Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Truce Sound

Truce Sound 20Sunnyside sits on the isthmus of the Avalon Peninsula. One of my earliest memories is of driving with my grandparents to Hillview and my grandfather pointing out the isthmus from a hilltop on the Trans-Canada Highway (or TCH as it is known in Newfoundland). He pointed to the right and said "That's Trinity Bay" and then pointed to the left and said "That fog there is Placentia Bay. This is the only spot in all of Newfoundland where you can see two bays at the same time."

I drove past many times after that and I always remarked on how foggy it usually is at the isthmus. Despite the countless drive-by's of Sunnyside over the years, I had never taken the exit and gone in, until this summer.

My folks are heavily involved in the Newfoundland heritage scene, and were heading to the Truce Sound 400 Festival in Sunnyside. They had arranged for a boat to go out to the Truce Sound site, and suggested I swing by on my way to Trinity to join them.

Truce Sound is where, in 1612, John Guy and fellow members of his Cupers Cove colony met with the Beothuk in an attempt to establish a peaceful relationship between the two peoples. Despite the well-meant intentions of this meeting, subsequent events did not go well for the Beothuk. Today, they live on only in museum exhibits and in the term "Red Indian"*. You can read about Guy's trip from Cupers Cove to Bull Arm here.

At the wharf, I noticed that the stereotypical Newfoundland fishing scene now includes crab pots instead of gill nets.

Truce Sound 13

We left the wharf in Sunnyside and headed down the Arm. It was very hazy, and I wasn't sure if we were going to head into fog, or if the weather would hold fine.

Truce Sound 2

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Along the way we passed the Bull Arm fabrication site where they are making another off-shore oil platform. Their website has a video which, if you can stomach the annoying sound track, has some great aerial footage.

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Truce Sound 10

As we rounded the corner to head into Stock Cove, we came across a guy out trying to get a meal of cod. I am still not accustomed to seeing a cod fisherman using a rod and reel and not a hand reel and line.

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Then it was into Stock Cove, where archeologist Bill Gilbert believes the Beothuk had some houses. There isn't much to see today, of course, except for this bald eagle standing guard and protecting the spirit of the place.

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As we moved into the cove, it squawked out a warning and took off.

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Perhaps sensing our honest intentions, it returned and settled in some nearby trees.

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Truce Sound 5

In the struggle just to survive, Newfoundlanders have often put a very low priority on setting down a written record of our history, although we have a strong oral history. So I am very pleased to see how many people are taking up the cause of documenting Newfoundland history. Like these folks who were with me on the boat out to Truce Sound. On the left is my mother, Edwina, one of the co-founders of the Carbonear Heritage Society and a current member of the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation (BTHC). Next to her is Gerald Smith, also a member of the BTHC. Dan Burke is the current Chair of the BTHC. On the right is Bill Gilbert, the Chief Archaeologist with the BTHC and who provided a vey interesting running commentary about the work in uncovering more about Truce Sound, and about the Beothuk in particular.

Truce Sound 1

When we returned to shore, we hopped in the car and headed to the Lion's Club for a community jiggs dinner. This is the part of Newfoundland I miss the most, and I am glad to see the tradition continues of coming together for a community meal, be it a Jiggs dinner or a turkey tea***.

Truce Sound 21

Many of my images from Newfoundland are available to purchase as fine art prints from my web gallery.

If you would like to read some of my other posts about Newfoundland, click here and use the "Older" and "Newer" links at the bottom to scroll through the posts.

* I am very proud of my Newfoundland heritage, with the sole exception of the extinction of the Beothuk. That is a source of great shame.

** The Beothuk, the predecessor to the Europeans (not including the Vikings) do not appear to have had a written tradition.

*** I have no idea who the woman waving is.


Thursday, 21 February 2013

A Walk Beneath the Ocean

Bell Island Mine 1The Bell Island iron ore mine is the stuff of legends. Never mind the fact that it used to be one of the largest submarine mines in the world, or that it extends almost all the way across the bay to Harbour Grace, or that its lowest point is almost 5 km below the ocean. Never mind its on-again, off-again love affair with Germany (Germany was a big customer before the First World War, then not during the war, then a big customer again after the war, then not during the Second World War, then again after the war). While all of that certainly adds to the mystique of the place, it is the non-mining happenings that sets this mine apart from others.

Like the fact that Bell Island was the site of the only German direct attack on North America during the Second World War. So much for Germany being a valued customer!

