Archive for the 'Nooks & Crannies' Category

Happy 105th, Virgin Berg!

Jun 24 2010 Published by under Culture,Nooks & Crannies

It was 105 years ago on this day that St. John’s photographer T.B. Hayward captured a snapshot of the legendary Virgin Mary iceberg — come to be known as “Our Lady of the Fjords” or “The Crystal Lady” or, my favourite, “The Virgin Berg.”

Kodak had just five years earlier produced the “Brownie,” the first mass marketed camera, and some say this photo is the oldest purported to be a depiction of a supernatural Christian apparition — definitely the beginning of a long tradition.

In a research paper called “Kodak Catholicism,” Jessy Pagliaroli called this “miraculous photography.” Pagliaroli says this kind of thing has popped up because of a “a desire to re-awaken what [the Roman Catholic Church] perceives is a lost sense of the sacred in the modern world.”

The photo has inspired a number of creative works…

Michael Francis Howley, the Catholic Archbishop at the time, wrote a sonnet which was published in the Newfoundland Quarterly in 1909:

Our Lady of the Fjords

Hail Crystal Virgin, from the frozen fjords
Where far-off Greenland’s gelid glaciers gleen
O’er Oceans bosom soaring, cool, serene
Not famed Carrara’s purest vein affords
Such sparkling brilliance, as mid countless hordes
Of spotless glistning bergs thou reignest Queen
In all the glory of thy opal sheen
A Shimmering Shrine; Our bright Atlantic Lourdes.
We hail thee, dual patront, with acclaim,
Thou standest guardian o er our Island home.
To-day, four cycles since, our rock-bound strand.
First Cabot saw: and gave the Baptist’s name:
To-day we clothe with Pallium from Rome.
The first Archbishop of our Newfoundland!

Contemporary author Wayne Johnson says his father grew up in a house blessed by water from this iceberg, which they called the “Virgin Berg.” Johnson wrote about the iceberg in his memoir, Baltimore’s Mansion:

In 1905, on June 24, the feast day of St. John the Baptist and the day in 1497 of John Cabot’s landfall at Cape Bonavista and “discovery” of Newfoundland, an iceberg hundreds of feet high and bearing an undeniable likeness to the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared off St. John’s harbour. As word of the apparition spread, thousands of people flocked to Signal Hill to get a glimpse of it. An ever-growing flotilla of fishing boats escorted it along the southern shore as it passed Petty Harbour, Bay Bulls, Tors Cove, Ferryland, where my father’s grandparents and his father, Charlie, who was twelve, saw it from a rise of land known as the Gaze. […]

How relieved he was when the Virgin Berg and her attending fleet sailed out of sight and his parents and the other grownups stood up and blessed themselves. Soon the miracle became mere talk, less and less miraculous the more they tried to describe what they had seen, as if, now that it was out of sight, they doubted that its shape had been quite as perfect as it seemed when it was looming there in front of them.

They heard later of things they could not see from shore, of the water that ran in rivers from the Virgin, from her head and from her shoulders, and that spouted from wound-like punctures in her body, cascading down upon the boats below, onto the fishermen and into the barrels and buckets they manoeuvred into place as best they could. Some fishermen stood, eyes closed and mouths wide open, beneath the little waterfalls, gulping and gagging on the ice-cold water, their hats removed, their hair and clothing drenched, hands uplifted.

You can read more of this excerpt here.

I’d say, though, that if a similar iceberg were to float by these days, people might interpret it slightly differently.

Happy 105th, Virgin Berg!

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There’s a submarine in the harbour

May 08 2010 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

According to the CBC, the Canadian Naval submarine will be here until Tuesday, and will be doing some training here until then. They won’t be allowing any public tours of the vessel.

I ran into a few submariners with beer-scented breath on George Street, but they weren’t up for talking.

“We’ve been on for just about two weeks,” explained one man, who couldn’t have been older than twenty. “I don’t want to say anything I shouldn’t.” Fair enough. “It’s my first time in St. John’s and I’m real excited to be here!” he added as he marched into O’Rielly’s for more training.

