Ghost Towns and the Southwest Coast of Newfoundland
We had a great downwind sail to the southwest coast of Newfoundland. We just set the sails once and away we went. It took us about 40 hours and we took turns manning the helm with 6-hour shifts. We don't see much of each other on passages. Our "off duty" time is mostly spent resting since sleep is hard to come by underway. We didn't pass any other ships at all but we did get to see quite a few whales when it wasn't too foggy.
We made landfall in Rose Blanche. Rose Blanche is a very small, fishing community with rugged coastal landscapes, cliffs, and breathtaking views of the ocean. The village has a peaceful, laid-back vibe. We only saw one or two vehicles on the roads.
The village has lots of walking paths woven throughout. Besides the post office, fire station, and few small art shops, there are no stores or restaurants in Rose Blanche. We weren't sure if the school was still operating when we first saw it but upon further inspection, we noticed it was full of old equipment and had been closed for some time.
No More Cod Fishing
Due to the depletion of the cod stocks off Newfoundland's shores, on July 2, 1992, the Canadian government ended commercial cod fishing, once Canada's largest fishery, and instantly unemployed 30,000 people. Like all the villages in Newfoundland, Rose Blanche was profoundly affected by this loss. Younger generations left for work opportunities elsewhere and towns dwindled down to only elderly residents. We saw the devastation in all the villages we visited.
The main attraction in Rose Blanche is the historic Rose Blanche Lighthouse. The lighthouse stands tall on a rocky outcrop overlooking the ocean and has been guiding ships safely to the shore for many years.
Built in 1871-73 with stone from a nearby granite quarry and restored in 1999, the Rose Blanche Lighthouse, with its furnished light keepers living quarters, is worth visiting. We enjoyed the hike up to the lighthouse along the cliff with spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Rose Blanche harbor.
We also hiked the trails out of the village to see the view of the fjord behind Rose Blanche. The beauty of the southwest coast reminded me of being in Scotland. It is amazing to be somewhere so untouched by humans.
Cod for Us!
On the way to Grand Bruit, Dave pulled the boat into about 100feet of water. We floated around and he rigged up his fishing pole to jig for cod. Anyone (no fishing license needed) is allowed to fish for cod on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. You can catch 7 fish each or 15 per boat.
The moratorium on commercial fishing has rejuvenated the cod population. Dave jigged his line up and down about 3 times and caught a great big cod. Within in ten minutes, he caught two more and threw back the smallest.
Then I took a crack at it. Within 5 minutes I pulled out the biggest cod of them all. When we arrived in Grand Bruit, Dave cleaned and filleted the fish. Nothing went to waste as we also had cod soup with the leftover pieces.
We were looking forward to our visit to Grand Bruit (pronounced Grand Brit). We had seen youtube videos on the resettled village. The Canadian Government, looking to centralize populations and services (schools, ferries, electricity, etc) began resettling communities as early as 1954, which resulted in the abandonment of 300 communities and moved nearly 30,000 people.
Grand Bruit voted to resettle in 2010. Essential services, including electricity, were terminated when 90% of the community voted to leave.
In 2021, the provincial government's Community Relocation Policy was changed, lowering the vote required for relocation from 90 percent to 75 percent.
In 2010, each resident was compensated with $100,000. Now resettled communities receive $270,000 per household. Other villages have recently voted to resettle, some have refused it, and others have voted to go but the government has denied the move because it would cost more to resettle than to just service the town.
The Town with No Roads
As we sailed into Grand Bruit, we were struck by the quaintness of this forgotten town. From a distance it looked like a charming Newfoundland postcard.
The waterfall is the center piece of the village. Sitting next to the top of the waterfall is the old United Church. Houses are nestled atop each other and all are surrounded by craggy rocks and rolling hillsides. There are no roads leading in our out of Grand Bruit. The only way to access this town is by the ocean. No one ever needed a car here. One of the first things you notice is there are only sidewalks connecting the houses to each other. No driveways or garages exist.
It's upon closer inspection one notices the bell tower is now missing from atop the church. The houses are padlocked, porches have fallen off, and many homes are now missing walls and windows. The sidewalks have piles of caribou poop on them as this town now belongs to the animals.
The Not-So-Empty Ghost Town
We visited on a summer weekend and we were not alone. There were three other sailboats moored in Grand Bruit. There were four or five motorboats buzzing in and out. People who used to live here or live in neighboring towns return in the summer. The government offered a deal that relocated residents could lease back their homes for use in the summer without any services. Several come back and stay for the weekends.
We noticed a few houses trying to stave off falling into ruin. We met a sailor on the boat Florence Clara who was busy putting a new roof on his uncle's old house. He already installed his old solar panels and batteries to keep the lights on in the house. There were two other houses with solar panels and one with a wind plant.
We saw at least ten people boat over to the cemetery for a funeral. Others just came to hang out on the dock and drink beers. Saturday night, we were even treated to fireworks by the crew on Florence Clara. It was the busiest abandoned town we've ever seen.
However on Monday, we were completely alone in Grand Bruit and got the true ghost town feel.
The Most Amazing Backyard
The absolute best thing about Grand Bruit is its location. When you step past the church at the top and out into the tundra, it is beautiful and wild. We can only imagine what it would have been like being a kid growing up here and having this giant expanse as your daily playground.
The next town along the coast we visited was Burgeo. It can be reached by road, but it is also served by a ferry service that connects it to other communities along the southwest coast and nearby islands. Burgeo is complete with a thriving school, a real grocery store, a great hardware store, one restaurant, and several other stores. Burgeo has a little museum highlighting the area. It was the home to the author, Farley Mowat. He's a bit controversial in his hometown since he didn't write nice things about it.
Our bikes came in handy in Burgeo. We rode all over the place and loaded up our bikes at the various stores. Burgeo looks like the suburbs compared to the other southwest coast towns we visited. The houses were more modern as well as the stores.
We biked the 5 miles out to Sandbanks Provincial Park. It was well worth riding up the hills to get there. The park is like stepping out into the Caribbean (only much colder). The white sand beaches and the clear blue water are amazing. We enjoyed a day at the beach, even if the water was only 60 degrees. We dipped our feet in.
The James Cook Connection
I have always been fascinated by James Cook and his adventures in the South Pacific. He is also responsible for charting around Newfoundland and up the St. Lawrence River for England. Parts of the southwest coast are still charted based on what Cook wrote in 1875. Eclipse Island in the Burgeo archipelago was named by Captain Cook, who witnessed a solar eclipse while surveying the area
The fog rolled in and we set out for Ramea. We didn't get to see much of this island because the fog never lifted the entire time we were there.
Last September, the southwest coast of Newfoundland was devastated by Hurricane Fiona. We saw the damage down the coast. In Ramea, they lost the majority of their floating docks. Lucky for us, fishing season was over so we had room on the dock.
We did meet some interesting people in Ramea and ate dinner in the weirdest restaurant. It was part hostel, part restaurant. After two days of fog and rain, we decided we needed a break from Newfoundland and sailed off to the French islands of Miquelon and St. Pierre.
Read our next blog about our adventures in France and a trip to the ER where no one spoke English.