|Bay d'Espoir Part 1: St Jacques Island.|
Eastern Bay d'Espoir Region - St. Jacques Island. (Map)
After driving for four hours after work, I could now relax while watching the moonrise at River Pond. I found myself back at Jipujijkuei Kuespem campground, a preferred landing spot whenever I'm going to central Newfoundland's Bay d'Epsoir.
It was finally warm enough to travel this island and sit comfortably outside at day's end. About 1 car sped by on the highway every couple of minutes; while the sound of nearby snipes was much more frequent.
The next day, little time was wasted in racing down the NL-362, then up the NL-363 to Belleoram. It was an utterly exquisite day and I had high hopes of finding a boat out of their harbour onwards to St. Jacques Island.
When I visited Belleoram last year, it was relatively early in the day and I still found a lot of empty Labatt's Blue bottles1with my newfound, south coast friend. During our initial meeting, he told me that it wouldn't be a problem to get out to St. Jacques Island - if only it wasn't for being half in the bag.
I held my hopes high in getting there early today.
In 2010, there was light rain and I still found Belleoram nice enough to warrant pictures. In 2012, the clouds had slight breaks so I took more photos. With the conditions today, I couldn't help but pass the blacksmith shop and head down to the shore for a few more shots of the picturesque community.
The number one goal of the weekend was on the line though, so soon enough it was back into the car. Pulling over in front of the walkway leading up to the church, I squeezed as far to the right as I could on account of the narrow streets. There weren't as many people out today. I lightly jogged across the street and stepped slowly on to the wobbly, wooden staircase which led down to the blacksmith shop. In addition to lighthouse visit promises, I myself had promised to send a picture print of my friend back to his address - and then I would lose said address and suddenly have to have it on me as I walked in today.
Whereas I only found one person at the blacksmith shop in 2012, today there was a handful of people, and soon enough there were more people than chairs. My friend was ecstatic with the picture I printed of him, as he passed me a beer and they tried to figure out why I was in Belleoram again. I explained my interest in the lighthouse and the conversation moved along to other topics almost immediately.
By the time I was passed my second beer, I finally brought it up again and was crestfallen to find out that my friend's boat hadn't been in the water this year. Conversation moved on. Thankfully by the third beer, discussion swerved back into lighthouses as my reasons for visiting Belleoram came up yet again - it was here that my Belleoram friend then volunteered one of his buddies to take me out. Kenny didn't seem all that enthusiastic about the whole thing, asking a litany of questions. I answered apologetically, while letting him know how much I appreciate anything and understand if he isn't up for the boat ride.
As a fourth beer appeared and I was encouraged to finish up my third, I was told that this boat ride arrangement should work. To beat any late morning winds, I was to be in Belleoram at 9 a.m., carrying a case of beer to settle up the favour.
Already a bit concerned with how many beers I was going to have passed my way, I was slightly happy to see the case run empty. This meant the blacksmith shop was immediately closed, and while everyone else went home for their own lunches, I had the windfall of being asked to come over for a lunch of lobsters harvested from nearby waters just a few days ago.
So here we were, walking through the streets of Belleoram with everyone knowing my friend, but a bit confused by my presence. We approached an older house directly next to the street - I later learned it to be the third oldest house in Belleoram - where we climbed a small set of steps and into a cramped entryway. I was greeted by my friend's parents, who were 76 and 78 years of age. Of course they joined the running list of Belleoram people wondering who the heck I was.
Their confusion was done away with in record time. They accepted my explanation, pulled out a seat for me, reveled over my printed picture and had tea/lobster coming right up.
As I had only once broke apart a lobster myself - and that was under the direct guidance of my friend MacQueen - I was now growing worried at my landlubber self attempting it in front of this crowd. Thankfully my friend's father read my hesitation and told me not to worry about it. A large cutting board was placed on the table, a whole lobster was slapped upon it, and then out came the cleaver. Thwack!
I was helped, "here, take that, hook that meat out you see there, that's good eating. Now break that part with your hands, or give it back to me, now there's some more meat right there." The lobster was dissected and consumed with incredible efficiency. I was offered another, but there was no room.
It was also damn good. Might've been better than the McLobster I had in Greenwood, Nova Scotia!
It was now time for my Belleoram friend's siesta as he went upstairs for a nap. I spent some more time with his parents talking about Belleoram history and looking at pictures as they made very enjoyable company.