Even after cheaper, surface-mined ore forced the mine owners to cease operations in 1966, the mine still occasionally made the news. In 1978 there was a massive explosion, which, according to rumour, was the result of a U.S. military high energy weapons test*. While I doubt the U.S. was involved in this explosion, certainly something extraordinary happened. The mine made news again in 2006 when a diver exploring the now-flooded mine died.

Yes, the Bell Island Mine has a certain notoriety for other reasons than being a mine.

The Number 2 Mine is now open for tours and my friend Carol, who was in Newfoundland this summer at the same time I was there, agreed to meet me in Portugal Cove where we took the ferry over to see the mine.

The Bell Island Heritage Society operates both the mine museum and the tour. The tour leaves from inside the museum and goes down the #2 mine shaft. It's a lot of work keeping the mine open for people to see. They have to deal with water, which is constantly seeping in through the mine entrance. Indeed, much of the mine is flooded.

They also have to take into account the different physical abilities of their visitors. To that end, they have added crushed stone and handrails to the main shaft, making it easier for tourists to get down and back up. The grade is deceptive, much steeper than it looks, and coming back up is certainly not as easy as going down.

Bell Island Mine 4

The other parts of the mine are pretty much as they were when it was a going concern. That is to say, it is not geared towards visitors.

Bell Island Mine 3

The tour group was small enough that we could all gather around and hear the guide relate colourful accounts of what the mine was like when it was operating. At one point, he turned off the lights to show how dark it was without any light. It was pitch black. Even after a few minutes, when your eyes usually adapt to the dark, there was only dense darkness. I could feel the mine closing in all around me. This mine tour is certainly not for anyone claustrophobic!

Bell Island Mine 2

Even with the lights on, it was still pretty dark. So much so that I had to rest my camera on something in order to take a picture. Even then, the exposures were so long that anything moving, like Carol, was blurred.

Bell Island Mine 1

Back up above ground, it was time to take in the exhibits in the museum. I found them to be better than many federally run museums. There were even a few Karsh** photographs, which was quite an unexpected find! While the museum exhibits were great, and I enjoyed seeing the Karsh photos, it was the lure of the mine itself that made it worth the hassle of getting to Bell Island. The experience of being down in a mine, underground and under the sea, was unusual to say the least.

Many of my images from Newfoundland are available to purchase as fine art prints from my web gallery.

If you would like to read some of my other posts about Newfoundland, click here and use the "Older" and "Newer" links at the bottom to scroll through the posts.

*I was in Carbonear at the time of the explosion, but I do not remember hearing it. I do remember hearing rumours afterwords about the explosion being some part of a secret U.S. military experiment. The rumours persist to this day, as you can see from this website. I guess some people will believe what they want to believe!

** Yousuf Karsh was a Canadian photographer. He was, IMHO, absolutely brilliant. Most people would recognize his portrait of Sir Winston Chuchill, even if they don't realize that he took it.


Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Bonavista Social Club

Bonavista 4After winding up my visit to Bonavista, I decided to return to Trinity via the Lockston Path, and on the way stop in Amherst Cove to check out Paterson Woodworking.

I found the idea of running a wood working business from a small outport very interesting, even appealing. If Mike Paterson can make a go of it in Amherst Cove, then surely this bodes well for a revival of outport Newfoundland? I wanted to see his operation for myself.

Amherst Cove certainly fits the bill of a "small outport". There were likely only a handful of houses there anyway, and with the cod moratorium, there is not much to keep people there. Unless the Paterson Woodworking is a model that works, that is, and one that others can emulate.

Bonavista 5

I was out of luck. When I got there, the workshop was closed.

Fortunately, the detour was not a waste of time because right next door was the Bonavista Social Club. They offer fresh baked goods made in a wood-fired brick oven. In the interest of science, I had to stop and sample their fare.

Bonavista 2

As luck would have it, I got my chance to check out Paterson's work (if not his workshop), because he designed, built, and furnished the place. Katie Hayes, the owner of the Bonavista Social Club, is his daughter. Mike had done a great job, using large exposed beams, wood walls, and wooden floors. Katie had also had him make solid wood furniture, as well as wooden plates, bowls and spoons.

