Counting Communities: Bonavista Peninsula 2013, Part 2: East

Maberly, Melrose, Cape Bonavista, Upper Amherst Cove, Champney's West, Horse Chops, Newfoundland (Map)

Summer 2013.


The first stop today was nearby Bird Rock, an island just offshore teeming with summertime puffins.

I had been here before, but eagerly wanted to return with my new camera and its strong zoom lens.

A volunteer near the start of the short trail said that the puffins will actually come across the narrow channel to where you're taking pictures if you give them space. Sure enough, some guy with one of those camera lenses like a champagne bottle, was already set up and giving the birds enough distance that a handful of them were on the mainland. This made my job easier, while also putting a smile on my face as the goofy sea parrots waddled about.

Heading towards Bonavista, we kept to the dirt roads behind the community, over to Dungeon Provincial Park and the all-encompassing beautiful unprotected cliffs, beaches and exposed rock of that area.

This day was shaping up to be another beauty, so parking the car by grazing horses, I walked the thin grass out until the sharp rocks were all around me.

Nearby, Cape Bonavista Lightstation has marked the local headland along this craggy coast for over 170 years.

In 1962, the historic lighthouse was abandoned in favour of a new modern skeletal tower, leaving the building to decay until the town and provincial government stepped in and made it a historic site.

I had been to Cape Bonavista three or four times by now, but never when it was actually open. Getting inside of lighthouses usually isn't a priority, but with Cape Bonavista, the place looked so great in pictures that I actually made a point of it.

In the above picture you see a recreated workshop. The bedrooms, kitchen & living room were all filled with period pieces and various donated (and possibly recovered) artifacts as well.

An aged barometer in the living room.

Looking around, I wondered why there were so many volunteers inside, yet the lighthouse was in dire need of an exterior paint job. I tried my best to tactfully ask why none of them could paint with so many tourists visiting the lighthouse. Thankfully the answer was more than agreeable, as they explained that it's not like one of the students can simply paint the light, but rather, that the town has to put every job up for bidding, where contractors complete the work after all of the bureaucracy is slogged through.

The #1 reason I was so adamant about visiting Cape Bonavista was because of the light apparatus.

Originally installed at the Isle of May in Scotland in 1816, then moved to Harbour Grace Island in Newfoundland in 1837, this catoptric light rounded out its service at Cape Bonavista from 1895 to 1962.

The young man standing in the lantern room asked if I'd like to see the light rotate and obviously I did. Turning a crank within arm's length, the series of gears caught each other and voilà! The light above rotated and would visibly shine outwards if it were night.

I was a bit mystified by the fact that no one would have stolen this during abandonment, but there was still a manned lightstation for many of those years - with one of those keeper's homes now a museum/washroom and one keeper's home a gift shop (where it took much will power to not spend hundreds on kitschy lighthouse goods).

Coming outside, there seemed to be some hullabaloo off to the north and sure enough, whales were displaying throughout the 10 minutes I stood there.

Much more rare to Newfoundland than those whales, was this Northern Mockingbird. While I've seen one in Texas (they're the state bird of Texas), they're uncommon to Newfoundland.

This was quite the pleasant surprise to accidentally notice while waiting outside the gift shop!

Leaving the lighthouse behind, I had one town left on the southern shore of the Bonavista Peninsula.

The small village of Melrose was nice enough, with my favourite part being the sight of the linear island chain in their harbour. Sitting on a bench and fantasizing about kayaking out to those grassy isles, I'd later see them marked as "Ragged Islands" and wonder how inviting they would actually be by sea.

Further up the road, I had read about a former lightstation at Horse Chops, so driving through English Harbour, we quickly found the car bumping along a rough gravel road.

Unfortunately a gate stood a couple of kilometers from the end, stating that there was no more places to turn around. Our plans sufficiently thwarted, we didn't have enough time to get out and walk the rest of the way.

Climbing a nearby ridge to see if I could see Horse Chops, the land here might have been the prettiest of the weekend - unbelievably scenic, with soft grasses extending towards cliffs of stacked rock where a bald eagle kept watch over whales out at sea. Sitting there, wishing I knew about this spot for camping beforehand, it was funny to laugh at how ideal this was - it was as if there was a team of scientists studying the ideal wind speed, flora, fauna, temperature and humidity to apply to these Horse Chops cliffs.

When I finally make it to Horse Chops one day, I'm sure it'll be foggy with sideways rain.

