Birthday Weekend 2015: Harbour Grace

Clarenville, Upper Island Cove, Spoon Cove, Bryant's Cove, Harbour Grace, and Placentia, Newfoundland (Map)

Autumn 2015


It was 2015 when my friends Rosie & Stevie moved to St. John's. Wanting to have the gang together for my birthday like the previous year in Baie Verte, I decided that us two west coasters would drive over towards St. John's for this year's birthday weekend.

There were pecan pie leftovers throughout the drive across the island, with a lunch of reheated potatoes, turkey and stuffing courtesy of the Gander Dominion microwave. I sometimes wish my birthday wasn't so close to Christmas, but it has its advantages in also being close to Thanksgiving.

Also along the way, I recently found an abandoned school in Clarenville courtesy of Google StreetView. We stopped there for a half hour and tried to get a Clarenville clip into my bike section.

Cruising around the side of the school, I realized the gehtto was out back.

Of course St. John's would be a plenty fine place to have a birthday weekend, but I've come to enjoy picking random places and making everyone get in the car.

We were headed up to Harbour Grace and with how Harbour Grace's peninsula is so jammed pack with scenery, trails and history; I was also excited to get a little more time to explore the Bay de Verde Peninsula. (This is the top left peninsula of the four Avalon Peninsula peninsulas.)

We left the road behind at Spaniard's Bay like I had before, but now I had more time to stop for random houses in Upper Island Cove instead of having to continue along.

I liked the first abandoned house because of funny things like the entrance gate and how the teal siding contrasted with the late autumn fallen leaves. The second house we would stop at was simply amazing because of its stature and obvious age.

I was sure that I was going to come home and find out who lived here and the precise year it was built, but there is next to nothing available online. In addition, I see that it was sadly torn down sometime in late 2016 or early 2017.

The StreetView for the house is still from 2013, but it shows the store which used to stand in front of the gorgeous, old dual chimney home. I figure this is why I never noticed this house on my first go through of this area.

As excited as I was to check out old homes in some of the most historic villages of Newfoundland, I was also excited to explore the paths at the end of these towns. It seems like every end-of-road village up here ends at a quad path or foot trail, which then leads out over easily traversed and picturesque coastal scenery.

The above picture comes from Spoon Cove, where we walked on their Meadow Road for about 10 or 15 minutes in the drizzle and fog. I'm being completely serious when I say it was lovely.

We did the same thing at the end of Bryant's Cove, with Stevie continuing into the horse pasture while I checked out this hilltop teal cabin. There's no need to worry about missing out on horse pictures though, because it was so late in the day that only 1 of my 8 pictures was remotely sharp. Even with leaving St. John's at a reasonable hour, the short days were apparent.

Now that it was time for dinner, I looked & looked into all of the restaurants in the big towns up here, but nothing got me excited. We eventually settled on this Chinese restaurant situated on one of those sprawl roads with a McDonald's and a Dominion and every other identical, cookie-cut chain. And well, there a reason there's not a picture of my Chinese food here. I would later look at the reviews and see that everyone raves about their Jiggs Dinner. Go figure.

Leaving the Chinese restaurant behind, we parked our car at the hotel and made for tonight's hockey game.

Now I like Harbour Grace enough to have my birthday there regardless, but I was also motivated by the fact that they're replacing their old arena. As they play in the eastern version of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League, this allowed us to attend a game for a full Saturday night of fun.

I went into the weekend thinking that going out of my way might be a bit much for an arena built in 1958, one that's fairly nondescript from the outside.

The S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium surprised me though. In addition to wooden bleachers, low ceilings and wood handrails, the arena also had cool, funky features like these pine-clad corner rooms that I absolutely loved. There's nothing like a lifeguard shack juxtaposed into the corners of a hockey rink and I half expected the Hoff or Pamela Anderson to pop out and save someone.

In addition to the corner 'shacks', one whole wall of the arena was covered with wood panels, save for the banner celebrating this being Danny Cleary's hometown.

(Sorry about the blurry picture. Of course tonight would be the night my camera decided to give me focusing trouble when I'd never be in this building again.)

Just like a lot of the other arenas in this province, we couldn't drink at our seats and were forced to go to the bar area and drink during intermissions (if we didn't want to miss any of the game).

This only added to the experience though, because Stephenville's arena bar room is bright and airy, and Grand Falls' room is simply lit like a normal room. I was enjoying the atmosphere of this dark room, with its shadowy characters only lit by the sidewall displays of hockey trophies and history from the local hockey hall of fame.

Speaking of those hall of fame displays, I loved this Hr. Grace jersey - er, sweater - they had on display.

