Though my countdown to spring has now crested the top of the hill, I am on this last day of January staying close to my hot stove and reminiscing until temperatures a little more favorable for trash paddling return. Oddly enough, my reminiscing keeps taking me back to Newfoundland and memorable excursions I’ve experienced on the waters there. In particular, I recall a summer’s morning in 2000 when I awoke in my tent on the southern shore of New World Island. My objective for the day was to journey across an inner-coastal passage to a Beothuk village located in Boyd’s Cove about 8-miles to the south. The Beothuk were the indigenous people of Newfoundland and were called “Red Indians” by Europeans because of their applying red ochre to their skin from birth. In paddling my kayak to their village, I would be paddling through the same island dotted waters they often paddled. My means of navigation would be my chart, compass, and dead reckoning. I would need to use all three of these to find my way to the village and more importantly find my way back to my own campsite.
After paddling a short distance from the shore, I turned around and took a good look at the shore from where I had launched and stored the image in my memory bank. Then returning to my compass heading, I began looking for objects that corresponded with those shown on my chart. This helped to confirm my location and slowly allowed my confidence to build. I passed through Long Tickle and past an un-named island that looked liked a seahorse on my chart. Turning to an easterly heading, I passed between Dog Island and the northern tip of Chapel Island. Looking to the west with the aid of my binoculars, I could see the causeway and bridge carrying Route 340 across the passage’s opening to the Bay of Exploits. After rounding Chapel’s tip a southeast heading took me between Dunnage Island and Chapel. Just when doubts as to my actual location were beginning to creep into my mind, I saw amidst the sea of spruce and balsam fir trees the poles carrying utility lines near a cove on Chapel Island which corresponded with those shown on my chart. Confidence restored, I looked towards the Port Albert Peninsula lying dead ahead and began approaching my destination of Boyd’s Cove. Once in the cove and within view of the small community there, I began paddling on a northeast heading that paralleled the peninsula's shore until arriving at the small beach and stream marking the Beothuk village’s location. Had I been approaching this spot three hundred years ago, I most likely would have seen canoes stored on the beach, smoke rising from the lodges or mamateeks and children playing in the waters of the stream, for this was indeed a most idyllic setting for a village.
Here the Beothuk had, in my opinion, found a little piece of heaven! The mamateeks were clustered in a meadow located upon an embankment of good draining glacial till. Westerly breezes would have come across the water and provided relief from insects. A freshwater stream ran from an inland pond down to the embankment’s base, and in the spring would have been full of smelt. The Beothuk using their uniquely designed birchbark canoes, had access to hundreds of islands within a short and safe paddling distance to the north, east, and southwest. The islands and surrounding waters provided a bounty of food as evidenced by the variety of bones and shells found here.
Life must have been good here until the uninvited Europeans arrived and the dream was snuffed out. This particular area, by virtue of its being located between the French fishery to the northwest and the English fishery to the southeast, survived possibly into the 1700s but by the early 1800s life for the Beothuks was anything but good. As the Europeans settled along the coast, the Beothuk retreated via the Exploits River to the island’s interior. Here they survived in reduced numbers no longer having access to the seashore during the warmer months. Eventually, the English fur trappers began invading their interior locations and the Beothuk had nowhere else to retreat to. In the book The Beothucks or Red Indians by James P. Howley, I found this disturbing account of European/Beothuk interaction. In 1819 John Peyton, an English fur trapper, had settled permanently in the area and claimed his traps (set for marten) and other gear were repeatedly being taken by the Beothuk. He stated in a letter to the Governor the following: “On the first of March, 1819, I left my house accompanied by my father and eight of my own men with a most anxious desire of being able to take some of the Indians and thus through them open a friendly communication with the rest, everyone was ordered by me not upon any account to commence hostilities without my positive orders.” The next day they came upon a group of four Indians and began chasing them across a frozen lake. One, a woman in her twenties named Waunathoake, was taken captive. Upon seeing this, one of the other three, her husband Nonosabusut, approached and tried amiably to gain her release. When ordered to desist, Nonosabusut had the nerve to physically fight for his wife’s release and was summarily executed. Forced to leave her dead husband and small child she was removed from her home so that the English fur trappers could “convince her of their good intentions”. What was it about the mindset of Europeans in general and the English, in particular, that allowed them to think it was OK to kidnap people? How could they feign surprise when family members tried to intercede? There are numerous accounts of such kidnappings beginning in the late 1500s. I guess they weren’t familiar with Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People! At any rate, it was only ten years later that the last known Beothuk, a woman named Shanawdithit died.
Today, located near the village is the Boyd’s Cove Beothuk Interpretation Centre and it is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. Click here to visit. As you walk from the museum down the path to the meadow where the mamateeks stood, you will encounter this life-sized bronze statue of the last Beothuk Shanawdithit.
By the way, I deliberately did not name the inner-coastal passage or the name of the Provincial Park, where I had camped, earlier because of their rather unusual nature. So, now with full adult maturity expected of all, I disclose them. The inner-coastal passage is named Dildo Run and the Provincial Park is Dildo Run Provincial Park. The only explanation I have heard for these names was from a park ranger who said he believed it had to do with the passageway providing a safe alternative and I will leave it at that!
Postscript: While searching the internet for information regarding the unique design of Beothuk canoes, I came across Bob Holtzman's very informative blog on indigenous boats. To see his info on the Beothuk canoe click here.