from one side of the bay to the other, until there was just a single home left on the other side.

It was a fantastic abandoned home on the other side too. Johan & I went down to the docks in hope of catching a ride over to photograph, but suddenly the town went quiet right when we needed someone to leave in their boat.

We took an afternoon break in the town church. Johan had been spending his afternoons in here reading, since not much happens in midday La Poile & the church made a nice place to relax in privacy.

A lunch of pasta was made with the help of Johan's camp stove. I realized he was living more cushy here, than I do when I car camp.

Unfortunately the pasta lunch was vegetarian, as the chicken clearly crossed the road to get away from the two hungry mainlanders.

I'm not really sure Johan wanted to eat his alarm clock either.

There were also young adults in the town. Although there aren't many opportunities for them in La Poile, they do come home from work/school in the summer.

They didn't seem welcoming as we passed their house, but I guess Johan struck up some conversation and we were going to their 'shed' for a party tonight.

So off we went to the one general store & had our choice of Coors Light or Molson Canadian - Canadian it is.

At the house, we sat out on the back bridge (deck) for a while before moving inside for drinking games. Johan was amused with himself by telling one of the guys that I work for Wildlife & that I was in La Poile trying to catch poachers - which took me about an hour of work, to convince the La Poileons that I wasn't in their town to catch poachers.

Sitting at the table, the one fellow worked on the Great Lakes, so we had something to talk about. Especially as he told me he was almost robbed in Toledo! When he started out the story by telling me that the boat landed after midnight and that he went for a walk in North Toledo, I knew this wasn't good - but apparently he simply ran away from the would-be thief.

I don't remember much past when I ran out of beer & switched to vodka. I wasn't embarrassingly smashed, but I also wasn't a 2 or 3 on the drunk scale either.

Next thing, I woke up & hurriedly packed. Our ferry was leaving shortly.

The last action item was to peer out at Ireland Island as we left La Poile. There used to be a lighthouse on this island, and I've seen a picture of it abandoned in a book, but I had no clue if it was still standing.

Apparently it is not. What you see above is one of those modern daymark towers.

I had asked someone in La Poile about it & he said they burned it down about 15 or 20 years ago.

The total number goes down to 79.

Once connected back to the road network, I gave Johan a lift to the hotel in Port-aux-Basques, before continuing on my way to Corner Brook.

Onto Part 3.


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Newfoundland Weekend, Part 3