LA POILE – (A Remote Newfoundland Settlement)

(August 2021)

La Poile is an isolated fishing village located on the South Coast of Newfoundland. It is inaccessible by road and is serviced by Inter-Provincial Ferry MV Challenge One from Rose Blanche.

GETTING THERE

Getting to La Poile is no easy task. It is not a place you just happen to pass through. It is not a place where you can say “let’s drop over for an hour”. It is remote.

In my quest to visit every community on the island of Newfoundland, I understood that getting to La Poile may prove to be a challenge. For nearly two years, myself and my best friend Dawn knew we were going to take on this cross-island trip together, but being as far away as you can possibly get (946 kilometres from east end St. John’s), with no accommodations in La Poile, and a weather-permitting boat ride, it was going to be a questionable journey.

THE FERRY

La Poile, geographically, is located 35km east of Rose Blanche (which is 41km east of the service town Port aux Basques, Route 470). The Rose Blanche-La Poile passenger-only ferry departs from Rose Blanche at 4:00pm daily and returns early the next morning. It is a 90 minute boat-ride, the cost, $6.00. The Challenge One, currently operating on a revised Covid schedule, only takes 20 people so get there early especially during busier summer months when past residents come home to visit their families.

THE BOAT TOUR

For Dawn and I, the Rose Blanche-La Poile ferry option turned out to be ‘Plan B’. We had already decided, weeks prior, to forgo this trusted method of transportation in favour of doing a small, 8-passenger boat tour with “Port aux Basque Marine Excursions”, on a 28-foot Silver Dolphin aluminum open boat, the Miss Georgia. At a cost of $200 per person, this full-day coastal tour would take us to the ghostly, abandoned fishing villages of Petites and Grand Bruit, and the still active fishing community of La Poile. Here we would spend 90 minutes, long enough to qualify for the ‘been-there-done-that’ checkmark we both desired.

It was early Saturday morning, after a restless night’s sleep I poked my head out of my tent curious to see if I were still attached to the ground of JT Cheesemen Provincial Park or had I been transplanted down the road by the infamous Wreckhouse winds. I was still at the park. Knowing I was going to be gone for the entire day I decided to double-peg the 4 corners of my tent to ensure I had a place to lay my head when I got back.

A 3 Hour Rainbow … and a bit of wind!

Dawn and I reached the Rose Blanche community wharf 7:30am, and things were not looking good despite it being a sunny summer day. On our drive down it was impossible to ignore the whitecaps that stood out against the brilliant blue ocean. Arriving after us, the captain of the Miss Georgia, George, expressed his skepticism as well advising forecasted wind gust could top 35 knots (65 kilometres per hour). Knowing his open boat had a cabin big enough to shelter himself and mate (leaving his 7 guests exposed the elements) he informed us “you’re going to be wet, you’re going to be cold, and you’re going to be miserable, but I can take you all if you want to go”. This didn’t give me the warm and fuzzies. Once the mutterings among us stopped, it basically came down to me, as the others were willing to take their chances. I was torn. I didn’t doubt the captain’s skill nor his boat’s ability, but rather the elements that were out of our control, the wind and the waves. I decided it was not worth the risk. My decision was made, I was not going. Disappointed that we would not get to see the abandoned settlements we said our farewells to the captain and guests, got back in the SUV and returned to the campsite to pack up and move on to Plan B … “We’re taking the ferry to La Poile!”

WELCOME TO LA POILE

The Challenge One, old but dependable, got us to our destination at 5:30pm, Saturday evening. She had no problem cutting through the wind and waves that plagued our small boat tour earlier that morning. Despite occasional spray coming in over the side, we were able to sit outside the entire time, atop a large, metal-hinged hatch and admire the historic Rose Blanche Lighthouse, abandoned community of Petites and the rugged South Coast beauty as we sailed by. During the 90 minute ride we had plenty of time to chat with the handful of locals on board and inquire where best to set up tent for the night. Their responses were all the same, anywhere near the schoolhouse. Traveling light with one tent, one cook system and one change of clothes (sacrificing bulkier items like sleeping pads and pillows) we made our way up the hill to deserted school. Content knowing the winds were going to drop out and the weather from this point onward was going to be perfect we set up in a tall, grassy corner near the front doorstep. As long as the coyote that was here two nights before kept his distance, things would work out just fine. It wasn’t until dark that we cursed the streetlight directly above our heads making 11pm look like high noon. We laughed at this but not as much as we laughed when we heard people gathering on the other side of the school step to set off fireworks! Our thoughts “fireworks! … for us? you shouldn’t have”.