Down at the harbour, gawkers milled about while stern-faced Navy personnel in aviator shades stood assertively on the sub’s tail end. They, too, were pretty tight-lipped, though they did confirm that the submarine comes into the harbour fully emerged, as opposed to pulling in underwater and “blooping up to the surface”, as I had hoped.

The Canadian Navy purchased the HMCS Corner Brook from the British, after the Cold War. It’s classified as an SSK, which apparently stands for “long-range hunter-killer.” It’s 70.3 meters long, weighs almost 2,500 tonnes, and has six torpedoe tubes. Hence, “hunter-killer.”

This particular submarine is covered in small tiles of rubber in varying shades of worn out black. They’re called anechoic tiles, and each one contains thousands of tiny voids which absorb sound. This shrinks the area in which the vessel can picked up by sonar, and it absorbs any sonar waves that do find it, thus distorting their return signal.


To go have a look for yourself, head straight down to the harbour along Clift Baird’s Cove. (And be sure to pop in to see dentist turned artist Jonathon O’Dea’s exhibit at the Leyton Gallery on your way back. It’s lovely.)

There’s a submarine in the harbour

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9 Allan Square

Dec 03 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Home owners sometimes put a lot of work into the appearance of their front door, but Don and Doris Hillier of Allan Square have turned the outside of their townhouse into what some would call a work of art.

The entire front of the house is painted red and white and every part from the posts to the mailbox is decorated with intricate wood carvings.

The step has a nautical theme, with carvings of sailboats, ships’ wheels and wind ornaments. Don carved the designs in his spare time over a two year period, finishing the bulk of it over a decade ago.

Doris says a lot of people stop to take pictures of their house, especially during the tourist season.

“People are really amazed at how it’s painted and designed,” she says.

Don and Doris are originally from the Burin Peninsula and moved to Allan Square 35 years ago. Don did most of the carving in his basement workshop, using the skills he learned working in construction.

Some of the wood came from an old couch and lawn chair they had thrown away. Inside, Don has built cabinets and other furniture in a similar style.

A passerby liked Don’s work enough to steal a wooden house he had on display outside, but Don says people usually just bring home photographic souvenirs.

“Some people get up on the step and get their pictures taken that way,” he says. “We had a crowd here from Australia that took some pictures and when they went back home they sent us back one. They were pretty fascinated by it.”

— Shawn Hayward

9 Allan Square

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The hovercraft

Nov 19 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Photo by Ben Jackson

St. John’s Regional Fire Department
5 Fort Townshend

People travelling over frozen lakes and rivers will be a little safer this winter, thanks to a new vehicle.

In May Exxon-Mobil donated a hovercraft to the St. John’s Regional Fire Department, a vehicle fire fighters use to help people stranded in the water. It isn’t the province’s first hovercraft; a search and rescue team on the west coast already owns one. It’s the first dedicated to the St. John’s area and the only one owned by a fire department in our province.

“It gives us the mobility to get the rescuer and the victim safely to shore,” says Derek Chafe, superintendant of St. John’s Regional Fire Department.

The hovercraft has already been used in at least a couple rescues. Before it arrived, fire fighters had to crawl onto the ice to get to someone, putting themselves at risk. The hovercraft gives them a safe platform to use, and one that can motor to the scene at up to 80 kilometres per hour on smooth ice.

“It’s a very vital piece of equipment for the safety of the rescuer and victim,” says Chafe. “It speeds our response. We’re able to get deployed and to the victim much faster than we could in the past.”

Hovercrafts work by taking in air and funnelling it downwards to provide a cushion of air over which it hovers. It moves forward with the help of a large fan in the back, making it really interesting to pilot.

“The best comparison our operators put it to is flying a helicopter,” says Chafe. “You’re basically flying four to six inches off the ground. You have to operate it similar to a helicopter because of the cross winds, and those sorts of things affect your performance.”

The hovercraft measures approximately 12 feet by six feet, carries three people, and has a 60 horse power engine. It’s able to cross any relatively flat surface such as ice, snow, water, or sand.

At the time of writing, the hovercraft was visible to passers by through the glass doors.