With lobster and tea in me I felt clearer, but I was still slightly faded. Remembering a newly created Back Cove Trail I noticed on the approach to Belleoram earlier, I figured that this would be a good hike which might lead down to the beach on the south side of Belleoram. Whereas it's impossible to see St. Jacques Island from Belleoram proper, I had once caught a fleeting glimpse from the highway between Belleoram and St. Jacques. The thing was that I always assumed the area to be too hilly to get to any coves or peaks for a better view.
That's where the Back Cove Trail held promise.
For the relatively small change in elevation, there were a lot of staircases and angled walkways to the trail - a testament to the angle which the land dips away from the highway here. Once the staircases and the forest ended, a small coastal lagoon was crossed by a bridge leading over to the elevated beach.
Whereas I hung on to that fleeting glimpse from a small square of highway in 2010, I now had a picture perfect - although admittedly distant - view of St. Jacques Island.
It was close to what I had envisioned. Where the island has mediocre resolution on Google and pictures exist of the lighthouse by sea, my greatest vision of the island came from the 1887 Great Britain Hydrographic Department: "St. Jacques Island, consisting of two hummocks joined by a low neck, is situated 3 miles SW of Belleoram, and may be approached within a short distance all around."
I danced across the problematic rocks, towards the point of land you see in the above picture. Pausing for a breath and to watch a bald eagle fly away, I finally made it over there in my winded state. I took off my shoes and socks, wading into the water and boy was it cold.
I'm not entirely sure why I got in the water - maybe I was thinking about walking the short distance around the cape - but it was so cold, slippery and quickly descending that I returned to shore after a single picture which was 5 feet closer (a picture which I never ended up using).
Hiking back to the car, I had pre-approved myself for one expensive motel stay on this trip, so it was off to Harbour Breton (the Bruins were in the playoffs, I had to watch at least one of the two games).
The beautiful day continued as I reached the central finger of Bay d'Espoir's Connaigre Peninsula. Having never seen Harbour Breton in this light, there was no time like the present to finally drive to their Dead Man's Cove hiking and campground area.
As I sat amused with a black-backed gull trying to harass a bald eagle, I couldn't help but notice the beauty of this cove as well. Sure, I knew there were high cliffs, exposed rock and blue seas everywhere in this area, but the addition of red sandstone by the evening sun was outstanding.
Noticing a tombolo further up the beach, I couldn't resist exploring the sandbar leading to the offshore hill (i.e. a tombolo). This was in front of Gull Island, but thankfully with separation from Gull Island, the birds there seemed to have little interest in my visit.
In the ten minutes it took me to navigate rocks and stroll up the grassy meadows, I reached the summit and found that there was now a foot-deep channel working its way through the sandbar.
It's funny how timing can work.
After visiting Harbour Breton's easily-accessible Rocky Point Lighthouse, it was time to go back to the motel after picking up that case of beer (which I thankfully remembered was only 12 beers (Newfoundlanders call 12 beers a case)).
I can't even remember if the Bruins won or lost because I fell asleep from the long day. This was probably one of those 4 games they quickly took from the Penguins.
Even though it is only 73km from Harbour Breton to Belleoram, it takes a little more than an hour.
Hurrying into town to show appreciation to Kenny for this great favour, I suddenly found myself confused as I forgot to ask which house he owned. Thankfully my Belleoram friend's parents invited me inside and phone calls were made.
Before I knew it, I was scampering down a bigger set of thin, short stairs, this time to a fishing stage instead of a blacksmith shop. A clear path led through the front door to the back door, while I observed everything I could while trying to avoid whacking my head on the low beams. At the blacksmith shop yesterday there was a tall guy who reminded me of a Newfoundland Jim Carrey and I wondered how much he must hit his head in Belleoram.
Scurrying out the back door, suddenly the platform consisted of small logs and the boat was tied up in close proximity.
I was positively giddy with the fact that it was time to board our vessel and leave the harbour of Belleoram behind.
Belleoram Harbour is u-shaped with its opening on the northern side. Chugging past the businesses and fishing boats all around, we passed where Belleoram used to have its own lighthouse at Beach Point, then picked up speed out into the open ocean. The boat started to slap down with every wave. Kenny wasn't sure if we'd make it under the conditions, but as soon as I saw St. Jacques Island, I hunkered down and hoped this wind wasn't enough to thwart his vessel.
Passing an aquaculture setup to the southeast, the northern cliffs and beaches I had studied in maps now made themselves apparent (especially Back Cove). To have driven this road a handful of times now and wondered about the sights and lay of the land, it was amazing to be finally be allowed admittance to this theatre.
