Visiting the Resettled Community of British Harbour
For the past decade, my buddies and I have enjoyed an annual sledding trip to World Pond. My family’s cabin, located 6 km inland from Port Rexton on the Bonavista Peninsula serves as our basecamp. For my friends and I, transplanted Baymen, living on the Northeast Avalon, these weekend adventures are a quick escape from our regular routines and an important tradition among friends. There were eight of us in the 2015 group: my brother Andrew and our good buddies Colin and Ski Rod, originally from Marystown, Bruce and Marlo from Carbonear, and Scott representing St. Brendan’s Island. The captain and camp cook of our crew was my Dad, known to all as Mr. Bob. A couple of years ago, I wrote a similar article about how we all celebrated Dad’s 75th birthday during our annual sledding trip. We are delighted to continue sharing this tradition with him.
Friday evening began with the usual activities of setting up camp. With the cabin door shovelled out, wood stove crackling, buckets of water lugged up from the pond and a full tank of gas in the generator – we had made it to paradise! Over a few sociables, the conversation turned to our riding plans for the next day. In terms of a winter trail system, much has changed in the past decades. Although there is no groomed trail system, ATV and sled riders from the local area have created an excellent network of informal riding trails. Our options were, to head northeast towards Catalina, north to Bonavista Bay or southwest towards British Harbour. The preferred option was to go west but would we be lucky enough to see British Harbour the next day? We have learned to keep our route flexible based on snow conditions. On this particular weekend, it turned out we had a foot or two of hard packed snow with ponds and rivers covered in a thick layer of ice. We headed to the bunk, looking forward to a good day on the trails and discovering the resettled community of British Harbour.
British Harbour is located on the north shore of Trinity Bay. This beautiful, secluded harbour is accessible only by boat or trail. It was originally settled before the 1800s and the population peaked in 1901 with over 224 people. At that time, the harbour was a bustling community with over 60 homes, a school house, church and store. After the collapse of the Labrador schooner fishery, the first World War, and the depression of the nineteen thirties, British Harbour’s population declined to less than 80. In 1969 the town was completely abandoned as part of a large scale resettlement program. British Harbour was one of approximately 300 outport communities which were resettled to centralized regional growth centres. This initiative was led by Premier Joey Smallwood in an attempt to improve the quality of life for people in these isolated communities.
Saturday morning arrived and things were looking pretty good. By 10 AM we had breakfast cleaned up and were ready to burn some gas. The first stop was back to the truck and trailer in Port Rexton to install a set of scratchers on one of the Polaris RMKs. The next stop was to meet up with our buddies from Port Rexton; Ervin, Cyndy, Shawn, and Leon. These guys always have a handle on local trail conditions. We decided there should be enough snow coverage to complete the approximately 100 KM loop through the high country of the peninsula. All fingers were crossed that we would arrive in British Harbour by mid afternoon.
We left from Port Rexton and headed west towards the middle of the Boavista Peninsula. We took the trail around the old Lockston Power Plant. This route provides easy access to Trinity Pond and a huge expanse of open barrens, logging roads and the old rail bed. By the time we made it to Trinity Pond, our group consisted of almost 20 riders. We had been joined by several young fellers from the local area. Some were the children of my high school classmates from Bishop White All Grade. I was reminded of the reality that I really am middle-aged! First I wondered if we would be able to keep up with these young bucks? Then I considered, perhaps they wouldn’t be able keep up with us! Snow conditions didn’t allow for any deep powder technical riding. There was no side hilling, carving lines through trees, or deep powder stucks on this trip. This weekend wasn’t the type of riding typical on our Western Newfoundland trips. This weekend was about keeping it simple in many ways.
The day was really shaping up. The temperature was around minus five, light winds, blue sky and enough snow to work with. Ervin did a perfect job as our guide. As he lead us from pond to pond along the route, he even managed to find a few spots that were full of powder. After a few hours of riding we had crossed Trinity Pond, Princeton Pond, Frys Pond, and Midway Pond. We even visited the ‘The Spirt of Mi’Kway’, a massive white spruce tree that is over three feet in diameter at the base. A reminder of the bountiful timber resources that were so plentiful in our “pine clad hills”. The huge tree is also a symbol of the connections our ancestors had to the land; many generations of woodsman decided to leave that tree standing. Sustainable thinking before it became trendy!
We were getting close to British Harbour. From Midway Pond, Ervin lead the group to the south through some thick woods, open barrens and across a few small ponds. After an hour we drove down a gently sloping path to the ocean. Entering British Harbour, we were immediately hit by the contrast of past and present. There are a half dozen modern cabins, a few wharfs, and lots of open space. There are also a number of old homes that have collapsed into piles of lumber and rusty debris. Regardless of the season, it doesn’t take long to notice the footprints of family homes, gardens, and paths around the harbour. I have visited British Harbour by boat, hiking trail, and sled and each time it is easy to imagine a bustling community from times gone by. I’ve wondered how people felt as they resettled in the 1960’s? Did they really go on to live better lives? What quality of life would they have had if they had stayed? This article is not intended to be an in-depth reflection on Newfoundland resettlement, but I suggest you too, will experience a similar feeling when visiting any of the resettled communities that dot our coastline.
I wished that we had more time to explore the harbour but our daylight clock was ticking. As we rode up the gentle hill away from British Harbour, thoughts turned to the prize awaiting us. Mr. Bob had passed on the full day ride and choose to stay on at the cabin as camp cook. When we returned, we were met with the beautiful aroma of the feast prepared by Dad. We quickly sat in to heaping plates of turkey, moose roast, salt beef, peas pudding, and all the veggies. A meal fit for British royalty!
By 10 AM Sunday morning, we were back on the trails. Trust me when I say, this truly shows our commitment to the sledding part of the weekend. We made the loop through the network of ponds, traditional trails and logging roads in the general World Pond area. Any lingering cob-webs from the night before had been shaken off and we returned back to the cabin by noon.
It was time to break camp and head back to the Port Rexton staging area to load up the trucks. The three hour drive back to Town was filled with talk of another amazing weekend. A weekend of good riding, great food, and lots of laughs with family and friends. A weekend filled with the simple pleasures of spending time in the woods and discovering more of the unique features of our wonderful province. May you have as much luck in creating your winter traditions.
If you’re interested in touring this area and want the full tour, contact for guiding services in the Port Rexton – Trinity area: Ervin Locke, 709-464-7151. His guiding services come highly recommended.