The hovercraft

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The Rower sculpture on Quidi Vidi lake

Nov 05 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Photo by Elling Lien.

Western edge of Quidi Vidi Lake

When Morgan MacDonald walked around Quidi Vidi Lake in 2004, he decided something was missing. Best known as the site of the city’s historic Regatta, the lake had no icon or symbol of how important the race is to provincial culture.

“I just thought we have this important sporting event, and there was nothing around the lake to commemorate it or give it a place in history,” says MacDonald, a sculptor educated at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. “I made a concept to show to the city and look for support. Lo and behold, someone saw the vision in it and felt strongly enough to support it.”

That concept was “The Rower”, which now graces the western edge of the lake, and that someone is Elinor Gill Ratcliffe, who split the $300,000 price tag with the City of St. John’s.

The statue was sculpted by MacDonald in New Hamburg, Ontario, and cast in Georgetown, Ontario, between January to July 2005. Cast in bronze, the Rower is an abstract personification of the Regatta Day rower. His racing shell isn’t fully included, but wave-like formations around the base symbolizes the craft’s wake.

MacDonald has completed several other high-profile pieces since “The Rower” including a statue in honour of the arts at the east entrance to George Street, and two bronze plaques inscribed with the names of World War One soldiers from Newfoundland installed in Bowring Park on July 1.

The Rower was unveiled four years ago, but as his first major work, MacDonald says it remains one of his favourite pieces.

“It’s great to have something like that,” says MacDonald. “It’s a symbol of trying to stay true to your goals and persevering when things might be difficult. I hope that people can feel the same way about it, and gather some inspiration from it.”

— Shawn Hayward

The Rower sculpture on Quidi Vidi lake

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The old grave on George Street

Oct 22 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Across from the stage

A hundred and forty years ago, George Street was a place of tradesmen and warehouses, where a ship owner could restock his vessel. Or a family could go to pick up a gravestone.

But not all the relics of that time are buried beneath the bars and restaurants of George Street. At least one is above ground—unlike the people whose names it bears.

At the top of the concrete stairs beside the Rock House building you’ll find a stone with the names of at least four people etched on it.

Isabella Whiteford is written on the side facing Turkey Joes.

Apparently she died on April 4, 1865 at 75 years old, two years before her husband, Alex, whose epitaph is above hers on the gravestone.

Charles Pollock Reynolds and Mariam Whiteford Reynolds are written on the side facing the Majestic Theatre.

According to the Directory of 1864-65, Mariam worked at Reynolds & Co., a dry goods supplier located at what was then 293 Water Street. Isabella Whiteford also worked there.

The last two names, Olivia McNeilly Whiteford and James Alex Whiteford, are on the Rob Roys side of the stone.

James, who died in 1887, was a watchmaker, and lived in “Dunluce Cottage” on Portugal Cove Road.

After searching the names on the provincial archive registry, I discovered another headstone for the Whiteford’s at the Protestant cemetery on Waterford Bridge Road. The inscription on that stone is almost identical to the George Street stone.

It’s impossible to say for sure why two gravestones for the family exist and why one of them is on George Street.

There were a few stone mason shops nearby back then, according to street maps of the late 19th century. Perhaps it was a practice stone the masons left behind.

Or perhaps there’s more to it than that.

— Shawn Hayward

The old grave on George Street

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Red cliff radar site

Sep 24 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove. Photos by Shawn Hayward.

The Americans left long ago, but the radar site at Red Cliff is ideal for people with an interest in history or those who just want to shoot their friends with paintballs.

Red Cliff was home to a battery of coastal defence guns during World War II. In 1951, when the Cold War made air defence from Soviet bombers a priority, the site was chosen as a radar base for North East Air Command, as part of a North American early warning system. About 250 American servicemen and local employees worked at the site until it was closed in 1961.

Today, only ruins remain of the barracks, storage facilities, and mess hall, but that doesn’t stop people from making their way to the Town of Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove to see the debris.

“It’s a pretty fantastic site,” says Erin Chafe, who ended her trek along the East Coast Trial by exploring the site about a month ago. “You can go into the buildings and the lookout and walk around, which we did of course.”

