Monday, January 28, 2013

Iceberg Alley: Great Brehat, Newfoundland

Well, I can tell you right now, that in all of my life, I never expected to be in Great Brehat, Newfoundland!  And yet here I was in the summer of 2011 scrambling up the boardwalk and gazing out to sea looking for icebergs - chasing an iceberg dream with my two sisters and my husband Terry.  
We had been in and out of little coves all day in the Back of Nowhere on the Great Northern Peninsula, and this was our last stop.  Our hot coffee at the St. Anthony Tim Hortons earlier in the afternoon was a distant memory.  We were cold and tired, but still exhilarated at the thought of more icebergs.  

At least I was!  And I am an irresistible force!

Island of Newfoundland

"And where on Earth is Great Brehat?" you might ask. 
Follow the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland 
to its top just above the big bay on its right side.  
There you will find the town of St. Anthony.
Great Brehat is located a short distance 
up the coast from St. Anthony.

St. Anthony to Great Brehat
(source:  Google)

Great Brehat is only 
7.7 miles (12.4 kilometers) 
northeast of St. Anthony, 
but driving there 
felt like traveling 
back through decades 
to an isolated place 
and a time long past.

Great Brehat and Its Harbour
(source:  Google)

Great Brehat is one of several
small outports hugging the 
rugged coast, including
St. Lunaire-Griquet 
and St. Carol's.
The little fishing village 
and rocky cliffs 
overlooking the Atlantic Ocean
are lonely, but striking.

Great Brehat, Newfoundland

Currently Great Brehat has a population of 95, give or take one or two.  Its history dates to the 18th century when it was a fishing station on the French Shore of Newfoundland. Brehat is pronounced as Braha;  and, its name is thought to originate from an island off the Brittany shore.  Some two centuries later, Great Brehat acquired a community co-operative store through the efforts of Sir Wilfred Grenfell.  Another fifty years or so went by until Great Brehat was linked by road to its surrounding communities in 1971.  

Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell is a monumental figure in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.  In 1892, four years after Grenfell graduated from London Hospital Medical College, he was sent to Newfoundland as a medical missionary by The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.  His task was to improve the lives of fishermen and their families who lived and worked under difficult and dangerous conditions.

    Sir Wilfred Grenfell                                                         Logo                                      

Grenfell began by establishing and staffing hospitals at Indian Harbour, Newfoundland; and later, he continued by building cottage hospitals along the remote coast of Labrador.  From his quest to improve the plight of Newfoundland fishermen, Grenfell went on to aid aboriginals and settlers along the coast of Labrador and the eastern side of the Great Northern Peninsula.  Grenfell was instrumental in developing an orphanage, building schools,  providing social work and industrial work projects, and in creating cooperatives such as the community co-operative store in Great Brehat.  In 1927 he was knighted for his social, educational, and medical work.  He died in 1940, and his ashes were placed in a rock face overlooking St. Anthony Harbour.  

Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell
(1865 - 1940)

I'm not sure why, but Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell was the first Canadian historical figure I became aware of as a young child in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

But back to icebergs!

Great Brehat has one of the ubiquitous coastal community walking trails found throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

Located behind its cemetery, we 
followed Flat Point Lookout Trail to where we could scan the ocean.

Great Brehat did not disappoint!

In the distance 
was a huge iceberg!
Iceberg at Great Brehat
from Flat Point Lookout

Zoomed Closer

More Icebergs at Great Brehat
July 15, 2011

We, along with other iceberg chasers, 
took in the awesome beauty of icebergs in the bay 
and the rugged coastline of the Great Northern Peninsula.