I suppose I could have scrapped my Champney's West plans to go to Horse Chops, but I've always wanted to climb this village's prominent, skyline-dominating Indian Head.

The only challenge here was persevering as angry terns swooped & made you wonder whether they were going to actually dive bomb you, while you came to the precipitous drop on the other side of the summit.

Heading back towards Bonavista, I stopped in Catalina at low tide in order to size up their Manuel Island Lighthouse.

As it's only 90m offshore, there is obviously thoughts of swimming to this one, but standing here today, even at low tide, inspecting the deep part of this channel - which gets to about 10 feet according to bathymetric charts - the water was really rushing through and out to the Atlantic.

It didn't look very doable for a sub-par swimmer like myself.

I'm not sure how I'll get it otherwise, as I'm thinking a lot of fishermen would think it silly to land there, so Manuel Island might be one of the last lighthouse I might get in this province.

All of this running around left me yearning for dinner.

Now normally, dinner in these places usually means something deep fried with fries, but the province is really making incredible strides in only the half decade that I've been here.

The Bonavista Social Club is a great example of this, with interesting food items and an absence of the standard fare of fries or burgers. That pizza may look hipstery to you, but it came from a wood-fired oven where they built it specially for this place in their hometown (read: delicious).

They get additional points for the fact that they were so busy that they were taking reservations, yet managed to squeeze us in. Somehow this is all happening in a small village called Upper Amherst Cove - which in other news, I didn't have before today. #783.

It was good that they needed us to rush out of the Social Club, as it left more time for Bonavista. In town for a movie, it was still early & for that I was pleased, for this is one of my favourite towns on the island and I wanted to explore more of the confusing street network.

Bonavista was headquarters for the surrounding fisheries for centuries, a place where merchants and store owners built opulent homes. Walking around downtown, you don't travel very far before coming to yet another beautiful, old wooden home of great craftsmanship.

In a town with such a great housing stock, not all of Bonavista's houses are lucky enough to become private residences or bed and breakfasts.

This is the Alexander Bridge House, the oldest documented house in Newfoundland (constructed in either 1811 or 1814). Vacant since 1966, thankfully it has been acquired by the Bonavista Historic Townscape Foundation, although it looks like they still have a lot of work ahead of them. They received initial grants that allowed them to install a new roof and take out unique windows for safe keeping, but more recently they've been falling behind.

Good luck to the BHTF, they definitely have their work cut out.

As previously mentioned, we were hanging around Bonavista waiting for World War Z to start. Now while I long to see movies in Newfoundland places where small, 1960s theatres still hang on, the Garrick in Bonavista is cut from a different cloth. Originally constructed in 1945, this palace is much more than the tiny storefront theatre with sticky floors and dwindling attendance.

Walking into the ticket & concession area, you are struck with the enclosed area, filled with everyone coming out for the Saturday movie. Even as I wanted a water quite badly, my awkward self shifted about trying to stay out of the way of the two or three dozen people moving about this intimate space. Into the theatre, that number was dwarfed by the number of people in their seats, seats bolted to the floor with elaborate, cast-iron patterns on the side (but obviously they were modern seats for your comfort).

All of these people inside meant that I didn't take an interior picture. Although, if one were to Google their Facebook page, they have cover photos of the interior.

Anyway, initially the thought was to continue stealth camping this night, but neither of us wanted to set up camp in the dark after the movie. Therefore, $10 was paid in Elliston for a wood slab where the tent would be left behind until the movie was done. It was a good thing too, as even though I looked at the ground during the dramatic music, I didn't realize World War Z was a scary movie & was a little worried afterwards (good thing zombies are totally fake unlike creepy girls coming out of the television!)

In addition to paying for $10 for a campsite, breakfast was also purchased!

It was time to get home, I was breaking down and living quite frivolously!

Actually, I noticed this restaurant in the old Elliston Orange Lodge, so I couldn't help but spend money on breakfast to support the building and check out the interior.

From here, it wouldn't take all day to get home, so we stopped at one more hike, but as we didn't make it to the end, that coverage can wait for another time.

Normally I would have something like three peninsulas to explore if I had three days off, so this trip was certainly a change of pace. It was a nice change of pace though, being able to explore the smaller things that are typically overlooked on those whirlwind trips.

I know it was my friend's favourite trip of the summer & I also hold it in high regard.


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1 - Encyclopedia of Newfoundland, Smallwood.

2 - Heritage Canada The National Trust - Alexander Bridge House

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