I've noticed that some visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador are so ensnared by their favourite destination, they describe their spot as "the last word" in scenic beauty, hospitality, sporting attractions and everything else that is great about this province. And you really can't blame them. Nonetheless, such claims are hard to sustain - not only because they're subjective, but because there will always be somewhere else to rival their choice.
One such place is tiny Grand Bruit (population 30) on the Southwest Coast of the island. It's a five-hour ferry ride from my own favourite community - Francois.
The first time I saw Grand Bruit was in 1992, when I took the ferry from Port aux Basques to Burgeo. The scenery so captivated me that I returned twice more that year to enjoy its natural beauty and the hospitality.
In August 2006 I made my third trip to Grand Bruit, on my way home to Ontario from Francois. It had been many years since my last visit, and I was absolutely blown away by the great strides this community has made in creating what could be one of the prettiest postcard-perfect places in all of Newfoundland.
Mel D'Souza (second from left) and his friends in Grand Bruit.
It's incredibly neat: the houses are brightly painted, and colourful potted plants are strategically placed along the spotless concrete paths. The immaculately manicured lawns cover almost every patch of earth - including large and tiny mounds that would seem impossible to trim with a regular mower. Yet almost every blade of grass throughout the outport appears to be cut to one uniform height. Grand Bruit could unquestionably be dubbed the lawnmowing capital of Newfoundland - maybe even Canada.
None of this manicured beauty is by accident, though. Rather, it has all been very carefully and deliberately planned, and has taken several years to perfect.
Grand Bruit initiated its beautification program in 1999, when resident Marilyn Billard urged the community to compete in the provincial Tidy Towns contest. They won the first prize (rated as five "pitcher plants") in the under-500 population category. Then they entered the national Communities in Bloom competition in 2000 and placed second overall in their category.
When Marilyn moved to another town, Verna Billard took over and launched a drive to develop and maintain lush lawns. This activity has become virtually an obsession with the residents of Grand Bruit. As one local wisecrack said to me, "Yes b'y, this place is noisier than your Toronto once the lawnmowers get going."
But when the lawnmowers are turned off, peace and tranquility once again become the order of the day - at least until sunset, when the Cramalott Inn opens its doors.
The Cramalott Inn was an old fisherman's shed before becoming a hangout for teens and, finally, a meeting place for everyone in Grand Bruit. Inside, benches line the four walls. A fridge occupies one corner and a frying pan is put to use cooking up snacks in another. The walls are plastered with hilarious posters, notices and words of wisdom. Patrons bring their own beers and bologna, and sit around talking about issues of the day. Visitors are also welcome to share in the discussions, as well as the food and drink. In fact, last August I cooked up blue fin shark curry for the people who'd gathered that evening.
The shed got its colourful name when it hosted its first party many years ago. It was so crammed with partygoers that somebody dubbed it "Cramalott Inn." The name stuck and the rest, as they say, is history - a unique part of the heritage and tradition of the Southwest Coast.
Grand Bruit and other isolated outports like it are the last word in the real Newfoundland - a heritage that cries out to be preserved for posterity, and for the enjoyment of Newfoundlanders and others who love this beautiful part of Canada.