|The Village 2013|
Stepping off the wharf and on to the cement walkway, I passed one house before stopping to watch our boat turn the corner. This departure marked the peak of our great turn of fortune, as we had managed to make it to the deserted village.
Our misfortune started the night before, with the unfortunate news of an inclement weather forecast for Thursday - one that would prove to be accurate as news of high winds reached us the next day.
"We might be able to go on Friday, maybe..." was what I was being told over the phone, but with all of us having already taken the time off, we decided to drive down anyway, so that we could leave at the drop of a hat.
And that's where our fortunes started to turn, as my phone rang while driving along, the captain asking how quickly we could leave and get to the wharf. The wind had died down enough that he was willing to give it a shot!
As these things go, the winds didn't die, but rather died down. In a boat only big enough to bring 4 people, the least seafaring member of our group grew visibly uncomfortable, while I hoped that we'd prevail through; that our weekend wouldn't be cancelled by these north Atlantic winds.
The worst were the headland entrances to the sprawling bays. The tide was rushing out of these vast bodies, creating turbulent currents where water rushed out and met the waves bouncing off of the headlands. Our captain told us there were three of these worrisome bays, which were nice to count off, but also stressful as you hoped to be done with the worst of it. When in fact, you had only made it through one of these stretches of crashing into wave fronts, dropping off the wave crests and whitening knuckles all the while - my knuckles clung to my front-facing seat, while the others clung to the back bench (I offered to trade places, but apparently as I negotiated this boat, I was to sit up front). It's an understatement that our most landlubber friend just wanted to get it over with.
With the waves turning the minutes to hours as we worried about the main hatchway giving in, I relaxed in the fact that our captain continued to tell us about geographic features, cut through offshore islands of interest, and most of all, display very little hesitation in deciding to continue forward.
Eventually the last large bay would come & pass at a point very close to our destination. I don't know if I've ever appreciated the sight of a radio tower more, but knowing that it marked our endpoint, I smiled back at my fellow, shaken passengers.
Our good fortune had won out.
There didn't seem to be anyone else here, and if there were, they weren't coming outside to greet us (highly unlikely in friendly Newfoundland). As we're used to an annual trip to the silent Grey Islands, we now hurriedly and excitedly rushed up the concrete pathways to our campsite and tent for the next two nights - the deconsecrated United Church, the picturesque centerpiece of the community.
After dropping off our stuff, the four of rotated about each other as we moved to the eastern edge of town, not necessarily committed to staying together, but moving so fast that we kept up with each other anyway. We moved across the causeway bridge, situated on a small chunk of sandy beach and through a narrow slit of water, connecting the main town to a small offshore island. This bridge was built to connect one house to the rest of the community, but also to reduce storm damage to the main harbour - this was evident in the now-missing handrails and how the bridge had developed curves of late.
The only house on the other side of the bridge is that of an opulent American who keeps the second oldest home as a summer getaway. We'd leave his place alone and quickly find the cemetery pathway up to the east side of the island, occupying ourselves for a while by reading the hundred or so tombstones and sharing the lovely view over the town from up there on high.
We moved back across the bridge and found a few open sheds, but most of the houses looked well maintained. Even a rundown house at the end of town, where I questioned trusting the soft wooden steps leading up to either door, was locked up and in order.
This was a far cry from that village of 2011 where I figured that I went in over 90% of the structures. Does it make that much of a difference that the other one was resettled for twice as long? Is it the greater isolation of this village and therefore, that far fewer people make it here? Or is it that this village was larger and seemingly more healthy - lending itself to people continuing to return and maintain their places while keeping an eye on other people's places?
I know that vandals, looters and arsonists really help along the deterioration of these places, so it was nice to see this one remaining fortified.
By the early 1800s, people had started to settle here and build homes. The reason this harbour was a good one came from a combination of this coast's lack of other harbour options, its proximity to fishing banks (and fishing companies in nearby towns), nearby forested land and nearby freshwater ponds. The area around here actually used to be forested to a greater extent, but this lumber has been used throughout the settlement's history for firewood and building supplies.
William Cormack - the first European to cross the interior of Newfoundland - passed by here on his return trip across the island. He noted two summer residences in 1822, and by 1834, the first fisherman was reported here, before the 1836 census listed 9 people. This number would grow from 80 (1869) to 166 (1901) - a gain in population attributed to the village gaining a lobster factory, since this provided people with winter work so that they could live here throughout the year, instead of migrating to "indian style" winter houses of sod and stone, situated inland where they would hunt caribou and moose on various ponds and bays.
In addition to the lobster factory work and labour out at sea, the residents grew gardens and trapped foxes along with muskrats to have enough provisions to make it through the winter (the trapping meant selling pelts to the Hudson's Bay Company, allowing one to buy needed supplies).
