Sunday, June 30, 2013


Transportation is turning out to be more of an issue than I had imagined. I was lucky to meet Eugene who brought me to Sandy Point, and even luckier, I realize now, to have found a ride to Grand Bruit. But no matter how hard I tried, a lift from Grand Bruit to Burgeo could not be borrowed, bought or begged (and trust me, I tried all three).

So now I am back tracking a little, and making a new plan. I'm giving up on the south coast for the moment and heading east on the Trans Canada. My next stop will be Little Bay Islands on the north coast, a town which will almost certainly be resettled in the next year or two. There is still ferry service to Little Bay Islands, which means that I won't get frustrated, or worse, stranded. This will also give me an extra week to try to arrange transportation to Brunette Island and British Harbour in advance. Since just showing up in a town and asking around doesn't seem effective it's time to switch tactics.

I must recount the story of traveling to Grand Bruit because it illustrates so many of my experiences this far in the trip. Grand Bruit is remote - If you drive all the way to Port-Aux-Basques, then continue on route 470 for 45km to Rose Blanche, and then catch a two hour ferry to La Poile you will still be 20km by sea from Grand Bruit. In the other direction, the next community is Burgeo, a 50km boat trip. Grand Bruit was resettled about five years ago so there is no ferry or any other way of getting there except to pay someone to bring you.

Now I thought this would be simple - show up in La Poile, ask around, and make it known I was willing to pay a decent price to go. In a town where every family has a boat, every man knows the coast like the back of his hand, and most people work seasonally (and therefore don't have a lot of options for income), I thought I could hire just about anyone to bring me to Grand Bruit.

However, no one was even remotely interested, or at least no one let on that they were. I think this attitude all has to do with money. No one wants to do it for free because it actually is a pretty big chore and the price of gas alone makes it an expensive trip. But at the same time no one wants to get paid for it either - there is an antipathy towards entrepreneurism in Newfoundland that I'm sure I'm not the first to have noticed. I'm certain that it has something to do with small communities, their tendency towards egalitarianism, and the individual's need to not appear as though he or she is getting ahead of the others. Paradoxically, this makes it very difficult to procure services that one needs (like transportation) in a town where almost anyone is able to provide that service. There is an art to dealing with this attitude that I'm sure I don't know yet, but will have to work on if I'm going to get anywhere.

Being an outsider makes the situation even more inaccessible. It is almost impossible to get a straight answer most of the time. One fellow I talked to told me he wouldn't go to Grand Bruit because that's where his wife came from. "When you takes away one of their women" he said, "you don't go back." This problem is further compounded by the fact that I honestly have trouble understanding the accents of the older folks. But in La Poile I thought for a moment I had my in - after the ferry unloaded, a moose appeared on the cliff on the opposite side of the harbour. Most of the men of the community gathered to look (like you would) while I scrambled to get my camera, switch out to my tele lens, and change to some practical exposure settings after a day of experimental photography. I knew if I could get a good shot I would endear myself to the men of La Poile and perhaps secure myself some transportation. But by the time I was ready the moose vanished into the brush, taking my chance of being a local hero with it.

Eventually a fisherman from Port Aux Basques, George Francis, came through and heard I was looking for a ride. He named his price and I took the offer. Arriving in Grand Bruit I saw a bustling little hub of activity. There were a half dozen boats in the harbour, most of them owned by former residents who were there for a few weeks while fishing lobster. My prospects looked good, since at least half of them were now living in Burgeo and planning to go back that way in a few days. However, I couldn't get a single one of them to commit to giving me a ride - each one just said he didn't know when he was going, he didn't know if he would have space, he didn't know if he could do it. I offered quite a lot of money to anyone who would make a special run to Burgeo with me, but that didn't work either. My only guaranteed transportation anywhere was George, who at least promised to bring me back to La Poile on Friday if I couldn't find a ride.

And there was another missed opportunity. A small tour operator was in harbour the Monday I arrived - they were on their way to Port-Aux-Basques, but said they would be going back to Burgeo on Saturday and would be happy to take me. However, they also couldn't promise, they told me they were 90% certain. So basically my options were to take the guaranteed ride back to La Poile on Friday, or wait until Saturday to go to Burgeo but have a 10% chance of getting stranded in the process.

The only sensible thing to do was go back to La Poile, which was disappointing, but probably more than ten times less disappointing than getting stuck in Grand Bruit and running out of food. And that's the reason for my change of plans, and my new philosophy of making arrangements in advance.


Before I go any farther, I should take a moment to thank the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council for their financial support of this project, and of course for the support they've given all my projects over the years. It's great to be part of such a progressive and productive arts community, and the Arts Council plays a major role in fostering this community.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mecahnical Issue

Had a minor mechanical issue as I was leaving St. George's - I popped two spokes on my rear wheel. This is something that doesn't happen that often, but even so a prudent cyclist carries a few extra spokes just in case. I was not carrying any. I went on with my wobbly wheel as far as the Robinsons turn off where I stopped at the Midway Motel and called Peter at Cycle Solutions in Corner Brook. He put some spokes on the bus for me, but they wouldn't be arriving until 8pm. So with some time on my hands I called up Brian and Reed, the only ceramicists (that I know of) on the whole southwest coast of Newfoundland, who just happen to live in Robinsons. Brian was cutting wood when I arrived, and Reed was cooking a big feed of lobster which we quickly made into a delicious meal.

