Posted by: alexhickey | October 25, 2015

Back Cove ©

Is there a coastal community in Newfoundland which doesn’t have a “back cove?”

St. Jacques Back Cove Beach

St. Jacques Back Cove Beach

The eastern side of St. Jacques feature a protective arm of land which extends southward into Fortune Bay providing the community with an exquisite harbour. It was on the harbour side of this arm that the Burke and Young families established their fishing rooms in the early to mid-1800s; where the Roman Catholics built their first church and where the Presentation Order established their convent in the 1890’s. The Fortune Bay side of the arm faces the spectacular beauty St. Jacques Island. It is along here that we find St. Jacques Back Cove.

By definition, a cove is a sheltered nook or recess along a shoreline. But for a single headland situated approximately one third of the way along the beach there is hardly any shelter that would define this stretch of coastline as a cove. Its pebble beach runs parallel with the treeline and is washed directly by the currents of Fortune Bay. Eastern Point, at the entrance to St. Jacques harbour, breaks most of the southerly and westerly winds while St. Jacques Island breaks some of the impact of winds from the southeast. Easterly winds, however, pound the shore with successive waves sending sprays of white foam all the way to the beach head. Stand there for a few minutes under such circumstances and you will feel the essence of the ocean build up on your face; your lips will pick up the delicate saltiness of the moistened air. Sheltered also from northerly winds, the Back Cove can be a delightful place to visit, to sit on its sun-warmed rocks and watch seagulls, osprey, sea ducks and eagles patrol the passage between the cove and the island.

Just a few years ago one could watch buff coloured, green trimmed dories bobbing at anchor on the Thoroughfare Shoal, or the “Therfer” as it is most commonly known; its occupant’s arms sawing languidly back and forth as weighted jiggers enticed curious cod. Others could be seen drifting casually over the shoal then repeatedly being rowed back to their starting point to drift again. Today, a visitor to the cove would most likely gaze and remember or imagine, while watching modern vessels engaged in the aquaculture industry make their way in and out the bay.

Rarely does the Back Cove attract visitors in the numbers it once did. A well-trodden path once led people up one side of the hill past what in recent years used to be the house lived in by Fred and Alice Hickey. Prior to that, the house was owned by Joseph and Veronica Earle. Many years earlier, long before the Earle house was built, according to local history, the path skirted by the house of Dan Farrell. Today, only remnants of a foundation can be seen of the Farrell house, hidden deep within the trees, known to but a few. The path climbs upward from there and levels at the crest of the hill.

After the climb this is a welcome respite, a place to pause and regain some level of control over one’s breathing and to look in wonder at the expanse of Fortune Bay; to allow ones gaze to follow the contours of the Burin Peninsula just twelve miles away as it disappears into the southern horizon somewhere near Grand Bank. From this vantage point, Chapel Island at the mouth of Belleoram’s harbour is quire visible as is Sugar Loaf Hill near Bay L’Argent. Dominating the ocean are the rugged cliffs of St. Jacques Island which emerge from the ocean’s surface as straight and tall as any skyscraper anywhere. Sandy Point, a spit of pebbles shaped like a tail on the island, points in the direction of the Back Cove.

Between this momentary resting place at the crest of the hill and the salt water is a forest of spruce and fir trees which today have enclosed the pathway leaving it barely discernible. However, when it was passable you climbed down into its shade to emerge from the dense pungent evergreen forest to a point on the beach just west of Jimmy’s Rock. The last stretch of that path skirted a small marshy wetland fed by an underground trickle of cold water which surfaced from its hidden journey just before reaching the shoreline.

For decades there was never a need to tend to the path, to trim branches or cut back unwanted growth for the steady march of determined feet kept such things at bay. Men, women and children carried baskets and refreshments along the route throughout the seemingly endless days of summer.  Wafting smoke would drift seaward as makeshift fire pits brought soot-blackened tea kettles to boil while children daringly dodge waves, hopping and jumping with vocal glee as the cool water moved in and out, occasionally gaining the upper hand and the loser, wet feet!

The sharp crack of honed axes meeting the stems of green trees destined to fuel kitchen stoves during the cold frozen months of winter are rarely heard anymore. Nor is the echo of voices behind a screen of trees as families tilled the fertile forest floor to plant root vegetables. Instead, one can focus on the repetitive sound of gravel rolling with the waves, the rustling of tree branches responding to the refreshing breezes and the stirring refrains of songbirds flitting about the treetops.

Where once, battered wooden lobster pot buoys could be found along the high tide mark, one can still gather driftwood and fallen branches for fires and find treasures tossed ashore on the tide; such things as bleached lobster tails, the spiny, empty exoskeletons of sea urchins, an occasional scallop shell now turned a chalky white through abrasion or the remnants of iridescent blue mussels.

An astute eye might notice where an ill-fated attempt to position an undersea cable to deliver electricity to St. Jacques Island was once located or places where erosion has caused the collapse of cliff face rocks onto the rounded stones below. Still embedded in a crevice on Jimmy’s rock is a rusted metal shaft to which fishermen once secured their nets. Further down the beach towards Belleoram, sticking out of the impacted layers of rock are several weathered boards which once formed the sides of a valued fishing boat. Along the edge of the forest a discerning observer will notice nuances in the exposed peat which upon investigation turn out to be fox holes.

A walk along the beach stimulates leisure memories, brings on admiration for the persistent and incessant forces of nature as once jagged rocks are rounded smooth and reinforces the beauty of this treasured piece of shoreline. It also reminds one of how pristine the coast remains in spite of extensive ocean pollution world-wide and how appealing such a beach must have been to the earliest settlers from Europe. When viewed from either end, its expanse speaks loudly of how great a location it must have been to dry salted fish in the open air.

Tales of unmarked graves, buried treasure, fairies, ghosts and secret places in the Back Cove that have travelled through generations, have been waning with time; waning in the absence of young boys and girls exploring the hillside, waning in the absence of families organizing Sunday outings on the beach, and waning in the face of a world awash with entertainment and distractions. Yet, the special place that is St. Jacques Back Cove persists, travelling largely unchanged through time quietly awaiting the next visitor.

Who will it be, I wonder?

Click on Comments below to share your memories of St. Jacques Back Cove.


  1. Just wondering if you have any more information on Dan Farrell referred to?

  2. Yet another excellent posting….so good to see that photo you took of the Back Cove…it added so much to your posting……as children, the Back Cove was our” wonder-land..where toad stools became Fairy thrones…and the air was magic….and raspberries grew in abundance …and “Fred Hickey’s Spot” where we couldn’t pick them because it was “Fred Hickey’s Spot” and we respected other chiildren’s territory.Thank you,Alex: John

  3. I want to let you know that my dear husband, George. A. Pauls has passed away and will no more be able to read the very interesting writings from St. Jacques. Thank you from him, E. D. Pauls (wife) Sent from my iPad


  4. When we were young fondly remember the bbq’s we would have out bk cove.. the whole family take a boat ride and stay for the day😬then finish it wit a great bbq😍

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