The top of the radar building allows a great view of the Atlantic ocean, and also a good place to shoot your enemies… if you’re into paintball.

“The buildings are broken and falling down, and the stairs are practically non-existent,” says Chafe. “They’re full of graffiti and paintball splatter. It does suit the paintball scene perfectly I would imagine. It makes for a pretty sweet spot to poke around.”

People who visit the radar station should watch where they step though. It is a ruin after all, with rusting jagged metal lying around and decaying concrete steps ready to disintegrate under your feet.

You can get there via Logy Bay Road or by following the East Coast Trial.

Shawn Hayward

Red cliff radar site

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Inn of Olde

Sep 10 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

67 Quidi Vidi Village Road

It’s a low-profile bar, nestled away at in Quidi Vidi Village, far from the booming bass of George Street, but people who step into the Inn of Olde come away with good memories and new friends, according to owner/operator Linda Hennebury.

She opened the bar 32 years ago with her husband to supplement the income from their declining grocery store. Since then her husband has passed on, and Hennebury is now the bar’s only staff, multi-tasking as a manager, bartender, waitress, cook, and friend.

“Everyone becomes friends once they come in here,” she says. “No one’s a stranger anymore.”

The Inn of Olde is popular with tourists who hear of it through old-fashioned word of mouth according to Hennebury, who says she got her first computer just last winter.

People bring items from foreign lands to grace the walls. Hennebury says she has 1956 spoons on display, with a box more yet to be hung. She’s also gotten buttons, license plates, T shirts, and fishing memorabilia.

The bar has had some well-known visitors, including Jack Layton, Wayne Rostad, and Coronation Street actor Bruce Jones, who plays Hennebury’s favourite character, Les Battersby.

“That was grand,” she says. “He had a feed of lobster. They can’t afford lobster over in England.”

And if people feel unbalanced after their drink, it might not be from the alcohol.

“I’m the only one that has a slanted bar,” says Hennebury. “If you’re a tall fella and I’m short, I can stand up on one end and look you right straight in the eye.”

— Shawn Hayward
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Inn of Olde

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The Seal Tank

Aug 27 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Photo by Shawn Hayward

The Ocean Sciences Centre, Logy Bay

Seaworld is great if you want to see animals do tricks, but to catch a glimpse of a real research facility, bike (or drive) to Logy Bay and Memorial University’s Ocean Sciences Centre, where you’ll see seals dive and splash and bask in the sun, and it’s absolutely free.

Take a right from Logy Bay Road onto Marine Drive, then another right onto Marine Lab Drive, and you’ll see a circular structure with water tanks and a scenic view of the ocean.

People used to be able to take guided tours inside the laboratory until it was cancelled for safety reasons. Now visitors are limited to seeing the tanks outside, where they can get about 10 feet away from the seals.

Danielle Nichols, the centre’s research marketing manager, says the educational component of the centre is important.

“People learn about local marine life,” she says. “They can learn about everything from the biology of the seals, to the training we do.”

Workers at the centre play games with the seals to keep them mentally stimulated. They also do memory tests on them to learn more about how seals think.

“They’re not pets,” says Nichols. “They’re there for research. We want to know what they know. Do they see in black and white? Do they see in colour? Can they identify objects? So if they do they’re rewarded with a piece of fish.”

All five of the seals at the centre are harp seals. The oldest one, Babette, is 26 years old.

Each seal has a unique personality, according to Nichols. Babette is the contrary one, and Lenny has a “fetish for rubber.”

“They’re quite intelligent, kind of like a cat,” she says.

The Ocean Sciences Centre is open to the public seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 7.

— Shawn Hayward
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The Seal Tank

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Archaological dig

Aug 13 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Near Lady’s Lookout on Signal Hill

“We’re finding garbage,” says Stéphane Noël, when asked to describe the type of artefacts he and fellow Archaeology students are uncovering on Signal Hill.

But, of course, that’s what he’s after.