The S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium was picking up points all over the place with its pine siding and dark drinking areas - and that's before we got poutines at The Spud canteen! Oh my were these good. And I said this while being full of below-average Chinese food.

The S.W. Moores Stadium was the third oldest in-use hockey arena in Newfoundland, behind only Grand Falls-Windsor's Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium and Bell Island's arena. Opening in 1958, Harbour Grace's arena was built between the 1956 construction of Bell Island's arena and Clarenville's 1959 arena. (Clarenville's old arena is now a warehouse for their Home Hardware.)

As we watched the game, this year would be the last for the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium. Harbour Grace's new stadium - the Dan Cleary Harbour Grace Community Centre - would open in September 2016 at a cost of $23 million.

I was certain that this meant the abandoning and eventual arson/demolition of the S.W. Moores building but Newfoundland surprised me yet again with its old arenas. There were actually 3 people who wanted to buy the arena and the winner bidder even spent $400k + two properties for the old place. (I find the part-barter deal to be funny and quaint. I wonder if he threw in any cod and rope too? Then again this is more like Monopoly. I wonder where these properties lay on the Harbour Grace-themed Monopoly board?)

Anyway, the man who bought/traded for the arena had plans to use it as a storage facility. (I haven't been back to see recent progress.)

There was an intriguing lodge/bar right behind the stadium, but as one of our group had felt awkward about not visiting people they knew in Harbour Grace, we had to retreat to the hotel. Regardless of skipping that lodge, we had a great time in our funky Harbour Grace Hotel room, which was within easy walking distance of the S.W. Moores.

Somewhere along in the night of champagne, Fireball and Blue Stars, some of the group were stepping outside for a dart & I decided to join them just to be outside. We might've wandered across the street in the cold & flurrying night, to stand before the giant fishing boats in the shipyard. There are times that Corner Brook doesn't feel very "Newfoundland" and it's always refreshing to get outside the city and find the unique and worthwhile experiences. This was one of those times.

Waking up the next morning, I absolutely loved our room. Carpet adorned the floor, a tube TV (GASP!) still sat in the corner and this was all laid out in the living room that was directly to your left as you walked in. The room felt like a 1-bedroom apartment but there was also something off about the layout, like they put up drywall for walls but didn't think about what was going to go in each room beforehand.

It was the perfect small town hotel/motel experience.

The Hotel Harbour Grace website only says that they've been in business for 65 years (so, since 1950ish?). Was this a purpose-built hotel that didn't modify itself from another type of building?

The gang wasn't moving too quick this morning, so I took the opportunity for a morning walkabout in the sunny breaks. Down the road from the Hotel Harbour Grace is the amazing Cuff's Pub with its Newfoundland turret, which we would have went to last night if it was open (our anxiety-ridden friend be damned!)

Cuff's must've closed sometime in 2012, as the last post on their Facebook is a fellow checking-in and saying "gettin me grove on with irene & the bitches."

I also noticed that the Town of Harbour Grace moved out of their unique old storefront next door and then started ranting to myself about delicate workers insisting they neeeeed a new building...until I walked 20 feet and noticed that they simply moved into the old ScotiaBank up the road, haha.

(Sure enough though, they included plans for offices for themselves in the new arena, so who knows if they're still in the old ScotiaBank nowadays. On the other hand, one of the properties they traded for the arena is next to their town offices and they've been trying to acquire Cuff's Pub. It would be amazing if they had offices across a brand new building, the ScotiaBank and Cuff's Pub, but I also fear they would simply faint at the effort of reusing two unique buildings & simply knock it all down for one modern hole.)

Since we arrived in Harbour Grace at night, I rounded my morning walk up towards the S.W. Moores Stadium for a few exterior photos. I took a few from points showing nearby homes, because at the time I thought the arena would be destroyed & the homes could be used for reference.

Harbour Grace showed me!

One last thing I loved about their arena was how it was fit into downtown, very close to houses with little slivers of laneway cutting between them. You definitely don't have this at the new arena out by the highway with its sea of parking.

Another thing I wanted to see in Harbour Grace was the Ridley Offices. This stone building is tucked away in the shipyard and I had no idea it was there on all of my other visits.

Built in 1838, its stone construction is similar to Ridley Hall up the street, and also remarkable for the same reason that Ridley Hall is remarkable - that there simply wasn't that much stone construction in Newfoundland. The Ridley Offices are also noteworthy because this whole shipyard/downtown area was made up of fish merchants and wholesalers in the 1700s and 1800s, but the Ridley Offices are the last vestige of this time, partly on account of surviving the great Harbour Grace fire of 1844 that flattened most of the village.

