at Labrador’s Bat­tle Har­bour

Snowbirds & RV Travelers - - —Newfoundland— - Story & pho­tos by James Stoness

The ghost vil­lage of Bat­tle Har­bour is lo­cated on a small is­land on the east coast of Labrador, north of New­found­land. The lo­ca­tion, fac­ing the open At­lantic, gave fish­er­men prime ac­cess to the rich cod fish­ing grounds. Af­ter two cen­turies, the fish­ing com­mu­nity waned when fish stock di­min­ished, and peo­ple moved away.

With the ab­sence of peo­ple, build­ings de­te­ri­o­rated, in­clud­ing the wooden Angli­can church. In 1990, the Bat­tle Har­bour Historic Trust Com­pany was formed to pre­serve the set­tle­ment be­fore it was too late. The Church of St. James the Apos­tle, built in 1852, is now one of the pret­ti­est and old­est wooden churches in Labrador.

To get to Bat­tle Har­bour, you take the ferry from New­found­land and drive north to Mary’s Har­bour. From there you board the MV Ice­berg Hunter, for the hour-long trip around the is­lands of St. Lewis In­let. Tim­ing is crit­i­cal - there is only one trip daily.

Your first view of Bat­tle Har­bour re­veals dis­tant build­ings perched on a rugged coast, and you won­der how the

set­tle­ment sur­vived for over 200 years. It looks so bar­ren, yet strangely invit­ing. Un­like other ghost towns you may have vis­ited, a sin­gle day trip will not be enough time to ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery­thing the is­land has to of­fer.

As you glide to­ward the dock, you can see that the water­front is crowded with build­ings, many of them part of the orig­i­nal com­pany-owned struc­tures. This area would have been a bee­hive of ac­tiv­ity. Hun­dreds of boats would have been un­load­ing sup­plies, off-load­ing fish for pro­cess­ing, or load­ing fish bound for Eng­land. On the shore nearby, would have been the largest flake on the coast. This is a plat­form made of wooden poles, where each fam­ily placed their cleaned and salted fish for dry­ing. This wasn’t an easy task. To avoid spoilage they had to pick them up ev­ery night to keep the

dew off, and pick them up if the weather threat­ened rain.

One of the build­ings to visit is the Salt Store mu­seum. Tons of salt were brought in by ships, un­loaded into wooden carts, and shov­elled into place. The store held 700 tons of salt, which was ei­ther de­liv­ered to small com­mu­ni­ties along the coast, or used on site. The salt per­me­at­ing into the wood has helped pre­serve the build­ing and inside you’ll find a va­ri­ety of gad­gets, scales, big ropes, and some of the 500 arte­facts found in the set­tle­ment.

Many of the build­ings you see perched on the rocky slopes are avail­able for rent. Imag­ine stay­ing in one of th­ese homes with their pol­ished wooden floors, com­fort­able chairs, and cosy heat com­ing from a wood­stove in the kitchen or heater in the par­lour. Out across the bay you might see a boat’s wake re­flect­ing the set­ting sun. Later, climb the wooden stairs for a snooze-down in a lovely an­tique bed. Now that’s com­fort for any­one, and nos­tal­gia for oth­ers. For break­fast you can cook in the kitchen, or go down to the din­ing hall for a fan­tas­tic home cooked meal.

If you head north past the church, you’ll come to a small ceme­tery. Here is the fi­nal rest­ing place of the sea­men, their fam­i­lies, and com­pany em­ploy­ees. If you pass through the ceme­tery and climb the trail up the cliff on the far side, you’ll come to an­other ceme­tery on a slop­ing hill­side. I have to won­der how it was pos­si­ble to take some­one to the dis­tant ceme­tery on this trail, where one sec­tion is al­most ver­ti­cal. Per­haps they went around the point by boat.

Be­fore you leave Bat­tle Har­bour you must ex­plore on your own. Take the trail up over the hill and view the vi­o­lent wave ac­tion of the At­lantic smash­ing on the rocks. The next stop, look­ing east, is Europe. Along the path, you may see the fa­mous orange-yel­low cloud­berry, or bakeap­ple. This is one berry that is raved about across the prov­ince, and is made into jams and other pre­serves that com­mand a qual­ity price. You’ll prob­a­bly find the jam of­fered at break­fast in the din­ing hall. You may find the pur­plish-black crow­berry, which was added to boiled pud­dings here in Bat­tle Har­bour. The red­dish-orange berries you may come across are likely the cracker­berry or the Swedish bunch­berry.

This ghost town is a long ways away, but that just makes it all the more ex­cit­ing to visit a true relic of Cana­dian his­tory.

FOR LO­CA­TION MAP:­found­land­ PlacesToGo/Bat­tleHar­bour

BAT­TLE HAR­BOUR Clock­wise: Church and the sea, a com­fort­able liv­ing room and Cap­tain Jim Jones.


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