The author's wife, Jean Prosper, gets a glimpse of her childhood home, British Harbour.
The old church foyer stood resolute above Ireland’s Eye against the ravages of time and disappointment. The remainder of the once proud building lay in rotting ruins beside it. Looking back as it grew smaller in the growing distance, I felt for a moment the longing heartache of those who were forced to leave their homes and way of life in a government resettlement initiative that has divided generations and families ever since. Nearby, the weather-beaten headstones of loved ones, left behind in every sense of those words, seemed to elicit a deepening empathy for those hardy folk who eked out a living on the land and sea, resilient against all that nature and mercantile corruption could throw at them. Yes, leaving was more than simply shifting, or floating, a house to another town. It was a cultural death that continues to throw out its wretched groans to the rushing, deaf ears of progress and time.
This day, I was treated to a trip back through history and reconnected to my cultural roots by way of a boat tour operating out of New Bonaventure, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. My wife and I were to stay with friends for the weekend to take in a dinner theatre in nearby Trinity. While scouting the accommodations we found out that my wife’s cousin, Bruce Miller, operates a cultural boat tour. Instead of the usual whale and iceberg watching, Rugged Beauty Boat Tours is all about the culture and history of rural Newfoundland, with a special focus on the surrounding area.
In three hours, Bruce treats his passengers to a string of visits through Kerley’s Harbour to British Harbour and all points in between. There is very little left in the way of infrastructure in these abandoned settlements, but Bruce supplements his passionate storytelling with albums of old photographs that show how each place looked before the infamous resettlement program had its way. He pulls no punches on his feelings about the entire matter. It is precisely this conviction that helps drive home just what it means for those at ground zero when a government forcibly yanks a people from hearth and home in the name of pure economics. The argument made sense at the time, but the effects resulted in thousands of similar stories of a people disconnected from their sense of being in the world.
For the mostly city slickers on our tour, Bruce’s points were well taken, and without any sense of judgment or offense. Bruce’s typical down-to-earth approach immediately endeared him to us. He left his passengers, especially those from outside the province, with a taste of genuine rural Newfoundland.
This was a special treat for my wife and me, for British Harbour was once her childhood home. It was almost 50 years since she had seen the place. The visible wave of emotion and regression back into her younger self as we entered the harbour was heartwarming. There again was the spirit of the people. Pointing out the place where her grandparents’ house once stood, her excitement could not be contained as she chattered about how it was all those years ago. On that spot now stands Bruce’s cabin. He pulled in and, true to Newfoundland hospitality, invited everyone in for a cup of tea before heading back to home port.
The return trip was all too short. Looking around at the passing shoreline and each other as we rolled and skipped over the swells, each passenger revealed a newfound respect for this place and the people who once called these small harbours home.
Bruce is a one-man crusader for rural Newfoundland in general, and for his local area in particular. In his telling words, “There’s more to being rich than having lots of money.”
And then it was over. Yes, the tour may be finished, but the sailing continues as the memories, times, places and people long past somehow still live on in us, their children. A bit more connected and humbled, we bid fond farewells and left the stage to continue our respective vacations. Some, no doubt, will be back. - Submitted by Darryl Prosper