Culture and History in the Coast of Bays
This two-day itinerary of the Coast of Bays includes the Bay d’Espoir area and the Connaigre Peninsula on the southern coast of the island of Newfoundland.
We begin with a 90-minute drive from Route 1 at Bishop’s Falls down Route 360 to the Bay d’Espoir area. Pronounced ‘bay despair’, it is one of the enduring ironies of Newfoundland. The original French name means ‘bay of hope.’ At the intersection of Routes 360 and 361 is the Coast of Bays Arts and Exploration Centre which serves as an introduction to the region. It features an art gallery, archives, performance space and exhibit hall. You can also watch a video of the area here.
Turn onto Route 361 and head for St. Alban’s. The Royal Canadian Legion Museum here tells the stories of the men from this area who served overseas.
Two particular industries in this region offer contrasting examples of our natural resources. The hydro plant here, the largest on the island, captures the motive force of water to make electricity. The fish farm takes advantage of the slightly warmer ocean temperatures on the south coast to raise salmon fry to marketable size.
Return to Route 360 for a short drive to Route 365, which takes you to the Mi’kmaq town of Conne River. It is not certain when this aboriginal group came to Newfoundland, but it was at least several hundred years ago. During the 19th century, many Mi’kmaq were guides and trappers while continuing to hunt and fish in a wide area of central and western Newfoundland. Their current economy is diversified into aquaculture, hunting and fishing lodges and logging. Today, our destination is the craft outlet next to the Band Council office.
Head south where the fjords are as majestic as those in western Newfoundland or Norway, but remain largely undiscovered gems. Stay on Route 360 all the way to Harbour Breton .
Around the turn of the 20th century, the Queen Ann-style of grand house was popular with merchants in the province, and the one in Harbour Breton is one of the largest. Built by John Rose, it is now the community museum with displays exhibits on various historic themes such as resettlement and the role Newman & Co. played in the economy and culture of the town.
Today we drive to Hermitage-Sandyville on Route 364 and take a short boat ride to the remote village of Gaultois, then head to the eastern side of the Coast of Bays and the communities that overlook Fortune Bay.
Hermitage was first settled by French fishermen in the 17th century because of its ice-free harbour. In fact, ice is very rarely seen on Newfoundland’s south coast. This community and Sandyville span the peninsula that separates Hermitage and Connaigre Bays.
Gaultois, which is located on an island, is only a 20-minute boat ride to the west, and the boat makes several round trips each day. (The boat also makes several trips each week to the next community west, along the coast, MacCallum, which is also reached only by water.) A visit here and to the other communities along the south coast is a step back to the time when most coastal communities were connected to each other and the outside world only by boat. The town’s name is believed to be derived from the old Norman word for pinnacle, of which there are several in the area. Archaeological finds indicate the area was used by Maritime Archaic, Paleoeskimo, and Beothuk aboriginal groups. In the 19th century, Newman & Co. had a whaling station here, and because the area could be fished year round, it became a centre for the cod fishery.
Return to Hermitage and drive along Route 364 to its intersection with 362 and follow that road south. A side road goes to Pool’s Cove from where a small coastal boat connects to the remote community of Rencontre East and continues to Bay L’Argent on the Burin Peninsula.
There are eight small communities between Belleoram and Coombe’s Cove on the northwestern shore of Fortune Bay. Belleoram is like several other communities on the south coast: built on a narrow strip of land backed by hills or cliffs. The French fished here in the 17th and 18th centuries, and were forced to leave under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. English fishermen moved in and their descendants live there to this day.
One of two main historic attractions along this coast is John Cluett Heritage House, the oldest structure in Fortune Bay, dating from 1844. It’s an English-style cottage often referred to in this province as a saltbox house. It’s been a museum since 1993 when the family turned it over to the town. The other old building well worth a visit is the J. Petite and Sons Museum in English Harbour West, which was once owned by a family that operated banking schooners.
Depending on the timing of your visit, you may be able to take in one or more of the folk festivals held in the Coast of Bays area each summer.