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Bernie and Polly: A Man and his Mule on a Mission

A place inhabited by unique and fascinating people is bound to attract folks with a similar penchant for individuality. Folks like Bernie and his mule Polly. While I was in Elliston, at the Roots, Rants and Roars Festival, I ran into Bernie – a man who exuded a one-of-a-kind personality and a distinct sense of adventure.

Bernie and his mule Polly

I was with a film crew documenting the delicious festival. As we drove along the gorgeous terrain, we passed by a reconstructed flake close to shore. For those of you not from Newfoundland and Labrador, a flake is a platform built on poles and spread with boughs, used for drying fish in the sun. Tied to the flake was a horse. Or was it a donkey? It was a horse. No, it was donkey! We all shouted our guesses over each other. We decided to pull over and investigate further. Turns out we were all right – it was a mule.

Bernie's caravan 

Coincidently, Bernie, and Polly the mule, were visiting Elliston and the neighbouring town of Maberly. This odd pair was a hit with locals and visitors alike. I got a chance to chat with Bernie while I was walking along the coast on the Food Hike. He gave me a tour of his little (and I mean little) caravan parked by the water, complete with pullout writing table and woodstove. As we chatted he cooked some capelin on the stove, and the fishy smell invaded the air. I learned he was originally from South Carolina, currently on a quest. Earlier that year he found a record from the 70’s, called The Newfoundlander, in a thrift shop in a small southern town. On the cover were four beautiful photos of the province. An adventure-man by trade, he decided to set off with Polly and find all four pictures by meeting and talking to the friendly people who live here. He would show the album cover to folks he met, and in a tiny notebook he would write down their guesses, and through probability would determine his next destination. Amazingly, one of the guys from the film crew had a picture on his phone of the Pouch Cove Slipway—one the photos on the album! That was one mystery solved.

Local's try and guess the locations of the photos on the album  

Chatting with Bernie, he spoke of the overwhelming hospitality of the people of Newfoundland. When asked if he ever got lonely travelling, he talked of the joys of coming off the road into a community and the endless amounts of people he would meet. Bernie recounts his adventures in Newfoundland on his blog. There’s a saying, “Only a fool would starve on the rock,” Bernie writes, before he goes on to describe all the delectable meals he received from strangers that easily became friends. Polly – not wanting to be left out of the feasts, learned that if she went to the windows of the Newfoundlanders’ homes, she would often get a piece of homemade bread smothered in molasses. Bernie posted a bunch of very adorable pictures of Polly standing by windows with her newfound buddies, waiting for her treats.

Bernie and Polly trot around Elliston and Maberly

It was certainly a pleasure to run into this fascinating man and his mule. Even though one doesn’t expect to meet such an interesting pair on their everyday travels, somehow I wasn’t that surprised. With all the colourful characters I’ve met here in Newfoundland, it makes sense that the people attracted to this place have a certain joie de vivre all their own. I admire Bernie’s willingness to pick up and explore. But then again, there’s something about Newfoundland and Labrador that brings out a daring spirit in people. Whether you’re a seasoned traveller like Bernie, or just discovering your inner explorer, this is the perfect place for adventure.

Bernie and Polly on the road to their next destination