Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Burgoyne's Cove Crash Site

Memorial to those killed in the crash.

The presence of the American military in the Second World War and subsequent decades had a great influence upon Newfoundland and Labrador. The American servicemen brought American culture. The American government brought American dollars, especially in the form of relatively well-paying base construction jobs. Twenty thousand or so Newfoundland women married American servicemen. Although these days the American military presence in Newfoundland is limited largely to cargo planes passing through the airports and the occasional warship in the harbor, remnants of their cold war activity remain throughout the island, and I suspect that those sites will make more than one appearance in this blog.

One of the more dramatic sites is the crash site of an RB-36 bomber at Burgoyne's Cove, near Clarenville. In October 1953 the bomber (one of the largest military aircraft ever) was on its way to the US from the Azores. It was navigating by sight, and flying low to avoid radar detection. It was supposed to come in over the coast of Maine as a test of the US air defence network.

Jet engine from the wreckage.

Due to weather they were off course, and didn’t realize they were over land. The aircraft hit a 900-foot hill near Burgoyne's Cove, and all 23 on board were killed. Here’s a good story from The Telegram about the crash, and this link (courtesy of The Telegram article) has good descriptions of what happened that night.

The tail section of the plane, the largest intact piece.

To get there, turn off the TCH at Memorial Drive in Clarenville. Keep going through Clarenville, through Shoal Harbour and Milton, until you reach the route 232 exit at George’s Brook. Take route 232 through Barton, Harcourt, Gin Cove, and Clifton to Burgoyne’s Cove. In Burgoyne’s Cove, turn left past the church, up the road with the Newfoundland Slate Company sign. The road is dirt from this point on. Take a right at another Newfoundland Slate Company sign, and keep going until you see a small sign indicating the trail to the crash site, about 5 km from Burgoyne’s Cove. The dirt road can get pretty rough, especially near the end, but my small car made it fine. It’s about a 40 minute hike up the trail, which was pretty wet and slippery in places. But definitely worth it.

Wikipedia article about the B-36 "Peacemaker."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cape Spear's Black Fox

This photo was taken at Cape Spear a few years ago, just outside the Park boundaries where some friends and I had camped for the night, after hiking from Fort Amherst.

There are a couple of things to think about here. The first is that overgrown rock wall. These are the remains of the walls that lighthouse keepers and their families built to enclose their vegetable gardens, and as you can see, they are disappearing into the brush. Every year when I go back to this spot less and less of these walls are visible, and this grassy clearing where we camped is now almost completely overgrown.
Lighthouse keepers lived in unique circumstances in coastal Newfoundland, and these remnants of how they supported themselves are disappearing. I imagine some archaeologist digging down through the dirt in 500 years and finding these walls, and trying to piece together how they relate to whatever remains of the lighthouses by then.
The second thing to notice is the small black fox, just in front of me. This little guy was a bit of a regular at Cape Spear, although I haven't seen him in a couple of years. He has/had a pretty sweet life, living off the scraps thrown to him by tourists. As you can see, he has almost no fear of people. In fact, he crept up to within a couple of feet of us to steal a bag of pancake mix. He still has my spoon.
One of the things I think about when hiking is how our presence is affecting the environment and the wildlife, especially in areas like Cape Spear (or anywhere on the East Coast Trail) where the trails are very close to communities. As this fox demonstrates, when we interact with nature, we change the behavior of animals and affect the natural landscape around us. And not always for the better.
I also think about what that archaeologist will make of a spoon, made of 21st century plastics, buried somewhere among a 19th century rock wall. Should be an interesting puzzle.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Colinet Island, St. Mary's Bay

In the summer of 1999, I took a trip on a small boat across the waters of St. Mary’s Bay. We landed at a place called Reginaville, where Felix, the boat’s owner, tossed our gear out onto the beach and said goodbye. Above the beach were soft grassy fields with the cracked concrete foundations of houses scattered around, and we set up camp, our home for the next 4 days on Great Colinet Island.

This was my Gold Qualifying journey for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Program, and it was one of the first trips that made me think about the changing ways people have lived in Newfoundland and Labrador. Colinet Island was once home to a few hundred people who made their living mostly from the cod fishery. But the residents made the decision to resettle in 1960.

