The western-style saddle creaks in subtle protest as weight is shifted in the stirrups and a young hand browned by the August sun loops a well-worn set of leather reins over the sturdy horn in preparation for dismounting the ebony Newfoundland pony. Surrounding the boy and horse is a sweeping view of the coast, from the iron tower of the 1883 Green Point lighthouse to the sleeping Newfoundland dog formation of Fergus Island and, much farther out Conception Bay, the low rocks of the Harbour Grace Islands archipelago. The view, while impressive, is not what drew me here to Port de Grave many moons ago. It was rumours of pirate treasure.
This past July I again find myself by the lighthouse, gazing out over the water, watching the sunset and the fishing vessels cutting through the swells. There are a few more houses on the gravel road to the point, but time appears to have stood still out here. It is as hauntingly beautiful as I remember.
More on that legacy can be explored in the Fishermen’s Museum in the Hibb’s Cove section of Port de Grave, where all manner of paraphernalia related to fishing and enterprise upon the ocean can be found. My favourite attraction there is a wall near the entrance where old-fashioned sou’westers are hung. They are actual hats worn in many cases by former fishermen of the area and displayed with permission of the families as reminders of old skippers and friends bound together in a tip of the hat to a way of life gone by.
In yet another surprise, next door there is a beautiful one-room school maintained as a museum, replete with vintage desks, a pot-bellied stove, teacher’s desk and bell, and (for those of a certain generation who will appreciate them) the vintage large “Run Spot, run, run, run” illustrated readers. There are even teachers’ ledgers of former students’ marks on display.
A restored two-storey, traditional outport home, known as Porter House, also welcomes visitors - both real and spiritual it seems. One artifact inside, a record player, is reputed to be haunted. A guide I met on my visit said she’s never noticed anything out of this world happening during her shifts. But she did share that it was featured on an episode of a TV show about paranormal activity, and that some visitors have sworn they heard static, like white noise, coming from the machine although no one was nearby to start it up.
Outside Porter House lays an anchor from the PLM 27, the iron ore carrier that was torpedoed off Bell Island by a German U-Boat on November 2, 1942. She sank almost immediately after being hit, taking 12 men to their deaths. I’m told some industrious locals retrieved it quite a number of years back and placed it as a public monument and informal war memorial. (Another anchor from the same vessel is in the memorial park at Lance Cove on Bell Island.)
On the topic of public monuments, there is perhaps no more distinctive manmade landmark in Port de Grave than the unusual collection of items related to a mariner’s way of life known affectionately as “The Crown” (pictured above). Located across from the main marina where fleets of fishing boats find safe berth against winter storms, it appears at first glance to be a random amalgamation of objects. But closer inspection reveals a carefully curated collection. It is the volunteer work of one man, Matt Petten, a retired fisherman. He tells me it started as a hobby to mark the concrete footprint of what was once a fishing building his family owned. Local people enjoyed it and spontaneously donated items to it from their own collections, everything from a boat’s propeller to anchor chain to buoys and more. At Christmastime it’s decked out in holiday lights, as are pretty well all the boats in the marina. The harbour lights are an annual tradition that’s attracted thousands of visitors into the town over the past 16 years.