“It’s giving us more information on how the soldiers were living,” says Noël. “People ask if we’re finding treasure, and for them treasure means gold or coins or whatever, but for us treasure are pieces of ceramics that tell us about life back then. Things like that.”

The Signal Hill Archaeology Field School is a chance for Memorial Archaeology students to put their classroom learning to use in the dirt and stone of a real National Historic Site.

Since July 2, the project’s 15 students and one instructor have been digging up a military barracks near Lady’s Lookout, to the left of Signal Hill when coming up the road. The barracks were built around 1800, occupied until the 1840’s, and destroyed by 1880.

Originally meant to house 228 soldiers, the 140 by 24 foot stone masonry structure was wood framed and two stories high. And it wasn’t a very comfortable place to live—not that many buildings could make living on the top of Signal Hill comfortable.

“It wasn’t well insulated,” says Noël. “People died in the winter because wind was blowing through the chimneys.”

So far, they’ve found animal bones, broken wine bottles, copper-scaled chin straps, Royal Artillery buttons, and a hand-made domino. Surprisingly, the animal bones might be the most valuable find.

“They could help us interpret the diet of soldiers,” Noël says.

The field school completed their dig on August 8.

— Shawn Hayward

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Photos by Elling Lien

Archaological dig

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The steps by the courthouse

Jul 16 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Between Duckworth & Water

“We’re mainly exploring gravity in the dancers’ bodies,” Gerry Morita explains over the phone from Edmonton.

Morita, artistic director for Mile Zero Dance, has choreographed Spatial Pull, a dance piece in which dancers flow slowly and languidly down a chosen set of stairs, in a movement she describes as a “melting, continuous falling.” The inspiration came about while she was studying an obscure form of Japanese dance, called Noguchi, which stresses movement of the body which mimics movement in the natural world.

On July 23rd and 24th, at 12:30 p.m., she and her crew of ten local dancers will be performing the piece as part of the Festival of New Dance on the Courthouse Steps, the staircase leading from Duckworth to Water adjacent to the Courthouse.

They couldn’t have picked a better spot. The effects of gravity on the human body have been “explored” at that particular locale since the early nineteenth century. Back then, it was called Market House Hill and was home to the rowdiest public hanging gallows in town, alongside a public market, the post office and the old Courthouse.

Catherine Snow, the last woman ever hanged in Newfoundland, dangled from that very spot in 1834, right after giving birth to a child she conceived with the man who killed her husband.

Not to worry, though—the authorities made sure she was good and recovered from the birth before putting her through the physical demands of a hanging, bless their gentle hearts.

“You know, because of the way that we’re dressed in the piece, there is a macabre element to it,” muses Morita upon hearing about the hill’s weighty history.

“We’re all wearing formal wear, and tumbling, fumbling and falling down the steps. If people know that history, it could really add to their experience.”

— Sarah Smellie
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The steps by the courthouse

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The Dog Statues

Jun 18 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Harbourside Park & Signal Hill

When Luben Boykov came to Canada as a refugee from Bulgaria in 1990, he didn’t know a lot about Newfoundland and Labrador, but as an animal lover, he recognized the names.

“I can’t think of many other places in the world with a name represented by two internationally known breeds of dog,” says Boykov, an artist and sculptor who studied at the Bulgarian Academy of Fine Arts.

Years later, Boykov was commissioned to sculpt two sets of Newfoundland dogs and Labrador retrievers at Harbourside Park and Signal Hill.

Boykov spent two years working on the Harbourside project at his foundry in Logy Bay, completing the sculptures in 2003. The second pair was completed in a year, and put on display in 2008.

The dogs are one-and-a-half life size, made from cast bronze, with an inner stainless steel skeleton.

“They’re bigger than life, but not overwhelmingly big, so people can still relate to them, go pet them and climb and ride them,” says Boykov. “That was the idea: to make them very interactive.”

Like any sculpture, this project needed models, and Boykov put the word out that he was looking for Labs and Newfs interested in being immortalized. Abraham, a burly Newfoundland dog, and Hudson, a feisty Labrador, we’re volunteered for duty. The trouble, Boykov said, was getting them to pose.