My sister Bertie Walks the Trail

Summer Flowers Along the Trail

Giant Ice Island and Icebergs
Great Brehat, Newfoundland

It is hard to imagine what it is like to live in an outport like Great Brehat.  The community is no longer as isolated as it was, and the memories of what it was like is passing.  Kathleen Tucker, a researcher, published a project recently, St. Anthony Basin Resources Inc. Oral History Project 2009, to preserve some of the stories of Great Brehat and fifteen other communities in northern Newfoundland.  Life was hard in earlier days.  In the oral history project Ron Cull recalls the work of his mother and other women in Great Brehat:

"I could write a book about my mother. She worked just like a slave: in the garden, on the flake, in the stage, making hay. She used the old scrubbing board; no washer then.The line of diapers reached from here to there, about a hundred feet long. I wonder when she got the time to do her own work; women was like slaves. The men would come up from the stage and lie down on the daybed and have a nap, but Mother’s work had just begun, working over an old woodstove then. My father would be lying on the daybed and he’d say, “Keep the youngsters quiet,” so he could sleep. She might have her hands in the dough making bread when he’d say that. Or, me and Dad would have a lie down and Mother would be out in the garden weeding her plants."

If you would like to read more about Great Brehat in this time click on Oral History.

A Newfie Icon Joins Us in Great Brehat

On the way back to our cabin near L'Anse aux Meadows, we spotted another Newfie icon, a symbol of the enduring and practical spirit of Newfoundlanders:  
a sheltered garden dug back from the shore:

I may never have expected to go to Great Brehat, 
but now that I have, I hope to return sooner rather than later.

Here are some links to my other Iceberg Alley posts from the summer of 2011:

"The service we render to others
 is really the rent we pay 
for our room on this earth. 
It is obvious that man is himself a traveler; 
that the purpose of this world is 
not 'to have and to hold' 
but 'to give and serve.' 
There can be no other meaning."

Words attributed to Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell


  1. I have to be honest Louise that I have not heard of Grenfell. How is that? Hey, there are too many things I haven't heard of.

    I have never seen an iceberg close up....I bet it is overwhelming. Your photos show their immensity. And look at that Newfoundland Dog!! What a beauty.

    The passion you show in your descriptions and dialogue, Louise, is palpable. Thanks.

  2. Hi Jim!
    Thank you again for your very encouraging comments! The beauty of icebergs is overwhelming. I must go back and see them again.

    Two great dog breeds, at least, come out of Newfoundland - Newfies, and Labrador Retrievers. I'll bet Sophie has plenty of Labrador running through her genetic memory!

    A lot of people have not heard of Grenfell, Jim; and I'm wondering why I was aware of him so early in my childhood - my first Canadian historic figure - even before Samuel de Champlain or Jacques Cartier. I guess I should say Newfoundland historic figure, because NFLD didn't become a province of Canada until March 31, 1949.

    At some point I'll do a post on Grenfell. His amazing and selfless work to improve the lives of fishermen and others in this remotest of areas deserves to be honored.

    Have a good evening!

  3. Replies
    1. Muito obrigado por acessar meu blog e deixar um comentário encorajador, Fernando!

  4. Oh my, you have no idea how much I would LOVE that trip. Those icebergs are AMAZING. And I love, love, love that Newfie in the one picture. For me, Newfies alone are a good reason to visit Newfoundland!!!

    1. Hi Audrey!
      That trip was amazing, and I'll be writing more posts about it in the future! I have had the good fortune to spend time in Newfoundland, including living a year in the outport Westport on White Bay. Newfoundland is one of my most favorite spots on the Earth.

      When in Newfoundland, you don't always get to see the iconic Newfie dogs. You're more apt to see a crackie - which is a small, terrier size dog, of various colors, with a tail that curls up over its hind quarters. Crackies are intelligent and spirited! But Newfies are wonderful, gentle giants.

  5. Those icebergs are so cool (cold?)! As a retired cartographer, I absolutely loved this post.

    1. I'm glad that you enjoyed this post, Terry!
      I'm sure your career as a cartographer at the USGS was fulfilling. I love maps! And remote out of the way posts too! Icebergs are some of the coolest things of all, but you don't want to be near one when it founders!

