Nfld. & Labrador

Tilt Cove, Canada's smallest town, a big draw for tourists

Tucked away in a small corner of Newfoundland's Baie Verte Peninsula, the minuscule town of Tilt Cove is hiding a whole lot of history, writes Adam Walsh.
Tilt Cove in Newfoundland and Labrador, population 5, is receiving $293.82 in federal municipal COVID relief. It's one of thousands of Canadian municipalities that have been told what they are getting, none of them in New Brunswick. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Tucked away in a small corner of Newfoundland's Baie Verte Peninsula, the minuscule town of Tilt Cove is hiding a whole lot of history.

At first glance you would never be able to guess that this was a mining boomtown — not once, but twice — nor imagine what used to be here. That's where Don and Margaret Collins come into the picture.

"Donald is the mayor, I'm the town clerk,"  said Margaret, sitting in one of two twin rocking chairs in the couple's garage. "My brother and his sister are councillors now."

Margaret and Don Collins, one third of the community, in their shed in Tilt Cove. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

On top of their council duties, the Collinses are also the de facto greeters for their town. 

You could say they play a big part in everything the town does because Don and Margaret make up one third of the town's population.

That's right. Tilt Cove has a population of six people.

It was not always this way for Tilt Cove though.

Twice a boomtown

The town has the distinction of being the birthplace to the province's first mine.

That happened in the 19th century, when as many as 2,000 people flocked to the area. The copper mine, which began production in 1864, had as many as 800 direct employees at one point, and lasted for half a century. 

Twice a boomtown, Tilt Cove's population is now only four people. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Don and Margaret were kids for the mine's second kick at the cat, in the 1950s and '60s. Their memories paint a far different picture than the Tilt Cove of today.

"[The mine] reopened in 1957, ran for 10 more years. Between 1,200 to 1,500 people lived in Tilt Cove then," said Margaret.

"Christmas time, they would put this great big 30-foot Christmas tree out on the pond, because it was froze over, with the lights on to it."

An old abandoned home slowly surrenders to Mother Nature in Tilt Cove. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

During those festive times, the town would all go to a big party each year and the company running the mine would even give gifts to all the residents.

Curling, bowling, a movie theatre

Most of the signs that showed Tilt Cove was a boomtown were removed long ago, but Don has no problem remembering what was where.

"There [were] two lanes of curling, two lanes of bowling and a movie theatre here. Over in the rec centre over there, a big nightclub upstairs," said Don.

Looking at the scattered old abandoned house in Tilt Cove slowly surrender to Mother Nature doesn't exactly give the sense that there was ever a nightclub anywhere near this place.

Sure, the town is teensy, but during the summer months it's actually quite the tourist attraction.

The view from Margaret and Don Collins' side of the pond in Tilt Cove. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

"I usually see about between anywhere from 800 to 1,000 every summer … Germany, Denmark, Sweden," said Margaret.

"A lot of people from the States. They always find us." 

How Ant-Man found a home

The town is so famous for being so small that earlier this year, Marvel Canada picked Tilt Cove as the spot where it wanted to promote Ant-Man, the summer blockbuster starring Paul Rudd. 

Marvel shipped a tiny promotional poster to the community, and reaped some publicity for the gesture. The poster now sits in the community museum. 

For visitors, part of the attraction is the town's notoriety, but there are also those who come because of family connections. Some are connected to the second incarnation, others to the first boom way back in the 1800s.

Don Collins in the community museum, which is in his and Margaret's home. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Don and Margaret run a small museum in their home and every now and then visitors will have something with them to contribute to the collective memory of the town.

"One guy came here and said his granddad owned shares in the mines and he brought us some old pictures that they took back the first time that Tilt Cove worked," said Don.

Margaret Collins sitting outside on a calm fall day in Tilt Cove. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Don says that when visitors with family connections look around the old mining town, they always comment on how quiet and peaceful the place is. It's the tranquility that Don and Margaret cannot imagine doing without.

Don's mother passed away in June, bringing the town's population down from seven to six people. Her attachment to Tilt Cove was immense.

Margaret says that when Don's mother found out she was sick, she was given the option to move to Grand-Falls Windsor for treatment.

Many tourists have a family connection to the Tilt Cove mine. Some leave family items or pictures from when their relatives lived there. In this case, it's a set of skating blades from the 19th century. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

"Her decision was to stay in Tilt Cove because she said, 'What's the good to go in there and live and die from a broken heart? It's just as well to stay where I'm to,'" Margaret said. 

"And that's just what she did."

The discussion of his mother's passing gives Don pause for thought about Tilt Cove and the future.

"You know, we knows we're not going to be able to stay here for the rest of our lives," said Don.

"Unless we can convince somebody else to move in and help us out a little bit. You know, if there was a few more families, it would be nice."

Despite its dwindling population, Tilt Cove is still technically a town, and retains the infrastructure that was built years ago. 

So if you're looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of your daily life, maybe Tilt Cove is the answer.

Here's Don's pitch: "We got water and sewer. We got streetlights, we got garbage collection. We gets our mail five days a week. That's all you need. Then, you got peace and comfort."

A tombstone at Tilt Cove's cemetery from the 19th century. (Adam Walsh/CBC)


Adam Walsh

CBC News

Adam Walsh is a CBC journalist. He is the host and producer of the lunchtime radio program The Signal.


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