They also showed me around their place (although I've been there before) and I just had to snap some pics of their shard piles. These are the two they currently have on the go, but they also told me they had to fill in a septic tank a few years ago and used a huge pile of shards for that. So that's what you do with twenty-odd years of shards.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sandy Point

Brace yourself - this is a long post, but at least there are plenty of pretty pictures. I found my way into St. Georges without any real plan. There are some beaches there and I found plenty of shards and made a nice arrangement on the beach. But I had also heard about this place across the bay called Sandy Point, a resettled community that apparently was once the centre of the Bay St. George fishery. I wandered around town for a few hours talking to whoever I could about going out there. It was harder to find a lift than I imagined. Eventually I stumbled across perhaps the most interesting man in St. Georges, Eugene Sheppard, who, although he didn't take me seriously at first, did eventually agree to take me to Sandy Point.

Eugene works for Forestry, is an avid outdoorsman, is a woodcarver in his spare time, and oh yeah - has assembled this amazing railway museum entirely through his own efforts and resources. A true renaissance man for sure.

I was so happy to visit Sandy Point - you could hardly take a step without crunching a pottery shard underfoot, and Sandy Point is unlike any other resettled place I've ever seen. It really was a large population centre: there are hundreds upon hundreds of headstones in three separate cemeteries, large breakwaters and public wharves, and even roads with sidewalks still in existence. This is a stark contrast with a place like the Grey Islands where there is no evidence of any public works or infrastructure beyond the graveyard. Again, one questions the motive to leave such a place where so much has been invested.

There was such an abundance of raw material that I made five pieces in my short time on Sandy Point. The first was this little arc across a gully that led from a salt marsh into the bay. My first evening there the tide came in really high and filled the marsh - I thought I'd use that rush of water to disperse these pieces. But nature got the better of me: the tide never came in that high again, so these shards were exactly where I left them when I departed. There were so many shards available I was even able to make aesthetic choices about which ones I used and how. For this arrangement I alternated those with blue and those with brown along the length of the line.

Here is a similar one I made at much lower tide, and simply inserted them into the sand so they were sticking straight up. The wind was light and the waves weren't very high but the sea still took them away. I think what actually happens is that the water moves the sand from beneath them and then they have nowhere to go but down.

And this is another with the shards arranged in a circular pattern. I have lots of great action shots of the waves moving the pieces, and the may get compiled into an animation at some point, but not today.

There are also a significant number of bricks on the beach at Sandy Point, which I collected and made into this structure. Most of the bricks are really worn and off-square so I used wet sand to "cement" them together. As the sand dried in the wind the structure became untenable and collapsed.

And finally, I still had hundreds of shards left in my little pouch, so I took all the pure white ones and simply placed one atop each of the posts in the old breakwater. Some of them will probably be there for a while because they are well above the tide. But eventually even these will wash away when there is a big storm. I love the white on the black-and-white stumps.

I took over a thousand photos on Sandy Point. Eugene asked a pretty good question: "What are you going to do with all those pictures?" The answer is, simply, I don't know yet. This is the collection and experimentation phase more than anything else. But I do have a few ideas. I'd like to print some, and I'd like to animate some, and I'd like to collage some. But there are other more experimental things too. Perhaps I will expand on that later.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


After all the shards I found on Woods Island and nearby Frenchman's Cove I was really thinking I would hit the jackpot on the Port-au-Port peninsula. Boy, was I wrong. I spent a lot of hours the past three days walking the beaches of the Port-au-Port and didn't have any finds significant enough to warrant an extended stay. I found a half dozen shards at The Gravels, a few more at Picadilly Beach and none at Beach Cove, Tea Cove or Winterhouses. Only once I got to Mainland did I find enough to collect, assemble and photograph.

It didn't take long for the waves to take all those pieces away, and I headed on again, this time stopping at Lower Cove where I found a few more. Here is that arrangement, about to be returned to the sea.

All things considered, the scarcity of shards on the beaches was a little disappointing. These few represent many hours of searching and more than a little frustration. Fortunately, something amazing and serendipitous happened: I followed a sign on a trail to the location of a 1941 plane crash on top of the mountain between Mainland and Cape St. George. There was the typical wreckage you might expect, but I also found a bunch of shattered porcelain. I can't be sure the porcelain was related to the crash - it may simply have been brought by a visitor at a later time. But the pieces were quite industrial looking and didn't seem out of place. They made me think of porcelain insulators or fuses, which they certainly could have been. I lined them up on a piece of the wreckage and did a few photos.