THE ROADS

Eager to capture the sights before the sun set we thought it best to tour the community before cooking supper. Similar to other remote South Coast outports, the main roadway extends out from the iconic government wharf and is just wide enough for two passing ATV’s, and for a small town there were plenty of those whizzing by. Smaller concrete laneways and wooden driveways branch out from the main linear road, leading to houses and woodsheds nestled in the hillside. On a stretch of the road you can see a dog’s paw prints stamped in the concrete, a cute little detail that adds to the charm of this place.

THE COMMUNITY

On one end of the community you will find the Anglican Church, it looks weather beaten and tired. Its adjacent cemetery that overlooks harbour is grown in. On our walk we passed an old war-time cannon pointing out to sea as if still defending our shores. The General Store (M&R Variety) and Post Office are attached and located to the right of the school. The store was actually closed for supper when we arrived, reopening later at 7:30pm for 2 hours, just long enough for locals and visitors to stock up on necessities for a late August summery night.

Strategically located in the middle of the community is a small, square structure with red plywood doors and hand-painted stenciled words in white that say ‘Fire Station’. It didn’t take long to figure out that this is the social centre of La Poile, a gathering place. Even the wooden railing that guards the concrete road had a built-in bench directly across from the station, a place to sit as you yarn about the day’s events. We came across a gathering here, middle aged and senior men hove back, watching the sun go down while they sipped on cold beverages. It seemed the weather had drawn everyone outside, homes were being repaired, wood was being stowed in the woodsheds until the last square inch was filled, and women walked the roadways. There was even an invite from a fish stage down below … “come down for a beer later, we’re putting on a feed”. No matter where you turned you were welcomed with warm smiles and friendly conversation.

THE WHARF

The wharf and cluster of fish stages are the heart of this outport, pulsing with the comings and goings of fishermen, ferry crew and passengers. Though the population sits at about 60 (according to locals), many can be found here, in the mornings, sitting on their quads or marine gear as the Challenge One prepares to depart. The big, green storage containers are loaded onboard by the ferry’s crane. Later in the day the containers will return filled with parcels and packages from the mainland.

LEAVING LA POILE

Happy that we had finished the last of our remote South Coast communities on the inter-provincial ferry service, Dawn and I couldn’t help but feel a little forlorn. Our trip to La Poile was everything we imagined it could be. La Poile was small, genuine, quiet, quaint and kind. A gem far, far away where time seems to stand still. We were sad to leave. Even Max, the local dog, hated to see us go as he whined and paced back and forth the wharf, shocked that the ferry was leaving without him. A gentlemen on the wharf said “Max is right yarry in the morning”. The word “yarry” not being familiar to either of us was further proof that it is a different time here in La Poile. Traditions are strong, the local language unforgotten.

We arrive back in Rose Blanche at 11:30am, while disembarking the boat we said our goodbyes to the Captain of the Challenge One, thanking him for a safe and enjoyable trip, thinking our last 18 hours couldn’t have been any more perfect, and then he responded … “Why don’t you join us for Sunday dinner!” Astonished we graciously accepted and boy we were glad we did as the meal laid out before us was fit for a king, roasted chickens, platters overflowing with veggies and 2 figgy duff puddings with homemade butterscotch sauce. We couldn’t think of a sweeter way to end our trip!

5 thoughts on “LA POILE – (A Remote Newfoundland Settlement)

  1. I love your story and how you have so wonderfully detailed my hometown community that I was raised in until I was 16, at which time I had to leave home to continue my schooling to reach grade 11 and 12. I was on the ferry the day that you visited Lapoile and was the guy sitting on the floor of the boat that pointed out Petites for you. I notice that you have a couple pictures of my fathers old storehouses and a line full of clothes that mom had blowing in the wind, and I was wondering if by any chance you would be able to send me copies of these photos. I hope you enjoyed your stay in my home community (as my heart will always call Lapoile my home) and on behalf of Lapoile, we welcome you back at any time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My heritage links back to Petites as long (soon as?) two generations ago and it was nice to see your pictures of the historical sign and the buildings. Thank you for sharing your stories and pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

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