The ghostly beauty inevitably cast by abandoned and semi-abandoned places viscerally fascinates me. Several years ago I wrote a story in Downhome about getting lost in the dense woods trying to find Indian Burying Place on the Baie Verte Peninsula. Now I have a tale to tell about Labrador. About 17 years ago, I spent several days in Battle Harbour and had gazed across the tickle, declaring one day I’d come back and cross over to hike across Great Caribou Island. This summer I finally did.
On the boat ride from Mary’s Harbour to Battle Harbour I got my first glimpses of the hauntingly beautiful abandoned buildings in Trap Cove and Matthew’s Cove on Great Caribou Island. The next day I was up extra early to get over to that island for a closer look.
A small graveyard with a handful of fallen down tombstones, mostly erased by time, marked my entrance to Matthew’s Cove. Then I came upon the old schoolhouse, where I’d been told a family of Arctic fox used to live. I hunted around it, but failed to find just one of the creatures. A few of the houses appeared to be cared for, maybe even lived in. Then I noticed I wasn’t alone. I met Aubrey Russell and his grandson, Adam Smith, out enjoying the beautiful, sunny day. Aubrey told me he wasn’t from the Cove, but his wife was and had a house there. He showed me the little pond where Adam liked to play with his toy boats. I walked all over the cove, checking out each house, fish shed and outhouse, taking it all in.
A fierce breeze blew at me as I began the long seven-kilometre trek across Great Caribou Island. The vistas of ponds and icebergs, vast valleys and hills were magnificent. Much of the terrain was like a foot-thick sponge of lichen and peat. My feet soon got soaked. On and on I trekked.
On and on, up and down hills, over little brooks, through low tuckamore clusters and past grey/black lichen-covered boulders I walked. In the far distance I thought I spied houses, but as I got closer I realized they were just big boulders. Squishing over the mushy, boggy wet peat I continued my trek until, finally, at noon I sat on a boulder atop a hill and gazed down at the houses of Indian Cove, most of them wrecked, a few in good shape, not a soul in sight. There I was, the only human in Indian Cove today.
Just after one o’clock I began my trek back, eating the banana on the way. I made it back to the Halfway Rock in less than an hour. I sat and ate the energy bar and drank more water, just gazing outward.
“You swam back?” asked Peter when I later bumped into him, I guess knowing I didn’t come back with the man who brought me to Great Caribou Island. I laughed and told him my story.
Peter was excited to show me how the SPOT tracker had worked on me that day. He showed me the track on his computer and asked if I’d left my backpack some place by the old school house in Matthew’s Cove. I told him that’s exactly what I’d done. He said he thought maybe I was having a heart attack because the tracker wasn’t moving for so long, so next time he’ll be sure to attach it to the person, not the backpack.
I walked down to the kitchen for a hot coffee. Jeanette soon arrived with a platter of pea soup, a bun and three little cakes. I loved her pea soup! She was kind enough to write out her recipe for me. It is one of the souvenirs and memories that I’ll always cherish about Battle Harbour and Great Caribou Island. -Submitted by G. Tod Slone, Barnstable, MA