Unfortunately, the lobster factory would close in 1918, forcing the people to go back to selling bulk cod, salmon and lobster to ships which would travel along the coast buying up people's catches.
Even in selling to the traveling ships and trading pelts to the Hudson's Bay Company, the village continued to lose people to the worker-starved Great Lakes freighters (was this the Alberta of the 1950s?). High lobster prices reversed this depopulation trend for a short while, but the rise of commercial fur farms struck this place another blow, as pelt prices plummeted and trapping was no longer worthwhile.
The inability to receive a high school education locally also led to depopulation problems. With trouble in attracting qualified teachers to come here, students would leave to attend bigger schools, then life would get in the way and keep them in bigger settlements.
239 people were reported here in 1945, 199 people in 1951 and 132 people in 1966.
The resettlement program of the 1960s/70s moved 17 people (3 families) out of here, furthering the problem by reducing the number of children even more.
As is always the death knell for these places, the last two students finished school in the 2000s and there weren't any more children who would ever attend the two-story building up on the hill.
The 31 residents would vote to take the provincial government's monetary package and to leave this place. For each household of 2 people, they were given $90,000; with an additional $10,000 for having more than 2 people in the household.
The ferry ran for an additional week to allow everyone to move their lives to any number of nearby growth centres connected to the provincial road network. As the ferry left for the last time & the power was cut, one last fisherman stayed behind, ready to stay behind here until he would boat himself along the coast in a few weeks' time.
I wandered off on my own, along pathways or over hills, through backyards and onto overgrown decks (back bridges in NF). Where one feels awkward enough walking the sidewalks in these small places, suddenly you can walk wherever you want and see every aspect of every home.
Surprised that there weren't any overly rundown houses, I finally stepped onto the side porch of a house, with 2 or 3 sheets of plywood blocking the westward wind. I prudently tried the handle and voila! One of the homes was open to anyone who came along.
I would open this door to the overwhelming aroma of moist mold though, an indicator that maybe this one was abandoned instead of vacant.
There wasn't much to the place after all, a few boxes in the upstairs bedrooms, mostly empty or filled with the type of junk you wouldn't deem worthwhile to carry on the evacuating ferry. About the only item of interest were the old skeleton keys in the antique upstairs doors, along with a mattress in the kitchen, where I wondered if they packed up their bed frame and needed one last place to sleep before leaving.
I returned to the group, finding them cooking dinner on the church's front steps. Where I had told them many tales of the other village I went with almost every home open to guests, I audibly wondered how they felt about this new village.
I'm not sure if they even heard my apologies though, as they carried on about how crazy it was to have this spectacular evening, along this spectacular coast, with this giant man-made collective feature surrounding us.
Happy with their response and eyeing the impending sunset, I set off for a nearby hill in this last hour of daylight, much like I had done back in the Grey Islands. The land here just so happened to be very similar, allowing me to scurry off up an impromptu path towards my beloved radio tower.
I could have hiked forever, but after finding a satisfactory hill and cairn, I sat down and looked off to the west, towards the next community 10km down the shore; one which I've visited a few times with thoughts of wrangling my way to this resettled place.
I also gazed back at the village and thought about the privilege and craziness about what was before me.
(...and of course I also pulled out my topographic map and geeked out about the islands, points and coves I could see all around.)
We'd imbibe tonight by visiting the Cramalot Inn, a landmark fishing stage made up for people to get together and share a yarn.
Excited to imitate the lives of people who lived here for decades, we BYOB'ed or BYOrum'ed our way down the hill and into the cozy structure. I think I was the most excited to pay homage by drinking in here, as it was hard to keep the others inside on such a fine, fly-less, warm night under a full moon.
This of course wasn't the worst thing, especially as I wanted to use the nighttime light to shoot long exposures with my other camera.
Even ignoring taking pictures or telling tales, there was something to be said for needing something back at the church and being able to walk without a flashlight along the silent pathways amongst the dark structures. I even wandered off during the course of going back, meandering about walkways that weren't part of the shortest route.
The others were back at the Cramalot, creating very little noise and minimal light, as the otherwise silent air enveloping my eyes while they adjusted to the dark structures and darkened colors only illuminated by the moonlight. There wasn't even a navigational marker blinking in the harbour - a factor of the Coast Guard thinking there's no need to come into this cove anymore I suppose.
I excitedly thought about two full days of upcoming exploration possibilities. Our boat would come soon enough, so I also set my mind on savouring & utilizing my time, even as I lulled about in this euphoric state at the moment.
Heck, only 1/3 of the houses were given a cursory glance today, so who knows what was to be discovered as more of this place was traversed tomorrow and the next day.
Continue to Part 2.
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