CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Looking at the water versus fetching it

July 26, 2010 One morning in June my neighbour, Wilson Brown, calls me over to ask a favour. I am passing by during my daily dog walk and he is out in his garden hoeing potatoes. "I need your help with something," he says. "You and I will carry some buckets to the top of the hill and fetch some water from the well up there. We'll need to make about ten trips back and forth. Do you think you can do that?"

Wilson isn't your typical octogenarian. He's been charged with dismantling several houses in the Cove that belong to various far-flung cousins and I see him lugging the timber frame remains into his flatbed truck every day. Still, I feel that I should help the old guy out. I am speechless. My mind races through the possibilities. Why does he need this water? Can't he buy it bottled? Or call a plumber? Why does the Arctic Scientist have to be in Labrador when these kinds of issues arise?

wilsonbrownhouse.jpg A field book study of Wilson Brown's house from early May, 2010.

I am so focused on finding ways to avoid the hillside water-fetching that I don't immediately notice that Wilson is laughing. Oh, this is a joke. I'd interviewed Wilson a few days before, plundering his memory for glimpses into the life of Upper Amherst Cove when it was an active fishing community with almost double the number of people and houses. He'd described the many chores he'd carried out as a young man growing up here. Later that night, after our interview, he realized he'd forgotten to add water-fetching to that list. A retired school teacher, he'd now successfully imparted this information.

hannahrogers.jpgMrs. Hannah Rogers fetching water, Fair Island, Bonavista Bay, 1952. (Courtesy of the Maritime History Archive)

Wilson painted both an idyllic and difficult portrait of a way of life that persists only in memory. He sees the fishing stages that once lined the shore, where I see a government imposed guard rail that works to further separate the people from the water. And, like many people I've met this summer, he describes aspects of the natural and built landscape in words and gestures that I simply cannot decipher.

generalstore.jpg The general store at the entrance to Upper Amherst Cove has been closed for years.

As a newcomer, I don't know the physical world to the same degree as someone like Wilson. He was born and raised here, in the house that his father built, and has worked this land and the surrounding waters in ways that no other summer home owner will. Yes, Wilson is a summer home owner, despite the fact that he was reared in the home that he now occupies in the fair-weather months.

A few weeks after Wilson taught me the value of (narrowly avoiding) hard work I interview two summer home owners from Vancouver who have no ancestral ties to the area. Near the end of our chat I spy movement in the ocean, visible from their kitchen windows. It's a dolphin and he's performing like the talent scout from Marineland is on shore. Distracted, I leave my Edirol running for a few moments before shutting it off to end the interview. The last seven seconds captures a cacophony of wildly shrieking mainlanders (myself included) reacting to the surprises of the North Atlantic seascape. It is perhaps the most valuable seven seconds of tape that I will record this summer.

watchingcapelin.jpg Government workers stop by the guard rail in Upper Amherst Cove to check out the capelin rolling.

Seasonal residents don't know the landscape in the same way as Newfoundlanders, but sometimes their reaction to it can be just as emotional.

It's that time of year again

Editor's note: Emily is very interested in hearing what you think about the changes you see in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Please add your comments below.

They arrive around the same time that the lupins start to blossom along the road and the caplin begin to roll up the shoreline. Taking into account the island's history of migratory settlers, it could be argued that they are just as natural. I'm talking about seasonal residents -- summer home owners who settle in rural Newfoundland for anywhere from two weeks to four months during the warmer (i.e. less snowy) months.

I'd heard that there were people from all across North America and Europe who owned houses in communities like Keels, Duntara and Newman's Cove on the Bonavista Peninsula. Even the Wall Street Journal reported that Americans were buying homes in rural Newfoundland "for the price of a used SUV." I thought, "Really? Who are they? Why did they choose this area and how do the locals feel? Someone should really look into that."

This is how I ended up here in Upper Amherst Cove, along with my partner, the Arctic scientist, who is often away in Labrador.

The population of the Cove is up for debate, but hovers somewhere around 30 souls.

emily1.JPG How much is this view in Upper Amherst Cove worth?

I'm more closely evolved from the summer residents than the livyers and as an Ontarian expat living in St. John's I knew this research -- towards my PhD thesis in Folklore at Memorial University -- would be a challenge. How would I approach people? Luckily, I have two unruly, yet useful ambassadors.

emily2.JPG An early field note chronicling the world outside the kitchen window.

When moving to a rural community with the intention of conducting research and interviewing the people who live there it's important to bring a pair of disobedient animals -- preferably a cat and a dog. Because these animals will disappear for days on end, threaten the baby goats in the adjacent field, and generally wreak havoc on the local canine balance, you have an immediate ice breaker (usually initiated by an apology).

It started with my cat, Oliver Patrick, escaping out the back door of our rental home the day after we moved in. An encounter with a pack of local dogs sent him roof-ward where he perched during an afternoon hailstorm refusing to be lured down even by the promise of Chicken Liver Fancy Feast. Then he disappeared into the woods. This prompted a somewhat hysterical door-knocking flurry during which I introduced myself to many of my neighbours and asked if they'd seen a moderately overweight calico cat.

emily5.JPG A creative land buying technique seen in Newman's Cove.

Oliver Patrick sauntered in three days later looking bored and somewhat smug after his romp in the wild, but news of his disappearance spread far and wide. Months later I still meet people who'll ask if my cat ever came home. Mostly due to animal interference, I have been able to meet and interview quite a few year-round and seasonal residents.

The summer folks come from all over. Some have family ties to the area while others end up here by chance: an enticing For Sale sign spotted during a family vacation; a word-of-mouth deal on a home they'd never seen in a province they'd never visited.

emily3.JPG Old buildings no longer in use, like this one in Newman's Cove, capture the interest of prospective buyers.

This cosmopolitan influx gives the local economy a summer boost while the seasonal residents get to take in the seaside landscapes and fresh air, never having to battle a winter's gale or shovel their driveway. But, I wonder, can you truly experience life on this island in one season?

emily6.JPG A faded For Sale sign in Trinity.

Links to consider:

International buyers eye Canadian real estate

Recreational property market heats up

Cabin-buying fever on the Avalon Peninsula

Americans fined $37,800 over P.E.I. land buy

Isolated N.L. residents moving on

Please feel free to contact me at Emily Urquhart