Tales from TrailPeak.com, Part Four.
Monday Aug 15 - Bouqet’s hike and then off to Battle Harbour
After a big day of hikes (3) near West St. Modeste Sunday, we quickly bagged the short local hike opposite the Oceanview resort where we staying. West St. Modeste is a great hub for doing trails including legs of the Labrador Pioneer Footpath. From the top of today‘s hike, one could see down to the old fishing port in West St. Modeste and the red sandy beach of Pinware Provincial Park. Bouquet’s Hill Trail is all stairs, easy for families, and worthwhile for anyone looking for some quick cardio and a view. We then drove 1.5 hours to Mary’s Harbour for the 1 hour+ passenger only ferry to Battle Harbour. We arrived in the fog, as the community buildings dating back to the early 1800s began to appear. A narrow passageway between Battle Harbour Island and Caribou Island (a tickle) had us safely at the wharf, the large expanse of the Atlantic ocean on the other side of this small Island. I‘ve never seen an old fishing village so well preserved, but Battle Harbour is more than pretty scenery. Dr. Grenfell’s coastal medical mission started here. A quick hike of the Island after communal dinner - featuring homestyle cooking - takes you up the small hill to get a 360 degree view of the ocean. Scanning the horizon, I saw two icebergs in the distance. This walk is a good 30 to 45 minute tour of the Island, ending with a walk back past the historic buildings. Battle Harbour was a significant fishing asset and communications hub, Peary returned here to use the Marconi station to broadcast his news of reaching the north pole in 1909.
Tuesday Aug 16 - Caribou Island and historical tour of Battle Harbour
We got word that Nelson Smith, the historical tour guide for Battle Harbour (who is also a ranger, and a restoration carpenter) would give us a special guided tour of Caribou Island. A small hop across the tickle, and we were quickly scrambling steep rock and tundra slopes to see several abandoned communities, coves, and old cemeteries. The old Irish cemetery with it’s headstones fallen in the tall grass held each of us in quiet reflection. A family of arctic foxes decided to make an appearance and I was glad to have my camera handy. You can hike all day on Caribou, it would take several hours of ridge walking with descents into valleys, historic settlements, and coves. The Island will be all yours (you are given a radio to summon your 2 minute boat ride back) save for a few summer inhabitants who choose to spend a few weeks here in summer. We saw one lone hiker out gathering bakeapples. Afternoon featured the full tour of the Battle Harbour buildings. Nelson gives an excellent tour on how they caught, salted, and prepared cod for the fish merchants. Battle Harbour astounded me, I’ve never seen anything like it. Fortunately the entire village, old tools, and buildings are preserved here. Don’t be surprised if a steel hulled two masted sailboat arrives from France or elsewhere, Battle Harbour is still a lifeline for transatlantic travel. The comparison to Fogo Island is not a far stretch for this much tinier Island, it was Fogo Island fish merchants that first expanded here.
Detailed Account of Battle Harbour:
Battle Harbour, once known as the “Capital of Labrador” is a thriving architectural restoration of a fishing village that flourished during the last three centuries.
Set on a small, remote island, the village is comprised of restored historic buildings including a hotel, general store, walkways and work areas that commemorate the glorious fishing community that was once the socio-economic hub of Labrador.
Battle Harbour was formed through the lucrative mercantile saltfish industry when the firm of John Slade & Company of Poole expanded its Fogo Island operations to Labrador in 1770. The village also served as the gateway for Newfoundlanders seeking to fish in the resource rich waters of Labrador.
Battle Harbour's location allowed the village to become a major base for the region's cod and seal fisheries and for the commercial trade that led to the formation of a permanent community.
The local population increased rapidly after 1820 when Newfoundland fishing schooners adopted Battle Harbour as their primary port of call and made it the recognized capital of the Labrador floater fishery.
The community's amenities and communications services also made Battle Harbour a port of call for polar explorers. In 1909, Commander Robert E. Peary called a press conference using Battle Harbour's Marconi Station wireless services to share details of his reaching the Pole to the outside world.
Battle Harbour was operated by three fishing companies until the decline in the inshore fishery at the start of the 1990s, shortly after which restoration work began with 18 carpenters and restoration experts, many of whom go back generations on the Island. Three restoration experts remain on the job today, adding more buildings and projects to the trust each year. Visitor traffic is increasing, for obvious reasons. This is one of the most exceptional points of interest in Labrador.
All GPX (GPS downloads), full details, imagery, and directions with detailed accounts of all our hikes, will be available very soon on trailpeak.com accompanied by a summary article on the Labrador Pioneer Footpath with links to all trails we completed.