The Secret History of the Baccalieu Coastal DriveBy Newfoundland & Labrador
The Baccalieu Coastal Drive is a scenic route that meanders around the northwest corner of the Avalon Peninsula. Although its full of sleepy fishing villages and the scenic rolling hills—as you drive through this region, you’ll encounter some of the most historically important places in Newfoundland and Labrador (and the world). Here’s some of the secret history along the Baccalieu Coastal Drive.
While Dildo Island is not inhabited today, it is clear that people have been drawn to this remarkable place for thousands of years. Designated as a Unique Place of significance in 2010 by the Provincial Heritage Foundation. Representing many cultures extending over a 3,000-year span, Dildo Island has played an invaluable role in our province’s prehistory and history. During the prehistoric and early historic periods, the fish and sea mammals in the waters around the island and the seabirds that nested on the island drew aboriginal hunters and gatherers. To date, the archaeological record has revealed the presence of both Groswater and Dorset, Pre-Inuit and Beothuk occupations. Over the nineteenth century, the commercial cod fishery expanded into the bottom of Trinity Bay and in 1889 the first cod hatchery in what is now Canada was established on Dildo Island. This was a world-class facility – one of the most modern and largest of its type at the time. Records also show that in 1612, John Guy describes a meeting to exchange food and other goods between his crew and a Beothuk party nearby at the bottom of Trinity Bay. For more on Dildo why there is no place like it, we wrote another article you might find interesting.
The First English Settlement in Canada
While Newfoundland was declared a British colony in 1583, it was only used as a seasonal fishing ground. That is, until a group of Bristol and London merchants sent John Guy and 39 other souls to finally settle the island—making Cupers Cove Plantation the first English settlement in what was to become Canada. While the town of Cupids has been continuously occupied since their 1610 arrival, the original settlement was lost…until 1995, when a team of archaeologists found the site. Since then, the Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site has been an active archaeological site open to visitors who want to learn the fascinating history of the settlement, its discovery, and the ongoing archaeology—and why all of it is so important to Canadian history.
Cupids Legacy Centre, a short distance from the archaeological site, is the museum for the site. It tells the story of the first settlement, but then continues the story through to the modern day. Don’t forget to check out the massive 1910 Union Jack on the second floor (at the time, the largest Union Jack in the Commonwealth), and the rooftop Faerie Garden!
The Dawn of the Communication Age
In the town of Heart’s Content, you’ll find a brick building just on the side of the road with a blue sign declaring the Heart’s Content Cable Station Provincial Historic Site, and a monument in a small seaside park. Here, the Communications Age was launched, when the first permanent transatlantic cable was laid between here and Valencia, Ireland, in 1866. This effectively reduced communication time from North America to Europe from weeks to seconds! The Cable Station is now a museum detailing the earliest beginnings of the technology and follows the site’s growth into a major transatlantic communication hub, until telegraphs ceded prominence to more modern forms of communication.
The Departure Point For Aviation History
In 1932, Amelia Earhart made aviation history as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean when she touched down in Northern Ireland. Her departure point? Harbour Grace in Newfoundland and Labrador. The event is memorialized at the Spirit of Harbour Grace monument, where you can see a statue of the aviator and learn more about the province’s aviation history.
The Cable Building That Helped Saved the War
Heart’s Content is not the only home to world-changing telegraph history along the Baccalieu Coastal Drive—Bay Roberts Cable Building was erected in 1913 and operated by Western Union. During the Second World War, it was called into significant service, so much so that it was regularly protected by the Newfoundland Constabulary and the Canadian Army. Among other important lines, it housed the private telegraph cable that connected Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill–a vital communication link, without which, the success of the war would be very much in doubt. Today, this registered historic structure is home to the municipal offices and the Road to Yesterday Museum.
The Explorer of the North
In the heart of Brigus there is a little house with a big story. Hawthorne Cottage National Historic Site was the home of the Bartlett family’s most famous son, Captain Robert Bartlett, whose 20+ arctic explorations are real-life adventure stories. Wander between rooms filled with genuine turn-of-the-century artefacts once owned by Captain Bob (as the locals still call him) and his family. Learn about his astonishing adventures, including his role in the race for the North Pole, and get a picture of family life from the period. Be sure to also explore the beautifully manicured grounds around the cottage and take in the picturesque-style architecture, of which there very few examples to be found locally.
When you're visiting all the historical highlights of the Baccalieu Coastal Drive, make sure to tag your posts on Instagram with #ExploreNL and @NewfoundlandLabrador on Instagram. We look forward to seeing your fantastic pictures and video!
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