Monday, 10 August 2015

Battle Harbour

2013_NL_F21_002Battle Harbour holds deep historic and cultural significance for Newfoundlanders. Settlement on Battle Island, where Battle Harbour is located, dates from the late 1700's. Due to its harbour and proximity to the rich cod fishing grounds, it was the economic hub of south-eastern Labrador for about two hundred years.

My knowledge of Battle Harbour was limited to knowing that my friend Jan Hardy and her family would pack up each summer and leave Carbonear for Battle Harbour. While I had long been curious about the place, I never had an opportunity to visit until the summer of 2013, when I was going to be in Labrador, and heard that Jan would be in Battle Harbour at the same time.

When I was planning our trip to Battle Harbour, I discovered that it is now largely managed by the Battle Harbour Trust, which was granted a number of buildings on the island. They have attempted to turn the place into a tourist destination with exhibits, tours, accommodations, and meals. Note the key word accommodation, because unless you already have a cabin on the island, you will need to reserve one of their rooms if you are not going back to Mary's Harbour on the return ferry.

Entering the harbour, I was not surprised to see a similar view as on entering almost any other outport: small homes located close to the water, abandoned structures collapsing back into the land, and barren, windswept vistas.

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As in many isolated places, the arrival of visitors is a highlight that breaks up the day. In this case, there is nothing quite like your morning cup of tea after hanging out the laundry, and having a gawk at the incoming visitors.

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A small welcoming committee was on hand to see us in as we tied up.

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We didn't tie up at the Government wharf, as that was in a considerable state of disrepair due to ice damage from a few seasons prior.

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From the boat, I got my first close-up look at the place: a decent slipway (in use), typical outport grass (unmowed), and the RCMP barracks in the background. I happened to mention to my Dad that I was thinking of visiting Battle Harbour and discovered that he had spent time there as a young Mounted Policeman. The small house with the Canadian flag in front of it served as the barracks, the office, and the jail.

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There was a lot of work being done on the island, as workers continue to improve the dilapidated buildings.

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This stage is a great example of how Newfoundlanders were able to build their structures so close to the water - they put them on stilts.

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As I mentioned, the grass was typical for an outport - goat length!

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There are no trees on the island. I doubt there ever were any, and if there were, they would have been long cut down to either burn for heat, or to make something. All wood has to be brought in from the mainland.

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Trees in Newfoundland and Labrador do not grow that big, but they are very handy for making a fish flake. Small enough to easily handle, yet strong enough to support your weight as you lay out (or take in) fish. In the case of this flake, I doubt anyone has stood on it in a long time, as most of the wood appeared rotten.

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Just as they built right at water's edge, the ever practical Newfoundlander did not hesitate to build into the side of a hill.

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The main building hosts the store, the kitchen, and the dining room. As with other parts of the site, there was a lot of "Labrador-inspired" decorations, such as these window coverings. While I can appreciate the regionalism which many people who live in Labrador feel, Battle Harbour was inhabited by transients from the island and not by locals. But as with most things related to tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador, realism plays only a small part.

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One thing that was genuine and authentic were the buns served with the food. While the food was very good, the buns were as tasty as any bun made by my Aunt Meta, my Aunt Blanche, or my Nan.

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While small, and somewhat inaccurate in its historical portrayal, I would highly recommend a visit to the Battle Habour site to anyone wanting to get a feel for what most outports in Newfoundland and Labrador were like.


Here is a list of links to all of the blog posts from my 2013 tour around Newfoundland:

Cuckolds Cove to Carbonear
Signal Hill
Boat Tour!
Bird Watching!
Whale Watching!
Fogo Part 1: Getting There
Fogo Part 2: Walking Around
Fogo Part 3: The Fishery
Fogo Part 4: The Fogo Island Inn
Twillingate Part 1: Getting There
Twillingate Part 2: Wine, Music, and Whine
Twillingate Part 3: An Iceberg and a Lighthouse
Twillingate Part 4: Down to the Sea in Boats
Trout River and Gros Morne National Park
St. Anthony: Grenfell House and Big Boats
St. Anthony: A Whale of a Tale!
St. Anthony: Ice, Ice, Baby!
Red Bay: A World Heritage Site
Mary's Harbour
Battle Harbour
Point Armour and Gros Morne

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