The aquaculture setup was settling in the waves, that is until we passed that and the waves grew in strength. I tried to squeeze off photos as the boat bobbed up and down; although Kenny didn't want to let up on the gas. About a mile away, the island started to lose its haze and the descriptions, pictures and fantasies came to life.
This was now the 6th lighthouse I had reached with the help of fishermen, the other 5 lightstations situated on substantially less forbidding islands. Those islands were all closer to shore. They all had lesser amounts of open sea.
To be experiencing this, to have driven down to Belleoram and now find myself heading directly towards St. Jacques Island's low neck, I felt an accomplishment as someone who doesn't have ties to Belleoram, St. Jacques or any of the other nearby towns.
The waves let off almost immediately when we reached the relative safety of St. Jacques Island. It was a funny feeling to find safe harbour on this tiny island, surrounded by formidable sea all around.
Kenny slowed our boat and edged onto the rocky beach, letting me know to hop out quickly.
I was so excited to be standing on St. Jacques Island and so close to the lighthouse, that I can't recall one iota of insight into how Kenny tied up the boat. It wasn't important really. What if he changed his mind? What if he said we needed to go? The lighthouse sits about 70ft above sea level and I was ready to behold it a.s.a.p..
A capstan and walkway sit weathered and deteriorating at the start of the path. I briefly entertained using the walkway, until I decided on walking beside it & picturing nothing being there within a few years. I can't imagine that low neck is much a safe spot during nasty north Atlantic storms.
I've tried to convey excitement in write-ups for the other islands I've visited like this, but this was a whole different level because of the incredible beauty of St. Jacques Island.
It's normally enough for me to simply go to an island rarely visited by other humans, but in this case, it was also a matter of visiting an obscure island that was additionally so visually stunning.
There wasn't much extra space along this coastal path, whether it was beside that white fence or this harsh exposed rock where a fence wasn't needed. In both cases, I studied my surroundings and at times found a sudden fall to the cold Atlantic only a few feet to my right.
We had lost sight of the lighthouse once we were within a short distance of the island. The lighthouse itself isn't situated on the island's peak, but rather slightly downward on a lower shelf of land to the southern side.
Scurrying forward on the path, it looked as if the island simply ended abruptly at the sea, until the land finally flattened out and the lightstation lay ahead.
I had made it to what would be my only new Newfoundland lighthouse in 20132.
The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse was designed by the Chance Brothers Company of England and assembled in 1908 (remember that Newfoundland was a British colony at the time).
Noticing that this St. Jacques Island Lighthouse didn't have the star-emblazoned catwalk supports of the Sandy Point (1883) or Green Point (1883) lighthouses, it reminded me more of Bay Bulls Lighthouse - which comically enough, was built in 1908 as well.
St. Jacques Island remained one of the rare manned lightstations into the 1990s at least, and likely into the 2000s. Manned lightstations still exist today, but St. Jacques Island was destaffed and solar panels were installed to run the fog horn and lighthouse automatically. I'd imagine St. Jacques Island is just like the other automated lighthouses in Newfoundland, where if nothing goes wrong, the Coast Guard pops by once a year for an annual inspection & that's it.
The town of St. Jacques might have been around the other side of the island, but with it out of sight and out of mind, an isolated feeling swept over me. Thinking of all the lighthouses I've seen in this province, St. Jacques Island was seemingly the most remote. A lot of people ponder the life of a lightkeeper, as do I, but I had always generally reserved that thought for more isolated lighthouses than the ones I had visited. Finally at St. Jacques Island, I had the feeling of wonder towards the lives lightkeepers and their families lived out here. This wasn't an island in view of a community. I couldn't see a single home from where I was standing.
A lightkeeper's life. Or at least a portion of it.
Kenny gave the lighthouse a passing glance before making for the keeper's house. In other places, I'd be worried about people wanting to stay out of the buildings, but I've always admired Newfoundlanders for their tendencies to make up their minds and form decisions for themselves without government guidance.
As soon as I walked through the door I noticed the similarities to the lightkeepers homes at Cape St. Mary's and Francois - enter into the kitchen, there's a long hallway with bedrooms on each side, a living room off of the kitchen...
St. Jacques Island also had those same 'cheery' colours I found in Francois. Mandated from some big wigs in Ottawa or the work of lightkeepers experience?
I was told back in Belleoram that people from down the coast had picked the keepers house clean, to the point of removing the door frames. I suppose it's not like the Coast Guard is ever going to come find the person who has kumquat door frames on their cabin, right?
