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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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"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.

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"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.

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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.

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