Monday, June 17, 2013

These are my wheels for this project. I got this bike from Cychotic in St. John's in 2009 after the rear wheel of my old bike exploded. I priced out a new wheel, tire and tube for replacements, and it came out to about three hundred bucks. The guy at the shop knew about all the bicycle advocacy and volunteer work I was doing at the time, and offered to bring in a brand new bike for me _at cost_ for not too much more. It was a deal I could not resist, and this Rocky Mountain and I have been best friends ever since.

Yesterday was not exactly a great day for cycling. The wind was absolutely howling out of the southwest, the exact direction I was riding, and it was very cold. I had on all my layers, I never thought I would need this many, but I tell you I was glad to have them. It was so windy you could've surfed on Pinchgut Lake, and at George's Lake I actually had to get off my bike and walk with it for a few minutes because I was afraid I was going to blow off the road. (The only other time I have ever done this was in southwestern Saskatchewan, where I was momentarily terrified that I might become airborne). I didn't take many breaks, and it took me nine hours, but I did finally make it the 100km to Port-au-Port.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Woods Island

My previous experience with resettled communities in Newfoundland is limited. In 2009 I lived on the Grey Islands for three months, which, until now, was the only intensive, studious period I have spent in an abandoned community. In the case of the Grey Islands the logic of resettlement is clear: the community was extremely isolated (20km over the open icy ocean to the next nearest community) and subsistence there was difficult (poor weather and almost no soil). I thought this logic was going to be the theme of my summer travels this time around, so I was quite surprised by the time I spent on Woods Island this past week.

Woods Island is in the Bay of Islands, about 30km from Corner Brook. It is, to put it mildly, shockingly dissimilar to the Grey Islands, and forces me to question some of my understandings and assumptions about resettlement. Woods Island was a major centre of the west coast fishery and it is easy to see why: it is centrally located in the bay and the land is rich and fertile. In fact, Woods Island seems like a place where people could have been resettled to rather than from, especially when you consider that many of the mainland towns ringing the southern side of the bay are essentially built into little more than dark nooks in the north-facing cliffs.

I have tended, perhaps naively, to think of resettlement as a humanitarian project, a way of bringing people closer to the things they need to be healthy and educated. But Woods Island really makes me think about resettlement as an economic project rather than a humanitarian one. A school or clinic could have been built on the island and a ferry link could have been established, and maybe the community would have thrived. In the short term though it was more expedient to simply put a road up the coast and convince all the people to move over to the mainland. And in any case, resettlement was founded on an ideology of urbanization and economic transformation that could not be denied.

Woods Island is not really resettled anyways, at least not with the permanence and finality that the Grey Islands were. One family stayed after everyone else left, and one member of that family is still there today, living year round in his home. Many others have summer homes there, some using it as a base for their fishing operations in season, others simply as a quiet getaway. There are cabins there, but most aren't the rustic accommodations you might expect - drop any one of them down in a nearby town and it certainly wouldn't look out of place. Almost every cabin has a lawn, and most of the lawns are freshly mowed. In my four days there I saw about ten people - mowing lawns, hanging clothes to dry, putting up a new roof, collecting flotsam from the beach, planting gardens. Clearly many people are choosing to spend a lot of time there.

On the way back I stopped in at the Woods Island Resettlement House in Benoit's Cove. It is a lovely little museum filled with artifacts and photos showing the history of the place. In fact, the museum itself is the greatest artifact, as it is a house that was floated across the bay during the resettlement period. Coincidentally, there was a lecture being delivered by Dr. Rainer Baehre when I stopped, as part of the CU Expo that the university in Corner Brook is hosting. Dr. Baehre has spent much time studying Woods Island and I hope to have a chat with him some day.

Historians and museums are, naturally enough, focused on the narrative elements of resettlement, and not surprisingly most of the art and literature about this period of Newfoundland history has also tended to be narrative, pictorial and representational. I want to take a different trajectory in my project by incorporating environmental, performative and ephemeral elements.

I spent my first evening, morning and afternoon on the island exploring the beaches looking for shards. There were many - I picked up a couple hundred, but I could easily have taken many, many more. And when I picked a spot bare all I had to do was wait for the tide to come in and go out again, and there would be a whole new trove revealed. This first excursion was all about figuring out what was possible and what I might want to do in the future. I built three structures - first a shard pile on a rock, then a circular arrangement on the sand, and finally a line along the beach parallel to the water's edge. This last one was the one I settled on - I arranged the shards from smallest to largest and waited for the tide to do its thing. The arrangement transformed from a sharp, linear object to a fuzzy, organic one. Size matters, of course, so the smaller pieces were more disturbed by the action of the water than the large ones.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The day before the beginning

Tomorrow I will be starting this new project I call Shards. For the next few months I will be traveling in Newfoundland, exploring land and seascapes, and searching for pottery shards to photograph. In my experience they are abundant - in the past 500 years almost every cove on the island has been inhabited in one form or another, these people have left their trash behind, and the ceramic materials they left are still evident after all this time. But today is my last day of preparation. I am mostly ready, but still have a few things to do. Soon you can look forward to lots of images.