• Danik Bates

Tales from Newfoundland: the Baie Verte Peninsula

Updated: May 7

‘The northern shore’s used to be settlements full of French fishermen, now they have gone and the English took over them’, one local told me, ‘but for some reason the French place name lives on’. To be honest I didn’t come to the Belle Verte Peninsula in Newfoundland, Canada to find out why places had a French background (but it was nice to get a local history lesson in), instead I was here for a few reasons which I will explain.

Taking a turn on the main highway of the island (The Trans-Canada-Highway-1) and going up route 410, I didn’t pass any settlements, towns, or gas stations for about forty miles. Just trees, lots of ponds (as the locals call it but to me Europeans they are called lakes), and potholes in the road. I came here as Summer arrived. There’s only two seasons here, one is called Winter (or freaking freezing season) which lasts from September to June and the other is Construction season (when the sun comes out and it’s time to repair all the roads).

Before I reached the settlement of Baie Verte I took a right turn onto Route 414 and I had the same view all the way as the previous road. Lots of trees with ponds in beautiful surroundings. Another twenty or so miles of this before I turned onto a gravel track heading towards the ocean. The first destination was Tilt Cove, known to be Canada’s smallest town with a population of four people. I first discovered this town on the BBC News website back home and was kinda wondering what life was like in the smallest town in the world’s second biggest country. Well here I was, overlooking the town on the only road with a sign saying ‘Tilt Cove - Smallest Town in Canada - Population: 4’.

Driving down the dusty track, I parked outside the ‘Way We Were’ museum. Inside I was met by Margaret Collins who is the town clerk and runs the museum (In Tilt Cove there is also Margaret’s husband Don who is the mayor whilst her brother and his wife who live nearby are the town councillors). It was great to walk into the museum to see bits and bobs from the buildings in the town and were given to her. Items such as books used in the school, some old china and photos which were displayed. There is a lot of history here too about the town when in its heyday they had 1,500-2,000 people living here. Starting off as a fishing village, copper metal was soon discovered and because of this, people came across the land to mine and get paid good wages. At that point there was a nightclub here, a movie theatre and sporting activities would take place (Nearby we saw a run down playground which children used to swing on the swings in a run-down state. There would be no activities taking place here unless one wants to throw themselves in the pond or build a snowman when the snow comes).

Margaret loves her town very much, knows the whole history and I was all ears when she was telling her stories and facts about the place like, the only road into the town is the last to get plough by the province as there are no children here (or bus routes). Another one I liked is that there are no internet connections here (great for a social media detox). There is a dial up connection which was installed many years ago but because of the remote location and the cables probably frozen into the ground and snapped, it was a long wait to establish a connection so they just don’t bother anymore. When she isn’t busy talking to the curious visitors in the museum, she keeps busy as the town’s town clerk and told me that her main priority is to keep paying bills so that there is water still flowing into the households and keep the two street lights on the road burning.

I could have talked for ages as I loved her charm and her burning desire to show the world what Tilt Cove was like. She was passionate and showed that by not just giving me answers to my questions or explaining about the life of people here but at the end of every sentence, there would be a smile. She was definitely one of the friendliest characters I have met in Newfoundland so far. After saying goodbyes, I did a tour of the town with the car, driving around the pond and seeing the other buildings with their colours fading away.

Just to point out whilst I was in the museum, there were two other tourists from Canada and I got talking. They explained that earlier that day there were two icebergs joined together (small ones), in a nearby town called Fleur de Lys right on the northern tip of the Belle Verte Peninsula. I didn’t have time to put this town into my schedule but I sure would love to see the icebergs which flow down from the Arctic coming near the coastline (hence the area’s nickname is Iceberg Alley). I will continue this point a bit later on in the post.

It was time to drive to my next destination, La Scie (or as visitors would call it, Lassie, after the famous television dog). This would be my stop for the night as it was late in the afternoon. I checked in at my bed and breakfast accommodation at the Fair Haven Retreat overlooking the town from the north. My host Celeste welcomed me and got settled in. However now it was 6pm and I was asked by Celeste if I had eaten. I hadn’t and she said that all the restaurants would be closed but the grocery store should be open for snacks. I noticed on the drive to La Scie that there were no other restaurants etc for about a three hours drive away (I drove all the way from Rocky Harbour on the west coast) so I had a look of despair on our faces. However, Celeste said she knew the owners of a nice tea room at a museum a few minutes away and would give them a call to say ‘hold fire guys, I got more out of towners heading your way for some food’ (well, not in those words but you can sense where I was going with this).