Resettlement refers to the programs, funded by the provincial and federal governments, which provided various levels of support and encouragement to residents of small communities to leave for larger centres. The rationale was simple. People wanted services – schools, medical care, roads – and Newfoundland’s isolated, scattered population made providing those services prohibitively expensive. So, from 1954 to 1975, the government supported (or coerced, depending on your perspective) the removal of about 30,000 people from isolated coastal communities to larger towns, completely vacating about 300 communities.

Resettlement is almost a dirty word in Newfoundland, linked with ideas of government abandonment of rural communities and the forced removal of thousands of people from their homes. The true picture of resettlement, of course, is much more complicated. Many of the residents felt forced to leave, betrayed by government and their neighbours. Many were happy to move their families to where they had better opportunities for education and employment.

Whatever the feelings of the residents of resettled communities, 4 days on Colinet Island showed me that Reginaville and Mosquito (the two abandoned communities) were once somebody’s home. There are house foundations and chimneys, and the remains of fish plants on the beaches were the residents would once have gone to work. The Reginaville church is identifiable by its front steps, and the church in Mosquito had collapsed, leaving a pile of wooden siding, tarpaper, stained glass and bird nests.

Overgrown headstones in Reginaville cemetery.

The graveyards are perhaps the most interesting places on the island. It’s possible to reconstruct entire families, but I always ask more questions. How did Francis Power die at the age of 17? What was John Linehan doing in Brooklyn, New York when he died?

In his fine play about resettlement “West Moon,” Al Pittman suggested that forgetting the dead was worse than death itself. I’m not sure that’s true – it’s human nature to move on. But there is something sad in about these abandoned places, and something comforting in knowing that they are visited by people from time to time.

Most of these resettled communities are difficult to reach, but there are some that are relatively easily accessible. La Manche on the Southern Shore is only a 30 minute drive and 20 minute walk from St. John’s. Kerley’s Harbour and British Harbour, on the Bonavista Peninsula near the Random Passage film set, are also fairly accessible.

You can see more pictures of Colinet Island here, courtesy of the Maritime History Archive.

P.S. I wish I had more pictures of Colinet Island. This trip was before the days of digital cameras, and looking through my old photo albums really made me realize how much easier to is to record your trips when you can preview your shots and you’re not limited by film exposures.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Welcome to Dead Man's Bay

I have been an avid hiker for most of my life, although for the first 18 years, I didn’t know it. I just thought everybody played in the woods. When I moved to St. John’s to attend Memorial University, I learned differently. I found out that hiking and camping was something not everyone did. Some would look at you funny when you told them you were spending three days in the woods. I could almost see questions like “But where do you plug in your Xbox?” going through their heads.

People travel for a lot of reasons: to relax, to explore the world, to learn about other people and places, or just from a feeling of restlessness that they can’t seem to escape. Outdoor pursuits are the same: people walk, hike, camp, bike, canoe and kayak for all kinds of reasons: to stay in shape, for the adventure, for love of the outdoors. But I wonder: how often do people stop to think about the history of the places that their hiking or kayaking trips are taking them?

I’ve always been fascinated by the past, by the chance to learn something about the people who came before us, and whenever a hiking trail takes me past an old rock wall or a crumbling house foundation I can’t help but wonder who built it. What did they grow in their gardens? What meals were prepared on the stove, whose chimney now stands in the field, home to a family of birds? Who walked these trails before us, with our Gore-Tex boots and expensive backpacks?

I think learning about the past is the only way to truly appreciate the present, to understand how places and people have come to be what they are. I also think you more fully appreciate the meaning of the places and landscapes you’re traveling through if you understand their history.Most travelers would agree when talking about the great cities of the world or ancient monuments. But the forests and oceans are no different.

Think about the importance of walking trails to the inhabitants of the Southern Shore before there were roads, and the East Coast Trail becomes more meaningful. The D’Iberville Trail only makes sense if you know who D’Iberville was, and what he used the trail for. If you consider that not so long ago the sea was the highway and not a barrier, then kayaking in Trinity can be a very different experience.

Welcome to Dead Man’s Bay, a blog about hiking and history in Newfoundland and Labrador.