A private individual now owns this home & does a great job keeping up the property, even as she's tried to apply to give tours but has been turned down. And of late the town of Harbour Grace has tried to buy the property and they say they want to keep it around as a museum and tourist attraction, but without a solid, written plan, the private owner has smartly and benevolently turned down the money in the face of wishy-washy plans.

Joining the group back at the hotel, we soon set out for the day. The first stop was the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Harbour Grace, a church that had recently closed and we hoped would be open for some reason. Unfortunately we only found locked doors.

Rural Newfoundland is littered with wooden churches, but the use of stone here is not some testament to there being more stone in Harbour Grace, but rather the prosperity and importance of Harbour Grace in the 19th century. This church was built in 1892 to be the seat of the Diocese, a position it held until the seat was moved to Grand Falls in 1965.

The cathedral would close in 2014, a product of declining parishioners and expensive upkeep. The CBC would come out with an article that the church was found to be "worthless" after a consulting firm stated that it needed $9 million in repairs and held no market value. There was a fleeting proposal to turn this into a microbrewery, but that came & passed. It now sits in a pickle between a proposal good enough to fix the building & the shame of accepting that you have to demolish such a stunning structure.

Finally leaving Harbour Grace, we explored more of the coastline, parking at the Davis House in Freshwater/Clowns Cove & walking out on the plateau to sea on this fine day. Afterwards we would cut across and even get to the Heart's Content Lighthouse as well.

On the way home, we would stop for a quick visit to Placentia to get a planned lighthouse for my birthday.

This is the Point Verde Lighthouse. I'd been here twice before, but both times in wind and rain that makes you hurry back to the car. It was interesting to stand here today & appreciate the beauty of this point of land, finally thinking about how it's a shame that an old lighthouse doesn't exist here anymore. Of course it's always a shame when a lighthouse is lost, but a nice old wooden lighthouse here would be a jewel in the tourist crown of Placentia on fine days like today.

I don't know what kind of birthday weekend it would be without some abandoned building exploring, so that consumed the last bit of free time before heading west. I had heard about some abandoned cabins, but with terrible aerial imagery in the area, I only knew of their vague location.

So I parked the car by a bridge and wandered down a promising looking, snowy path. Which was fun for exploring more random places in the province, but not useful for finding abandoned buildings.

Thankfully the next opening I looked at had a giant U.S. Government Property, No Trespassing sign.

Down the path a short ways, we came to Recreation Camp. When the Americans had a military base nearby, this was the official getaway spot for military personnel, but it hasn't been used in that capacity since 1994. Since that time the local small town has tried to gain ownership of this property to build something of their own or get an investor to build something, but the site has been locked up and forgotten by the Americans. The local mayor even says that he's wrote the Office of the President about the matter.

A CBC article about the property quotes a presumably older fellow who used to come down here as a local and visit any of the 12 cabins that the Americans could rent. He reminisces about being able to make friends and have "a few swallies, much to eat, much good fun, and lots of good camaraderie."

It definitely sounds like the type of place I'd like to go for Stroh's, talking about weather in Fahrenheit and watching football on Thanksgiving.

The area was interesting enough, especially with the unique history, but there's also a cap on how many ruined cabins you have motivation to explore.

The good thing for me was that they were actually sealed quite well! I was only able to get into 2 of them & they were pretty dark. The town must come down here and watch them so that they don't fall too far into ruin.

This was the second cabin, but it was definitely still situated in tripod country.

There were a few more interesting things as I looked around, a small island with concrete steps leading up to nothing, a sealed blue church & handsome stone chimneys that the military was able to install here. Even without getting into many of the cabins, I appreciated walking in the shallow snow and seeing this.

After that initial story that alerted me to the existence of this property, I haven't heard any additional news. I presume that either Obama or Trump, whoever got that mayoral letter, hasn't found the time between picking Final Four Brackets or tweeting, respectively.

As for my birthday weekend, it was now time to drive the 6.5 hours back west with a Recreation Camp cherry on the top of a fine weekend.


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1 - Ridley Offices (Harbour Grace) - Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador
2 - $23M Harbour Grace sports complex now 2 years behind, CBCNL, May 8, 2014
3 - S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium sold in Harbour Grace, Andrew Robinson, The Telegram, Aug 11, 2016
4 - Catholic diocese approves closure of churches in Harbour Grace, Spaniard's Bay, Terry Roberts, The Compass, Sept 9, 2014
5 - Harbour Grace rec plex ready to begin, Melissa Jenkins, The Compass, May 27, 2015
6 - Harbour Grace cathedral found to be worthless, CBCNL, Jan 20, 2014

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