I have travelled a lot, from one corner of the earth to the other, but with the Covid-19 Pandemic still in full swing (18 months in) I decided to focus my travels in my own backyard and complete the island of Newfoundland, visiting every inhabited community, by car, ferry or foot. This is my story of my travels to St. Brendan’s, Newfoundland.
I chose to tackle this road-trip in one day, leaving from my hometown of Hatchet Cove, and asked my mother to accompany me. Wary, knowing it was calling for heavy rain in the morning, she agreed to go rather than have me travel alone, as there was no convincing me to leave it for another day. With an early morning rise and a 130km drive to the ferry terminal, we arrived for the 9:30am departure with time to spare. There was no apparent rush on this Saturday morning and no jam-packed lineups to board the boat either. The Sound of Islay loaded 3 cars (including mine) and we were on our way. A sprinkle of rain passed over and we got to enjoy much of the trip on the outside deck, watching the coastline as we sailed by.
Burnside – St. Brendan’s
The MV Grace Sparkes is the passenger/vehicle ferry that operates the daily run to St. Brendan’s. It departs the community of Burnside on the Eastport Peninsula and is an hour long journey. The ferry has a carrying capacity of 80 passengers and 16 vehicles and you pay your fare on the St. Brendan’s side for a ‘return’ trip. For this particular crossing the MV Grace Sparkes was out for service and was replaced by the MV Sound of Islay (which unlike the Grace Sparkes is not a drive-on-drive-off ferry, I had to back my vehicle onto the boat).
Schedule Information: 1-833-653-3779 or 709-729-3835
Burnside to St. Brendan’s (18 km): 1 hour)
Dock Cove, Hayward’s Cove, Shalloway Cove and St. Brendan’s are the communities that make up the island. The first thing you notice as you roll off the ferry is the roads are gravel. There are approximately 104 people that call this island home, a decline from 145, based on the last census in 2016. St. Brendan’s is no longer the thriving fishing settlement it once was. Young families have left the island in search of higher paying jobs, access to education and better health care. Those who remain are an older generation who struggle with the certainty that their beautiful island is dying.
We didn’t have to drive far to see abandoned homes and desolate buildings as they were scattered throughout the island. The John Croke Ltd. General Store, with its old wooden false-front, typical of many Newfoundland settlements, is still standing with a “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign in the window. Traditional wood houses are faded, fences are tilted and boats that long to feel the salt water against their bows lay lonely in the grass.
THE GENERAL STORE
St. Brendan’s has one convenience store. It is like going back in time when you step inside. Coming from a small outport myself I felt nostalgic as I walked down its narrow isles. White, wooden shelves were stacked to the ceiling with boxes, tins and jars. But it was the candy section I found most amusing, with its crumpled up brown paper ‘surprise’ bags waiting for children’s wanting hands. I smiled as it brought back memories of my own childhood and jars of candies that cost pennies to buy.
Mom and I decided to try our luck here in St. Brendan’s and purchased Lotto tickets, on the halves of course, and treated ourselves to an ice cream before moving on to the next community.
After driving the entire island we arrived back to the ferry terminal. Mom looked at me and said “Is that it? Where is St. Brendan’s?” I replied “We already saw it, mom. Remember the school, church, post office? That was St. Brendan’s.” Not convinced, she added “I thought it would be bigger; we must have missed something?” Letting out a small sigh, I put the car in drive, turned around and headed back up the gravel hill. “No mom we didn’t miss anything but let’s drive it again!”
A FERRY FUNNY
I would like to end off this article on a light-hearted note so I’ll fill you in on an incident that happened to me on the ferry going to St. Brendan’s.
I set off the emergency alarm on the Sound of Islay!
I was sitting in the lounge with my mom and advised her I needed to go to the washroom. I descended the stairs to the lower deck where the washroom was located. Passengers in a second lounge area told me it was occupied by a lady and her children. I waited. I waited some more. I thought to myself “Jesus! Mom going to think I fell overboard”. Then, finally, they piled out and I went in.
I am sitting doing my thing and the boat is swaying so I put my hand on the handrail, like you would. Then it happened, blaring, screeching sirens go off! 🚨📢🔊🚨
I’m like ‘Sweet Jesus, what’s happening?’ Next thing, a man is pounding on the bathroom door shouting “Are you ok?” while I’m trying to get my pants up before he busts in. The door opens and he asks “You pulled the string?” Defensively, I answered “NO! … well YES! But I didn’t mean to pull it.” Assuring him I was fine, and there was no medical emergency, he left the scene and returned to his work.
With my heart still pounding out of my chest, I washed my hands, wiped the sweat from my now red face and sheepishly made my way back upstairs.
According to the chatter onboard, every crewman had hit the deck when the alarm sounded. Christ!
I found my mom sat in her seat, looking concerned, eager to inform me of what she thought happened. “I saw a deckhand talking to those small kids over there. I think one of them must have set off the alarm. What a sin”.
I sat down in the chair next to her, leaned back against the head rest, let out a deep breath and said “No mom, it was me!”
Since my visit it has come to my attention the convenience store ceased operation in early October 2021. Also, the island is no longer named Cottel Island (still named this on Google Maps/Earth), but rather St. Brendan’s.
I would like to thank Melvin Aylward, a local resident, for providing some of the information included in this article.