Miawpukek First Nation Reserve and Coast of Bays

Each year we try to see more of this diverse island landscape so, heavy hearted at leaving the Blue Charm Inn, we set out southwards along Route 360 from Bishop Falls. After passing through quite dense forest the landscape opened up to rolling rocky hills and high barrens and, of course, the ubiquitous ‘ponds’ (large lakes to Australians!). To the east lies the Middle Ridge Wildlife Reserve adjoining the Bay Du Nord Wilderness Reserve with the largest woodland Caribou herd on the Island.

From there we headed down to the Conne River estuary and the Miawpukek First Nation community sited on the bank of one of the largest glacial carved fjords in Newfoundland. This community became a permanent settlement from 1822 and is home to peoples of Mi’kmac, Abenaki, Innu and European descent. What a stunning place to live!

Head of Bay d’Espoir, French for ‘Bay of Hope’, pronounced Bay Despair by the locals, was where we spent the night, an old logging and fishing area at the very tip of the fjord, where 40% of the hydro power used on Newfoundland is produced.

At Milltown we came across a “barasway”, a rare occurrence when a part of a bay is cut off from the tidal flow of salt water. This term is Newfoundland slang adapted from the Basque word, ‘barratxoa’ meaning ‘little bar’.

Next day we explored out to the ends of the promontories, including Seal Cove, one of the rockiest, flattest, barren landscapes we have come across. What it must have taken to begin a life there yet quite a large community continues to exist. Two large churches dominate the landscape and a large proportion of the population follow the Salvation Army faith.

We had a great tour with guide Lorri at the M’kmaq Discovery Centre which housed sophisticated displays telling of the lives of all peoples who made this part of the world their home.

Further south is the remote village of Harbour Breton, one of the first French settlements dating from the 1600’s. When the many outports of this area were ‘resettled’ on the mainland in the 1960’s, Harbour Breton grew as a main service centre. We picnicked at Deadman’s Cove (more inviting than it name suggests!) entertained by bald eagles, arctic terns, multi-coloured sands, clear blue oceans and masses of brightly coloured butterlies.

As we were making good time with our travels we decided ‘on speck ‘ to take the ferry across Hermitage Bay to the outports of McCallum and Gaultois. These are communities that can only be reached by ferry and there are no roads or cars. The coastline is rugged with high cliffs and deep fiords. One and half hour trip took us to McCallum where wooden boardwalks link the houses that hug the rocks. Passengers cart their goods by wheelbarrow. It is quiet and unpolluted…

Turning back east for an hour brought us to the hidden harbour of gorgeous Gaultois.  A pod of pothead whales escorted us in and the rocky outcrops take the form of animals and faces. An enchantment begins…

A long boardwalk painted in the town colours of red and white winds up past the Lions Club where the older men of the town gather to spin yarns into the evening light. The Gaultois Inn is our place of rest for the night and we are immediately taken into the fold of two delightfully generous and hospitable women, Susan and Meredith. After supper we decided to book for another night so we have more time to explore this charming outport.

We start the next day with about an 8km return trek to Piccarie – a resettled outport where no buildings exist after hundreds of years occupation. The path had been trodden for hundreds of years by workers doing the trip back and forth each day, no matter the weather, to work in the Gaultois fish plant. When the plant closed in 2010 a community project involved the women of the town in constructing boardwalks across the marshiest places and floating picnic tables across the large ponds. We chatted with five locals who had ‘beaten down’ (demolished) an old house from Gaultois and were ‘beating it up’ (reconstructing it) at Piccarie as a shelter and tea room for hikers.

Gaultois (based on French word meaning ‘pinnacle’ or ‘dome’ which describes the rocky outcrops) was inhabited by local Indian tribes before being settled by the French as a whaling station in the 1600’s. Whale Island in Gaultois Bay is the only remaining archeological site of these stations on Newfoundland mapped by Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia!)Archeologist Mark Staniforth 2007.

It is a place steeped in history that is currently in transition. After a peak of over 850 residents on Long Island Gaultois is now home to about 175. The newly established salmon farms provide work for most of the remaining adult male population. It still supports a school for all ages, library, town hall, fire brigade and ferry access to mainland several times a day all year round and a warm and welcoming community. Highly recommended as a place to stay for anyone wanting to explore the Coast of Bays as you can ferry hop from here all the way to Burgeo.

Gaultois is snuggled in a hidden harbour on Long Island which should be renamed ‘Enchanted Island’. A pod of at least twenty porpoise escorted our boat back to the mainland. What a special time we had…

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