Posted by: alexhickey | May 2, 2018

Where Once They Lived ©

 “From the outside looking in, you can never understand it.  From the inside looking out, you can never explain it.”  Author Unknown

Frederick R Page Map NL1859

Centre for Newfoundland Studies. Memorial University of Newfoundland Libraries. Map also issued with: Page, Frederick R. A concise history and description of Newfoundland: being a key to the chart of the island just published. London: R.H. Laurie, 1860.

We Newfoundlanders are frequently confronted with the question, ‘Where are you from?’ The answer is much more complex than simply telling the person where you live. I can choose to live anywhere in the world but I will forever be from that place where I was born and has shaped my life in ways I am still discovering.  For some that sense of belonging transcends birth; children whose parents were born in a particular place vicariously and actually maintain their own sense of attachment.  It is akin to Thomas Hardy’s sense of place where his characters play out their lives and circumstances against the background of Dorset in southwestern England.  The natural world surrounding Wessex is for Hardy a character unto itself; it becomes something with authority where people thrive within it rather than above it. Therein resides the answer to the question.

There is no dispassionate view of those places we carry lovingly, longingly and sometimes bitterly within our being.  They are intrinsic to who we are and even in denial their presence maintains an emotional grip. How we see those places is driven by the paths of our lives lived.  Interwoven with our ‘Wessex’ are the complexities of who we’ve become, who we think we are and whom others believe we are.  There is a difference between the ‘looking out’ and the ‘looking in.’

If we take those two perspectives and apply it to the question of where we are from then we must consider the differences between what one sees from within the place looking out and what one sees from outside the place looking in. If we further restrict the perspective to how we physically differentiate the two positions then we allow ourselves to see, as if on a map, that place we come from. Someone who lives their entire life on the land, seeing their community through the lens of their kitchen window will have an entirely difference concept of what that community looks like physically than someone who has seen it from the sea.

Land-forms viewed from the ocean camouflage warts and shortcomings, presenting to the eye an aesthetic beyond the mundane and grittiness of life in the moment.  It encourages us to reach higher, more globally in our thinking, to a notion of place that is metaphoric, laden with symbols, belief, memory and dreams.  Sit for a minute on the thwart of a buff-coloured wooden dory, trimmed with emerald green gunnels.  Beneath, the swell of the ocean cradles your fragile yet stalwart vessel, seeks to infuse its rhythm to your body.  Resistance results in awkward jerky uncomfortable physical balance and equilibrium responses; however, when you find that rhythm the gentleness brings calm, the awkwardness slips away. You move in unison, no longer conscious of the rise and fall or the lateral swaying.  When you get there it’s like taking a deep breath, holding it momentarily, then exhaling slowly, allowing relaxation to flow unencumbered through your body. Now look back to the land.

The steep spruce cloaked hillsides are rounded; their formidable boulders and ravines diminished to undulating forms.  They’ve been given gentleness, a majesty where the forest has become much more than prickly pin boughs.  Cliffs whose dramatic faces weather winter storms and stand witness to the passage of time serve to accent the transition between ocean and land.  Deep crevices and scree become shadows and shape reducing their foundering layers and eroded base to a beige grey pencil line demarcating the two worlds. Waves washing against the worn and weathered boards of the dories sides pass in succession, moving inexorably with the tide to become mere ripples in the distance.  Above, the blueness of sky bears witness to an occasional seagull gliding, its eyes scanning the ocean’s surface, including you looking back at its effortless flight.

Headlands, coves, harbour entrances punctuate the shoreline, denying individual identity to the settlements of here, now and yesterday.  We can easily see the landforms without our presence on them.  Imagine what it must have felt like to the earliest people who approached our island shores from the sea; how they must have marveled at the looming dark ridge interrupting the far horizon, then the ever intensifying green spruce and fir punctuated sporadically by birch and maple.  As they neared the shoreline they would have been in search of safe places to land, sheltering places to build and comforting places to live. Our indigenous people who travelled over ice and in canoe, our European  settlers who arrived by ship and those who continued to seek this place in recent times all saw the shape and colour of the land before anything else.

When we ‘look in’ from that vantage point we are struck with emotive things such as beauty, reverence, perhaps fear and trepidation of the unknown.  Either way these are big feelings that supersede the everyday mundane moments of living within a community ‘looking out’.  Since its earliest days of settlement the shores of Fortune Bay has been scattered with communities whose size ebbed and flowed with time and the local economy of the fishery.  Over the centuries generations of people experienced the difference, seeing the headlands of their home from both directions.  With the inevitable march of time many of those communities faded and disappeared, the details of their life stories vaporizing as morning fogs lift with the rising sun.  Today we hear them in music and song, poetry and image; we hear them in lamenting voices of resettled peoples and see it in their faces; we see them in photographs packed away on the pages of memory.