      I hope you are staying warm this morning. I looked out the window when I got up and ran straight to the fireplace to turn it on. Brrr! I also hope Boomer and fellow creatures are cozy - probably because you've been out making sure they are all right! Have a warm day!

  6. Great entry, here Fundy!
    A very interesting place indeed!
    I haven't often observed icebergs but I truly believe I would be quickly fascinated by them!
    The dog is gorgeous!
    And... I fully, 100%, agree with your quote from Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell!
    The way to go about this life on Earth! ;-)
    Cheers and keep well!
    Also many thanks for your sweet and regular comments on my posts! You have a way with words that goes straight to my heart!

  7. Thank you, Noushka! You made my day!

  8. Louise....The Newfoundlander dog....just look.....the stalwart, strong visage and body just like the people. When I see these dogs I always hold on and let them push against me...I love it.
    The icebergs are undoubtedly the most gorgeous blue/green so close yet so far. When we traveled to NL I remember walking around Signal Hill actually kind of nervous maneuvring that path on the edge and so high up...I made it around though with Jim's coaxing. The meadows were the same as those your sister Bertie was walking through...actually Peggy's Cove has the same barrens...low scrub, rocks with berries galore....I really love this kind of environment. Hey we must head to Peggy's again along the main road...perfect for scouting and letting everything blow in the wind.
    Love the dummy...have you ever seen the dummies as you are driving along the New Brunswick road that takes you to the new PEI Confederation Bridge? SO many and so much fun!
    As I look a the map I to take it that Labrador is larger than NFLD? If t is I had never realized this.

  9. Hi Ron, I thought I replied with a comment, but it seems to have disappeared. I always appreciate and enjoy your comments. You found the perfect word to describe the Newfoundlander dog and Newfies: stalwart. The dogs are beauties, and so gentle too! I've made that same walk around Signal Hill and with the same trepidation. I've been working on getting over fear of heights most of my life. I too really thrive on the barren environments. And yes Labrador is quite a bit bigger than Newfoundland ~ not to mention remoter and wilder. I definitely want to go back there! I haven't been in NB in a very long time - pre Confederation Bridge and dummies. We always went to PEI via the Wood Island ferry. For some reason Terry wants to see Fredricton, so perhaps I'll finally get back. Have a good evening!

    1. Fredricton...well that's very close to would love to take the Confederation's about 8 miles and you are over the Strait before you know it. It opened in 1997. We go over to PEI every year for peace and quiet....the island really hasn't changed. Jim's sister M...has 2 cottages on the north shore and another sis has one on the western side. We sea glass hunt all over the place...there is even a festival that started 2 years much fun!

    2. It sounds awesome, and it's good to hear that it hasn't changed!

  10. Amazing post! Those icebergs are out of this world. I would love to see that. I've also never heard of this place, but I'm always interested in learning about quaint areas like this, and enjoy visiting them! Love that gorgeous dog!

  11. Thank you for the kind comment, Martha! I long to return and see the icebergs again! Talk about a lucky snap to get that Newfoundlander! He's a beauty! Have a good evening!

  12. This is an incredible post-- you have taken us to a place that is so remote that most of us will never be able to go there. The photos of the icebergs are amazing-- I can't imagine standing there and taking those photos. You tell a great story and make me want to be there!!


    1. Hi's Ron and Sophie are going to like this Louise girl!! Guaranteed!!!!!

    2. Ron and Sophie, you two are so kind! Guaranteed!!!!!

  13. Welcome, Vicki, and thank you for your kind comment. It's so encouraging! Icebergs are amazing. Now I want to go to Greenland, Baffin Island, and Antarctica! I tend to be attracted to the remote! Have a great day!

  14. Interesting read but your facts are misplaced, Grenfell started the Mission, Coperative(Which is still operating)Hospital and Orphanage in St. Anthony.


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.