RELIVING the PAST
at Labrador’s Battle Harbour
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: http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/ PlacesToGo/BattleHarbour
BATTLE HARBOUR Clockwise: Church and the sea, a comfortable living room and Captain Jim Jones.
BATTLE HARBOUR Kitchen.