Row your dory or transform it into a powerful engine driven craft and journey throughout the Bay; explore every shoreline indentation and ask, did someone live here?  Chances are, if you are motivated to ask there is something suggesting it to you. You are on the outside ‘looking in’, yet somewhere in time there were others in that cove ‘looking out’.   Their view of the same rocks, reefs, sunkers, trickling streams and breaking waves might have been much different for they lived this space; for them it was where they were from.

When I state “I am from St. Jacques” its resonance within me is greater than the physical arms of the harbour which gives it shelter. It also reaches back through time for centuries and through all of the lives come and gone that bring colour, sound and touch to that resonance. Such is the case for nearly every cove and harbour found along the intriguing shoreline.  Someone came from there.  Today, few of us can call these communities by name; fewer still can speak out loud the names of families or the given name of a local midwife, shop keeper, or the fisherman whose elegant stage graced the western side of the harbour.

There are remnants to be found if you dig through layers of dead grass and the burrows of field mice or if you push back the overgrown branches of evergreens in search of still-standing marble monuments.  Along the beach head, or in among the pebbles, broken crockery, glass and stubborn metal spikes might catch your attention if you look closely enough.  Should you find a place to sit and survey your surroundings your eyes will begin to discern patterns in the soil upon which foundations gave rise to homes, or patterns where the meagre soil was tilled to grow root vegetables.  Should you stop by at the right time of year, delicate whiffs of rose petals may drift across your nose or the intense fuchsia of a bleeding heart plant might stand in contrast to the deep grey lichen covered granite boulder behind it.  Listen, the sound of water ebbing and flowing washing the shoreline is the same as it was a hundred years ago when it lulled residents to sleep.  Turn your head in that direction and absorb the same breath of the ocean that entered windows opened along with warmth of morning sunlight. Someone came from here.  Someone ‘looked out’ from here once.

There are documents and maps which tell us the names of these communities.  Many are the communities we know today. Some are familiar, some forgotten, some remembered.   When passing by one of these former communities, it is not unusual to hear someone say, ‘how could people live in such a small and rocky space?’ There lies the question again for those of us on the outside of that community cannot understand what it meant to live there and those that did live there would have found it difficult to explain why. And yet they did, with enormous pride!

The list below is compiled from data found in the 1869 Census of Newfoundland. Over half of these communities are now but memories; however, it is interesting to ‘look in’ on them a hundred and fifty years later.  All names are spelled as they were found in Census documents.  The recorded population for 1869 is given after the name of each community.

  • Fortune – 669
  • Grand Bank – 751
  • Little Barrisway – 7
  • Grand Beach – 24
  • Frenchman’s Cove – 76
  • Brunet Island – 82
  • Sagona – 276
  • Garnish – 209
  • Point Enragee – 70
  • Langue de Cerf – 18
  • Fox Cove – 42
  • Jack Fontaine – 35
  • Bay L’Argent – 70
  • Little Bay East – 38
  • Harbour Mille – 95
  • Head of Fortune Bay – 79
  • English Hr. East – 101
  • New Harbour – 19
  • Femme – 9
  • Conn – 19
  • Long Harbour – 144
  • Rencontre – 107
  • Isle Glue – 10
  • Doctor’s Harbour – 16
  • Lally Cove – 77
  • Bay de East – 12
  • Bay de North – 71
  • Pool’s Cove – 55
  • Turnip Cove – 29
  • Corbin – 44
  • Barrow – 45
  • Belleoram – 309
  • Belleoram Barrisway – 24
  • St. Jacques – 108
  • Blue Pinion – 16
  • English Hr. West – 211
  • Mose Ambrose – 57
  • Boxey – 42
  • Blanchet – 6
  • St. John’s Bay – 22
  • Coomb’s Cove – 89
  • Wreck Cove – 22
  • Red Cove – 42
  • Bay de L’ Eau East – 22
  • Bay de L’ Eau Island – 51
  • Miller’s Passage – 89
  • Little Bay West – 85
  • Jersey Harbour – 155
  • Harbour Breton – 361
  • Connaigre Bay, Great Harbour – 48
  • Connaigre Bay, Dawson’s Cove – 30
  • Connaigre Bay, Seal Cove – 35
  • Pass Island – 161



  1. Thanks Alex. Always a pleasure following you. I have so much about my dad’s ancestral home from reading your columns!

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