Heck, they'd probably happily walk away from the whole lightstation as this is another one where they declared the lighthouse as surplus. (The government introduced a bill which would make the Coast Guard offer up lighthouses to community groups whenever they were going to demolish one, so they responded by declaring 900+ lighthouses as surplus so they could demolish them at their own whimsy.)
Lighthouse keeper logs! Who in their right mind would scavenge door frames before lighthouse keeper logs! :O
"June 3rd, 1985. 1400 hours. Started shift. Routine all ok. Winds light. Clear."
"June 3rd, 1985. 2200 hours. Finished shift routine. All ok. Winds S. Mod overcast skies. Fog."
"June 4th, 1985. 0200 hours. Started shift routine. All ok. Winds S. Mod overcast skies."
We picked through the disorderly pile, looking for the oldest and finding a few from 1985.
Following the stars down to the basement, I found a workshop, just like in the other ones.
One wonders if the Coast Guard took their tools when they left, or were they left for whomever came along first.
In addition to a workshop, the basement was also a basketball court! Here I was crouching, yet lightkeeper's children - and surely lightkeepers - passed the time with their makeshift net and backboard.
The south coast doesn't get the same volume of snow that I do back home, but regardless, I imagine great amounts of winter months were spent inside with cards, reading, television...and apparently imitating Kevin Garnett & Dennis Rodman!
Looking in a basement closet I noticed the spine board for St. Jacques Island. By now, Kenny had told me to take however much time I wanted then to meet him back down at the neck...so I half considered what he would think if I wanted to take this home as a souvenir.
I ended up putting it back downstairs for the next lighthouse enthusiast who's sure to find himself on this island.
Kenny surely didn't mean for me to actually take all day; more like take your time, but I'll be waiting.
Exiting through the back door, I scurried up the knoll behind the lightstation, pulling at the lichens and short shrubs to get to the highest point. A few gulls flew off and I was thankful they weren't defensive.
This hill had cliffs which were less discernable since they simply fell away from downward slopes into the sea. I stood there and captured pictures of the entire lightstation, thinking of the spectacular sunsets that must envelope this outpost.
I would have been ecstatic to have organized my stay out here for days, but unfortunately, although I was happy for what I had achieved, I had to get going.
Going north to meet back up with the coastal path, there didn't seem like a good point where they came together. So I returned to the lightstation, then to that path, then to the detritus of the former dock. Kenny was there, bobbing offshore, ready to take me away from St. Jacques Island.
Back into the choppy waves, Kenny asked if we'd like to take a spin around Chapel Island, a sizable chunk of land just outside Belleoram which absolutely dwarfs St. Jacques Island in square footage. I was concerned that the waves would be worse on the exposed eastern side, but Kenny indicated it would be smooth sailing as soon as we went around the head of Chapel Island.
I surely wanted to see more sights, and especially sights I wouldn't otherwise see, so in a situation where it was a bit like someone offering you tea, there wasn't much convincing needed to tour Chapel Island.
Kenny spotted a bald eagle and said they'd dive down for the fish entails discarded in gutting. He then tried to fool the bald eagle by throwing a gardening glove in the water, but hilariously, the eagle didn't budge.
I asked Kenny if this is where he fished or if it was nearby, he impressed me in saying that he fishes at Brunette Island - a substantial island about 45 km away, quite out in the Atlantic.
We'd round the southern tip of Chapel Island and the waves diminished accordingly. There weren't many sheltered areas on this side of the harbour either, and when I thought I saw one, Kenny then pointed out a slot that is normally a waterfall, if not for the dry conditions of late.
Passing alongside Ironskull Mountain, we approached Belleoram harbour an entirely different way than we had left a couple of hours earlier. I noticed an interesting thing in that I've always been confused at the lack of business signage and maintenance along the main street, but most of the stores had good signs and maintained steps on the harbour side. Suddenly I could see a convenience store, a bar, and other various establishments. How neat! They have better signage and fronts from the acquatic approach!
I waved to my blacksmith shop friend and tried to convey how ecstatic I was with seeing St. Jacques Island before Kenny sped away to his own stage. I would have had some beers in celebration, but I'm not sure if I would have made it out of Belleoram if I chose that option.
There were more Bay d'Espoir targets, even in the remaining time this afternoon. I had to hit the dusty trail west.
Continue to Part 2...
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1 - St. Jacques Island Lighthouse - Heritage Character Statement document on heritageplaces.ca