“The Newfoundland dog, being a docile animal, was much easier,” he says. “But the Lab was rambunctious. It was a nightmare to keep him still.”

Boykov continues to get emails from tourists who liked the statues, which he says reflects how popular the breeds have become.

“Today I received another email from a person commenting on the dogs and how much they enjoyed them,” he says. “I get emails from all over the world from people who have been here and seen them. They are meaningful to people.”

— Shawn Hayward
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The Dog Statues

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The Giant Squid

Jun 04 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Photo by Emilie Bourque

If you want to keep a giant squid as a pet, you need a very large tank. You might be better off visiting The Rooms, where a female giant squid, or Architeuthis, is preserved in an 800-gallon tank.

She was found washed ashore in Hare Bay on Nov. 10, 1981, and is the third last specimen of about 60 to have been recovered in this province to date.

Fred Aldrich was a marine biologist whose work at MUN’s Ocean Sciences centre in Logy Bay focussed on giant squid. He studied the deceased specimen before donating it to the old Newfoundland Museum in 1987.

Then after being cooped up in a 300 litre tank for 20 years, her tentacles coiled round and round, she got her big break. Plans were made for a tank 10 times the original size at The Rooms, enabling her to be laid out straight.
So how’d they move the big girl who weighs between 250 and 300 pounds?

“It was a logistical nightmare,” laughs Randy Batten, who is the natural history collections manager for The Rooms’ provincial museum division.

The first tricky part was getting her out of the toxic bath. Alcohol and formaldehyde, both toxic and flammable, are two common preservatives. With the health and safety issues involved in putting her out on display to the public, Batten says they decided use a non-toxic alternative called propylene glycol in the new tank, which has similar fixing and preserving properties.

Four men wearing hazardous material suits floated her up, slipped a tarp under her and hoisted her out of her old home and into a temporary holding tank.

Then, Batten says, they drove her in a van to Parade Street, where the natural history facilities are currently located, and went to work. She was cleaned up, and minor repairs were made where arms had to be sewn up or loose skin removed.

Mmm… dead squid surgery.

On Nov. 18, 2007, she was carried over in her temporary tank to The Rooms. With more tarps and brute force, she was hoisted into her present home, where now all 29 feet of her lay comfortably stretched out.

— Emilie Bourque
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The Giant Squid

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Gibbet Hill

May 21 2009 Published by under Comics,Nooks & Crannies

Signal Hill

— Alex Pierson
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Gibbet Hill

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Old Petty Harbour Road

May 07 2009 Published by under Nooks & Crannies

Kilbride / Petty Harbour

Ghost story writer Richard Westcott has a spooky tale about sighting a thing “higher on the legs than any horse he ever saw,” with an eye “as big as a saucer” on Old Petty Harbour Road. These days, the scariest thing you may run into on the road is an ATV blazing around a corner.

At one time (Old) Petty Harbour Road was the only connection between Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove and St John’s. Its exact origins of are a mystery, but in the early days horses and carts rambled to town and back for supplies. Jack Ershler, Town Council Supervisor for Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove, says in his lifetime he’s heard of people walking the 20 kilometers back and forth from Petty Harbour to St. John’s daily to get to work.

Today a gate at Kilbride has cut off vehicle access, creating an eight kilometer stretch of trail to St. Joseph’s Cemetery, which is perfect for mountain biking. Plentiful, pristine ponds, like First Pond and Beer Pond, are a major highlight on this trail. From some vantage points, ponds hop-scotch across the landscape, and at other times the track skirts right along water’s edge.

Blueberries are also a major distraction.

Despite all the ponds, there is only one unavoidable boggy bit which proves a test to the balancing skills—aim tire to board or be punished with wet feet.

The road is rough, and you’ll need shocks, but the climbs are few. Only the final leg to Petty Harbour is a real grunt. After that steep incline, you emerge at the cemetery. If you hike up the hill, you’ll take in a 360-degree view of Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove set against open ocean on one side, and the terrain you just traversed on the other.

Be sure to reward yourself with fish & chips and a cruise around the docks in town.

— Bryhanna Greenough
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Old Petty Harbour Road

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