Arriving at the Outport Museum and Tea Room dead on 6pm, I was made very welcome by the owner, Valerie who served me the best Mac ‘N’ Cheese ever (and I was told to have the famous Jiggs Dinner, some sort of beef meal which is served all over the island but I opted for the pasta dish). Sitting there with a big smile on my face, I got talking to Valerie before her husband Larry came down from the museum to give me a talk on the history of the island but before he did, he said he had the best job on earth, testing Valerie’s food. He is a proud Newfoundlander or Newfie’s as they called around here and as the conversation went on, the more intrigued I was. Walking around the museum I was shown bits and bobs which were given to him and the museum over the years about life on the island. Most of it was fishing stuff but there were some interesting bits and pieces like a compass, photos of some hockey players and maps. He even showed me a flag which he found in the loft one day, a flag of the Union Jack (which is the British flag) with a picture of the Queen on it from the 1950’s. To Larry, this was one of the biggest finds and seemed very pleased with the flag.

The British and Newfoundland connection was explained and it was quite simple. The Kingdom of England (the United Kingdom which at this point didn’t exist until 1801) along with other European countries first started to sail across the Atlantic looking for new land, resources etc but eventually, Kingdom of England ruled the island (and over the years despite having arguments and wars with the neighbours to the south, the French were allowed to stay on the island on the northern shores like La Scie and were only allowed to fish and then they had to return back to France). This happened from 1610 and it was only in the late 1940’s it was given to Canada as the United Kingdom was in financial trouble because of the Second World War. These days some of the older generation still regard themselves as British and some still have the Union Jack flag blowing in the wind proudly outside their homes. The Union Jack flag was used for Newfoundland right up until the 1980’s despite Canada owning the province.

Whilst talking to Larry I noticed a harsh Irish accent (or similar) along with some other locals I spoke to on my visit. It seemed during the years the Kingdom of England/United Kingdom (when it had Ireland under its wings until independence in the early 20th century), sent over more Irish than English, Scottish or Welsh to fish, to live, to find new lands. Now during the week I was comparing Ireland to Newfoundland. The scenery may be different here as with the weather (Newfies have the snow, the Irish have the rain), but the culture, the music, the food, the sense of humour in the remote places, they were very similar. Some locals say on a clear day they can see Ireland from the Bonavista lighthouse on the east coast of the island (of course this is a joke as there is about 4,000 miles worth of ocean in between both islands).

I was kinda sad to stop talking to Larry and Valerie and about the history as I was totally enjoying myself. However I was there for over four hours and now I could hear the owls or other types of birds in the nearby forests or by the cliffs making noises. The streets were in complete darkness. La Scie has gone to sleep (to which I thought was about 6pm but by now, surely everyone was in bed!).

The next morning in my bed and breakfast, Celeste explained about some historical Eskimo carvings in nearby Fleur de Lys. My eyes lit up as I love Arctic history and the whole essence of exploring the region. I thought bugger it, it is time to head up to Fleur de Lys (and kicking something else out of my schedule for the day) in search of the carvings and hoping to see some of the icebergs which were mentioned by the other tourists when I spoke with them in Tilt Cove the day previous. After breakfast I said my goodbyes to Celeste and her lovely dog Zoe, then very quickly went to the lookout points to the north of the town and out to sea, hoping to see whales and maybe an iceberg. Nope, I just got battered by the wind.

The drive to Fleur de Lys was about an hour from La Scie but before arriving I came across a female moose who loved to give me a stare and wanted to know what the hell I was doing. In the end she got bored and moved on, disappearing into the forest. Eventually I drove into the town (with a population of 265 in the 2011 census) until I came to the end of the road. Here I spotted it, the two little icebergs which are connected together but can’t be seen as the connection is under the water. Then before I knew it, another HUGE iceberg drifted in and stopped next to the small ones. I was hoping to get a local fisherman to get me nearer to the icebergs or out to sea in a boat for a small fee but this didn’t happen.

Next stop was the Eskimo carvings. There is a museum explaining about how the discovery was made many years ago in the quarry behind the building. There was a certain tribe of Eskimo and the only place they have left evidence of their existence was here and some settlement high up in the Arctic regions. The carvings on the quarry walls were the highlight but with the weather turning it was time to hit the town and find some place to eat.

Now that has become a very hard task. There was nowhere to eat in the town but I did find a bar. I spoke to the barmaid whilst taking in the clean, modern decor and furnishings whilst having a lunchtime beer before making tracks but I got talking about traveling (of course), what life is like here before talking about the bar. I didn’t see anyone else having a drink here and the barmaid said sometimes there could be days where nobody will be here. It was such a shame as this was a lovely bar with a welcoming barmaid. The highlight of my chat had to be when she owned a car which was purple in colour and it attracted moose out of the forest while she drove south out of the town. (Hint: do not rent or buy purple cars in Canada, it could be a thing where the moose likes purple and wants to say hello).

I left Fleur de Lys and the Belle Verte Peninsula, watching moose as I drove. I loved this area, I loved hearing tales and the history of this island from the locals. There is a real sense of community here and to be honest in North America, this special connection can be hard to find sometimes. I was pleased that I made the journey to this area and hopefully one day I will return, to see if Tilt Cove has got bigger or smaller, if a ‘Jiggs Dinner’ is the meal to have or to see if any more Iceberg’s have floated on by.


Check out my blog on the different landscapes of Newfoundland found here

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