Bonavista 1

The front step is large and inviting, and overlooks the bay. Since the sun was out, I just had to sit outside while I sampled my grub. The food was excellent and a very pleasant surprise. As I was eating, I couldn't help but overhear some mainlanders talking about whales they had seen out in the bay just a little earlier. I got out my big lens and looked through my camera to see if I could spot them, but all I saw was a goat further down the hill.

Bonavista 4

Good food and a great view is a hard combination to beat, so if you are anywhere near Amherst Cove, I'd recommend a swing by for a mug up. Maybe you will be in luck and the workshop will be open, too!

Edit Feb 21, 2013
My friend Trudy put me on to this Land and Sea show about the Pattersons. A good show that really goes to answer my questions about why and how.

Many of my images from Newfoundland are available to purchase as fine art prints from my web gallery.

If you would like to read some of my other posts about Newfoundland, click here and use the "Older" and "Newer" links at the bottom to scroll through the posts.


Monday, 11 February 2013

Seeing the Light

Bonavista 30The stereotype of a Newfoundland outport is a scene of colourful houses clinging to the steep hills that protect a small cove.

That is not Bonavista.

Instead of being sheltered in a small cubby-hole of a harbour, Bonavista is a wide-open place with few trees or hills around to provide shelter of any sort.

Some people believe fishermen from Bristol were already working the waters off Newfoundland before Cabot arrived in 1497. While we don't really know what was happening in Newfoundland before then, we do know that ever since John Cabot exclaimed "O Buon Vista!"* that year, Bonavista has been at the centre of the action in Newfoundland. Be it during the warring between France and England** or during the rise of the Fisherman's Protective Union, Bonavista has been in the thick of the goings-on in Newfoundland.

Not surprising then, that I had a long list of historic properties to visit in Bonavista this summer. But as I approached the town, I could see the fog sitting out on the water. With a possible "fog-in" coming, I had to prioritize my list, and I made the lighthouse my first stop.

The Cape Bonavista Lighthouse sits way out on the very tip of the Bonavista Peninsula, and as I was driving out, there was nary a tree to block my view. I could see that it was already ensconced in fog. I crossed my fingers and hoped it was going out and not coming in.

Bonavista 35

The foggy weather did have one benefit, for as I approached the light I could see how the red striping helps the structure stand out in wicked white wetness.

Bonavista 33

I was puzzled by the little red shed to the left of the light, though. I doubt it was for animals since it had windows and a stove, although the fence certainly looks like it was meant for animals. Perhaps it was to keep them out of a vegetable garden?

Bonavista 34
Note: A high resolution version of this image is here on my web gallery.

The interpretive centre sits directly across from the lighthouse. Since the fog was still fairly heavy, I went inside to read up on the history of the place, keeping one eye on the weather through the window, hoping it would soon let up.

Bonavista 31

As luck would have it, the fog was indeed rolling out, and the sky soon deepened into a rich blue.

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Walking to the light, I could see a couple of visitors watching the fog slowly recede out to sea while having a grand cuffer with one of the park workers.

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The light has been around from 1843, and only ended operation in 1962. Now a provincial historic site and museum, it is not a typical lighthouse. Unlike most light "houses", this one actually looks like a house! Inside, the rooms looked like any other home from the 1800's, right down to the wallpaper decoration that was all the rage back in the day.

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It looked like someone had a few gallons of that red paint left over from doing the stripes on the outside, and it ended up on the trim inside. The red, the green, and the soft white light coming in from the outside was quite visually appealing to The Voices.

Bonavista 23

When I got to the top of the stairs, I could see that it was more than a few gallons of red paint that were left over! The red wall is a clue to the purpose of the building, though, because it is the central stone tower that supports the lantern. It is this tower that the "house" is wrapped around.

Bonavista 28

The doorway leads to another set of stairs, (painted in red, of course) to take you up to the light proper.

Bonavista 27

I was surprised to learn that the light system was a catoptric system. Surprising, because the more effective Fresnel system was first used 20 years earlier at Cordouan, France, and I would have thought the builders of the Bonavista light would have used the latest technology. But they didn't.

Twice, they didn't.

When the lighthouse was first constructed, the builders brought in a used light system from the Bell Rock light in Scotland. Someone must have decided that they could do better than that, and this light system was replaced. But again the Fresnel system was passed over and yet another used, reflector-type light system was installed. They went back to Scotland and got the lighting from the Harbour Grace light***. I find it quite perplexing that they did not use a superior technology that was well established when they built the light. The Scots must have been offering the old gear at a substantial discount.

