Posted by: alexhickey | December 6, 2015

Cellar Hill and Red Rail Hill ©

Change is inevitable; it reaches every small place on this planet. St. Jacques has witnessed a great deal of change since the first fishermen sailed into its harbour and cast envious eyes on its beaches and evergreen clad hills. Residents of the harbour accept the fact that as services are improved some of the old landmarks and features will inevitably undergo transformation. The harbour front has seen wharves, fishing stages and piers come and go, their demise affected by time and the ocean which washes the shoreline around the clock. Houses and public buildings such as churches have been built and dismantled; shorelines have eroded and the forest surrounding the harbour has been razed and replenished endless times to keep families warm.

The roadways which provided public accessibility to various parts of the community have also changed over time. Roads which were maintained rigorously and diligently by local roads boards have in many cases blended into the fields and backyards of today’s residents. A few, such as the Lower Road which provided access to the fishing premises of the Young Brothers for almost two centuries still provides access for today’s fishermen to their sheds and slipways.

At the point where Big Hill immerses its tapered edge into the salt sea of the Harbour, sits the roadway which connects the eastern side of the community to the western side. This short stretch of roadway that skirts along the base of Big Hill underwent significant change during the mid-sixties as the Department of Highways undertook road improvements through the harbour. As part of the main road through the community it also serves as the direct route to Belleoram which lies four kilometres beyond St. Jacques.

Cellar Hill and Red Rail Hill Winter 1970's

Cellar Hill and Red Rail Hill Winter 1970’s

This part of the harbour was recognized by local residents for the magnificent snow drifts which would accumulate every winter. Snow would build up on the hill and taper out over the road and down to the landwash. One’s eyes could travel from the salt water along an unbroken surface of wind-swept snow to the crest of Big Hill and the intense blue sky which usually accompanied the aftermath of a snow storm. There would be no visual reference points of a roadway; no indication that horses, people and vehicles made their way along the edge of the hillside just a day or hours before the storm.

Though there were few residents who experienced skiing, the slope, were it not for the icy water at the end of the exhilarating trip down, would be the envy of many avid skiers. Children rapidly gathered on the slopes, daredevils, who felt no danger and denied the admonitions of parents, took full advantage of the endless carpet to travel at breakneck speeds downhill and at the last possible moment veer off course onto the safety of that portion of the roadway not completely covered by snow.

The deep snow along that section of roadway presented many challenges in the days before roads were plowed during the winter months. In those years a horse and cart was the best and most efficient means of carrying a load of goods or materials from one part of the community to another. On many occasions the goods to be carted around the harbour during winter included the body of a deceased resident heading to the Anglican Church or one on the way to the Roman Catholic Cemetery located on the extreme Western end of the community, for burial. A horse would sink to its belly, each step laboriously taken as it hauled the wooden box on a sled; all hands accompanying it desperately working to keep the sled balanced lest its cargo be toppled off and lost down the snowy slope into the near-frozen harbour. Though often feared, it never happened!

The improvements to this section of roadway meant considerable alteration to the physical landscape. In order to widen the road to contemporary standards portions of the hillside had to be blasted away. Sections of the roadway had to be filled in while other sections had to be leveled. It was in that process that two distinct landmarks on that road disappeared to improved services. Cellar Hill and Red Rail Hill met their end as a result.

Red Rail Hill 1960

Red Rail Hill 1960

Cellar Hill derived its name from a substantial root cellar located on the harbour side below the road. The only house anyone can recall to have ever been built in that precarious location was owned by Mr. Noseworthy who had moved to St. Jacques from Harbour Grace as a younger man. The house was located so close to the edge of the embankment which separated the hill from the ocean below that he had a large post set into the ground and positioned at an angle against the side of the house to assist with maintaining it on the ledge. The cellar was dug into the hillside with a well-structured rock-walled entrance which outlasted the house – hence the name Cellar Hill.

If you were walking east along the road towards Pittman’s’ Brook you would gradually climb the gentle slope up Cellar Hill to be greeted by an incline into a valley and then another hill. This valley gave way to a steeper hill which abruptly dropped off on the other side before leveling off. This was Red Rail Hill, appropriately named because of the fact that the rails installed along the harbour side of the road to protect people and animals from falling into the ocean were painted red. Perhaps an obvious reference to the danger which lurked below, should one inadvertently lose balance and topple into the beach.

Cellar Hill proved to be quite solid granite and had to be blasted with dynamite to reduce it to a level roadway. The valley between the hills was filled with an endless supply of crushed rock quarried near St. Jacques Pond. Red Rail Hill was bull-dozed and finally blasted as well to bring it onto a plane consistent with the rest of the roadway. The distinct red wooden rails gave way to steel guide rails and the undulation of a trip along the base of Big Hill became a smooth, level road. Today one can look along this stretch of Highway 363 and see an almost imperceptible rise and fall in the road bed where Cellar Hill and Red Rail Hill once were. Click on the link below for a Street View of this location.,-55.42527,-259.29h,-10.31p,0.33z

These two hills were the no man’s land of St. Jacques; a place where there were no residents to maintain a watchful eye on youth hanging out in the shadows; no illumination from kitchen windows or viewing planes which would permit the close scrutiny of those who wished to know every detail of life under their noses. As such, teenagers of successive generations found the wooden rails a convenient place to lean against during the waning hours of evening and flirt unabashedly with members of the opposite sex. As darkness crept in over the harbour and set loose evening shadows to blanket the town, couples might be seen holding hands as they wandered off into the night.

There was one steadfast feature just east of Red Rail Hill opposite the rails on the upper side of the road that younger teens could only sit on during daylight and even then to the cajoling and teasing of their peers. That was a large flat, square edged rock variously known as the Queen Mary or Courtin’ Rock depending on your generation. Courtin’ Rock seemed to have some means by which it was reserved by older, more serious couples, further along in their relationships.

Today the names Cellar Hill and Red Rail Hill are rarely mentioned in conversation as they once were. Now and then you might see a few people sitting on the guard rails, pausing in a walk around the harbour or conversing with someone they met where the road dipped between the hills. On an occasional lazy summer afternoon the metallic ring of stones hitting steel will resonate around the harbour as a child bounces a stone off the guard rail into the water. Even winter seems to have forgotten how to blanket the hillside with mounds of snow and block the road for days. In fact, there hasn’t been enough snow to warrant taking out the sleds in years.

The ever-so-gentle rise and fall of the roadway where Big Hill meets the ocean is a subtle reminder of two features which helped define the physical identity of the harbour in previous generations. Soon Cellar Hill and Red Rail Hill be as remote in memory as the location of John Noseworthy’s house between Cellar Hill and the harbour. Today it is hard to imagine a house in that limited space, yet it was definitely there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

John Noseworthy House Below Cellar Hill, 1930's

White Dot  locates John Noseworthy House Below Cellar Hill, 1930’s

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