2008 Keys 2 Canada travel blog

our campsite in the ferry parking lot

better than a lot of campgrounds

our destination for today

ferry dock

Madolyn found some blueberries

Mary's Harbour

Iceberg Hunter

getting ready to cast off

draggers

the channel out of the harbor

dolphin

this little girl is from Ontario and has never seen the ocean...

passing island

approaching Battle Harbour

Battle Harbour docks

much as the fishermen left it

rack for drying nets

seaplane

this side of the harbor is the deep water side

faces of days gone by

the village as it looked in it's prime - less the people

drying firewood - which was all imported to the island

the salt storehouse

net and floats

Labrador schooner loaded with cod

hand hewn wooden 'knee'

blacksmith bellows

salt storehouse

every surface inside is still wet to the touch - and always...

cart used to haul salt

they filled the lower floor through hatches like this - clear to...

view of the docks from the salt storehouse

Robert E. Peary - held his press conference here when he claimed...

press clipping

the conference was held in this room

view of the 'tickle'

seal net and press for processing the oil from seal blubber

our guide Cyril - a fine example of the kind of people...

'flake' where the salted fish was dried

view of the village church from the flake

picture taken at the turn of the century - no fish any...

top of an old fish barrel

one of the many great old photos

and another

salt storehouse and salt cart

relic of the past

the beauty of fireweed

pilings sit on top of the rock

view of the boat channel

the Newfoundland of old

still able to take your breath away

beauty in decay

view across the channel

this photo is now my desktop

Iceberg Hunter waiting for the ride home

Amber in the white hood

standing next to a couple from Alberta

Lloyd, Madolyn and Diane

on the road again

that long, lonely road

trying to get to Port Hope Simpson before dark

we made it

a campground overgrown with weeds

but with a fine view of the harbor

Movie Clips - Playback Requirements - Problems?

(MP4 - 5.14 MB)

Mary's Harbour

(MP4 - 3.53 MB)

Cyril-Salt Curing Cod Fish


Battle Harbour - once the Salt Fish Capital of Labrador - Monday, August 18

Today we traveled by boat, the Iceberg Hunter, to an island eleven miles off the mainland in the Labrador Sea. It is the site of a fishing village that was once the ‘salt fish capital of Labrador’. When the cod fishery died the village died with it, and the homes and buildings of a once thriving community were abandoned.

Fortunately a Battle Harbor Historic Trust was formed, and after seven years of hard work, the village today is largely restored. It is now open to the public and it offers a rare look into Labrador’s past. More than just a lesson in history it’s a way to be touched by it. A visit that leaves us richer for the experience, and gives us a renewed admiration and respect for the industry, fortitude and courage of the people who lived and worked here.

On the boat ride over we met Lloyd Luthur, a man who lived on the island as a child. There with his brother and their parents he learned the skills of the sea, and today he is captain of the Iceberg Hunter. While he sometimes left Battle Harbor for other jobs over the years, he always came back to this place he loved. He’s a quiet and observant man, but also friendly and generous in sharing his knowledge and experience. Whether he was talking about the Orcas he saw yesterday on the trip to the island, or about his life as a child growing up on the island, listening to him was a pleasure and a privilege.

The woman who books the trips is Diane. She is a warm and friendly person, generous enough to allow us to camp over night in their parking lot, and thoughtful enough to give us a key to the washroom, and in the morning to let us use her internet connection so we could update our position on the trip journal. She has an Obama sticker on her car, and she is very informed on U.S. politics. We could not have taken this day trip if we’d have had to drive 34 miles north to Port Hope Simpson to camp for the night, so we are doubly grateful to Diane.

The trip to Battle Harbour takes a little over an hour, and when you get there you can see Belle Isle out in the strait. As the boat draws near the dock the village draws you in and invites you to walk it’s grassy paths. The buildings are old and authentic, and finely restored. A number of life sized black and white photographs of the fishermen and women who inhabited the island watch you from the dock. Their faces are rugged and full of life - people you would like to get to know.

A woman who works for the trust greets the boat, and there are men and boys to take the luggage of the people who are staying overnight on the island. They have a number of accommodations that make modern use of the restored old buildings. We opted for lunch and had a good family style meal in the dining room over the General Store. It gave us the opportunity to talk to our boat mates and learn a little about them. One group had a common interest in mushrooms and was there for some sort of meeting having to do with fungi.

After lunch we met for a guided tour. The tour guide was a fifth generation islander named Cyril, and we were so fortunate to have a man who knew the island and it’s history so intimately. He was soft spoken and had a kindly manner, but he told the story of the island with painful honesty. He told of a hard life wringing livelihood from the sea, and of brutally hard winters when the ‘glitter rain’ would cover the island with ice and islanders had to wear ‘creepers’ just to get around. Firewood and drinking water had to be imported, and when the ice was in supplies often ran short.

He talked of the company store, and of the island’s unique credit system that used no cash. He talked of how the company set the prices of everything, of the fish they bought and of the supplies they sold the fishermen, and he talked of how the system was rigged so the best you could hope for was to break even. He said without the free wild game they could not have survived, and he talked of the winter Harp seal hunts and of all the uses they made of the kill.

Cyril took us into building after building, and his history of each made you feel as though you’d been there. In the salt storehouse we touched the pillars and beams still wet with pickling, even though the salt has been gone for years. Outside he showed us the platform where the fish was dried after it was salted. He said the hardest job of all was drying the fish. They needed at least four dry and windy days, something that no one could count on in this climate.

In all Cyril’s reminiscence there was never a tone of bitterness or complaint. There was dignity in his acceptance of hardship, and we found ourselves listening carefully and not wanting to miss a word he said. We thanked him and said, ‘goodbye’ and then paid our bill and boarded the boat.

On the trip back we looked for the Orcas but there were none to be seen. On the way a man came up and told me he’d picked us a pound of bakeapples on the island. His name is Amber and he’s a retired fisherman who lives in the Mary’s Harbour Senior Center. He pointed out the village where he’d lived. It was a small collection of white buildings on a distant shore, and as we looked toward it we could see a rainbow over it.

Ashore we transferred the fruits of Amber’s labor to our own containers, and we thanked him for his kindness. The last we saw of him he was trudging up the hill toward the Senior Center with a token of our gratitude. We said ‘goodbye’ to Diane and Lloyd, and then headed up the bumpy road to Port Hope Simpson.

The 34 mile drive took an hour and a half and it was nearly dark when we got there and found the little RV park on the shore of the inlet. It was overgrown with weeds and there was only one other occupant. The woman said they’ve had it for five years but no one ever comes there to stay. We told her it might be the road. :-)

We took some pictures and settled in for a quite night with some sprinkles on the roof. Tomorrow is the big day, and the thought of driving 125 miles on a dirt road through a wilderness has us both a little apprehensive. But that is something we will deal with tomorrow.



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