In this photo, you can see the many parabolic reflectors that make up the Bonavista light.

Bonavista 26

Having seen the light, I was now in good shape to see more sights at the other sites. I headed back the Cape Shore Road to the town as the fog was rolling out to reveal Green Island.

Bonavista 25

Seeing the fishing boat in the above picture got me thinking about how the fishery has changed these last few years. For example, just down from the lighthouse on the Cape Shore Road are some old flakes. Common as dirt back when cod was dried and salted, there is not much call for them today with the near total ban on cod fishing. As a consequence, you do not see too many of them. So I stopped to take a few shots.

Bonavista 21

As I was taking the above photograph, I started chatting with a man who was sitting nearby. He said that the council put up the flakes to show tourists what a flake was. I guess that makes sense. Since no-one is using flakes anymore, an outdoor "museum" exhibit is pretty much the only way to see one. Or with one of my fine art prints.

Bonavista 19
Note: A high resolution version of this image is here on my web gallery.

Another example of the changing "fishscape" is the small speedboat**** that was very common when I was young. Today, with the focus on crab and other catch, fishing boats tend to be much larger and have an enclosed cabin for the crew. This group of speedboats was just down from the flakes. I'd guess they are being used for the "food fishery" which allows a limited number of ground fish to be caught over a short period of time. While this image looks small on this page, it is actually a very large panorama, about one metre wide. At some point, I'm going to print it and hang it on my wall. You will need to click on it and view it in Flickr to see it in a larger size

Bonavista 36

Back in Bonavista, I stopped by the Mockbeggar Plantation. This is another really old place, dating back to the early 1700's. But I wasn't thinking about how old it was as I walked into the drive, though. I was thinking about the visual richness facing me in the moment.

Bonavista 17

Bonavista 15
Note: A high resolution version of this image is here on my web gallery.

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I could have stayed there all day shooting, but I wanted to see the inside of the house. The house was built in 1871, and while it has all the stylistic elements of a house of that era, it is unusually large.

Bonavista 10

On the inside, though, I certainly got the feeling of a traditional outport home. There was lots of wallpaper, linoleum flooring, and painted wooden furniture. I closed my eyes and I could hear my Aunt Meta bustling in the kitchen, telling me to sit down for a cup of tea and a slice of fresh homemade bread.

Bonavista 13

The house was surprisingly bright on the inside.

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Since this is a heritage site, the staff had a number of artifacts on display to help depict life in the heyday of the house.

Bonavista 9

Bonavista 8

From the Mockbeggar Plantation, I was off to the Ryan Premises. The Ryan Premises is a National Historic site and is a large facility with several buildings. In typical Federal government museum style, the exhibits are very detailed and well done, but not much appealed to The Voices. I tried to placate them with a very difficult technical shot of a staircase the house. The shot involved shooting through an arc of 90 degrees, starting from my feet, up a stair case, and ending at a window at the top.

Bonavista 51

This only elicited a yawn from them. "So what?", they said. "Great technically, but there is no imagery here. Nothing to illuminate the soul."

I left the house and walked out back.

"That's it!", they cried. "Take the shot!"

So I took a photo of the house. It was a two-and-a-half story salt box and seemed unremarkable to me.

Bonavista 50

"No, no, no, you half-wit!", the Voices said. "The side of the house!"

So I took a photo of the side of the house, which still seemed quite unremarkable to me.

Bonavista 7

"Oh, why do we stay with you?", the Voices asked. "That is not the shot! Look up! Do you not see the bow of a ship plowing through the icy waters, with two large jellyfish dead ahead?".

So I looked up. And I did.

Bonavista 6
Note: A high resolution version of this image is here on my web gallery.

Many of my images from Newfoundland are available to purchase as fine art prints from my web gallery.

If you would like to read some of my other posts about Newfoundland, click here and use the "Older" and "Newer" links at the bottom to scroll through the posts.
* “Oh, Happy Sight!”
** Bonavista was a terminus for the French Shore in 1713.
*** Harbour Grace, Isle of May, Scotland. Not Harbour Grace, Conception Bay, Newfoundland!
**** There have been a few questions about my use of the term "speedboat". I've always known this type of boat as a speedboat, and the lineage is: a boat powered by oars (for example, a dory), which the in-shore fisherman replaced with a motorboat and its distinctive sounding inboard make-break engine, which in turn was displaced by these speedboats which have an outboard motor.