December 2007 – when visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, I took a walking tour provided for free from the hostel. The tour guide was a Canadian working abroad. It was interesting that she started the tour at the cemetery. She brought us to Friar Bobby’s grave. She told us the story of the loyalty of his dog, as he waited by his master for days. The guide really brought home the best place to start finding pieces of local history is at a cemetery.
During summer of 2007, I worked at London Offshore Consultants, England, and decided to explore my family ancestry on my father’s side. My aunt had completed much research to pinpoint the town my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Mitchelmore came from when he first arrived in Newfoundland & Labrador in the 1800’s. I visited Dartmouth, Devon County, England and I would not be disappointed. I explored three cemeteries, finding tombstones that etched the Mitchelmore last name. The local historian at the museum also provided me with additional information to supplement some of my findings.
It was nearly a decade ago, during a high school French trip in May 2001, since my feet touched the soil of St. Pierre. I reflect on fond memories with my former classmates to enjoy the unique characteristics of this place – the cuisine, language, architecture and the Franc as the mainstay currency.
Heritage Run, the route on the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland & Labrador leads to the St. Pierre Ferry which leaves port from Fortune. As you drive this route you will be captivated by the landscape with your imagination leading you to believe dinosaurs, dragons or some other creature will appear. On August 16, 2010 myself and a friend of a friend from Vienna, Austria had visited beautiful Burin. We had stopped by historic homes in Grand Bank and attempted to stay at Grannie’s Motor Inn, but it was filled. Although, the owner was quite helpful in securing a place at one of his other accommodations in Fortune. We stayed at Fortune Inn B&B for a short rest as we caught the 7:30 AM ferry.
The Ferry Arethusa only takes passengers and is $107.00 return for the 1 hour 30 minute run. You have the option of sitting on deck or below. We started on deck, but after a mist of salt spray, I decided I was better off heading down under. Upon arrival I moved my watch 30 minutes ahead to match the timezone. We dropped by the tourist office to get information and decided to walk the streets to familiarize ourselves with the local boutiques, restaurants, bakeries and bars. After several photos of the architecture and a sweet patisserie, we were greeted by our host Gilles.
After lunch we opted to take a van tour, which lasted for 1 hour and 15 minutes for 12.50 Euro (~$16.50). Our guide, Jean-Claude provided us with his take on the island’s economy, history, geography and culture. He started with the post office, which is still in operation, the salt sheds (no longer used for salt due to the moratorium on cod), the old fish plant, views of Ile aux Marins, the news station. Saint-Pierre Cathedral, the cemetery (17th century holding more than 1,000 graves, monuments and vaults), the Fronton (many traditional Basque games are played on site), Point aux Canons and its lighthouse, horses, former fishing rooms, a seabird on the rocks, freshwater swimming holes and saltwater sandy beaches and more. It was certainly worth the price paid.
At 4:15 we boarded the ferryboat that would take us to Ile aux Marins, which is just 10 minutes from St. Pierre by boat (1 KM). There is a low and narrow strip of land laying across the harbour to the East, which once was populated by some 700 fisherfolk and family. Now, the former fishing village is a museum island with no year round residents. Despite the few inhabitants, the island does not lack charm and appeal. There are many homes that are well maintained, others more rustic. Many of the buildings have been restored to their original state including the Archipelitude museum (former school), Mason Jezequel, Notre Dame des Marins (church), city hall, other buildings, cemetery and shipwreck are all for viewing. One can definitely understand the hardship of living on such an island without electricity, running water, indoor plumbing and exposed to the environmental elements more than a century ago.
We arrived just prior to 7:00 PM and decided it was time to get some French cuisine. I certainly recommend a reservation, since the good places fill up, even on a Tuesday evening. We were turned away from Ile de France. La Feu de Braise was the second choice and I was delighted to have a half-liter of Bordeaux with lamb, rice and vegetables and for dessert, my always favourite, Creme Brulé. After dinner, it was off to the bar for a couple of beers before returning to our host. I chatted with him for several hours over wine while he played a traditional instrument before I retired for the night.
Certainly my first day on the island was off to a great start! The following day, I took a zodiac, saw seals and explored Langlade and Miquelon. Check out Part II as it should be posted tomorrow. If you are interested in viewing more photos of these French Islands join the Facebook Group “Live Rural NL”.
Live Rural NL (from a distance) –