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Visiting Newfoundland’s Eastport Peninsula

by Sandra Phinney

On a recent visit to Newfoundland, my sister and I veer off the Trans-Canada Highway close to Glovertown, about a three-hour drive from St. John’s, on to Route 310 and followed our nose into the Eastport Peninsula.   

The journey feels mystical. Beyond the northeastern edge of Terra Nova National Park, many ponds and lakes flank the road. Twenty minutes later, we’re in Eastport Peninsula, home to a handful of outports with a combined population of approximately 500.   

First stop is the Beaches Arts and Heritage Centre (beachesheritagecentre.ca), smack in the middle of the village of Eastport. The quality and scope of crafts and fine art on display is impressive, as is the building’s 200-seat theatre. It hops all summer with concerts, dramatic and musical performances, and festivals. 

We’ve booked an art class with Brenda Matchim, a renowned portrait artist. Brenda gives Art in the Park lessons at Terra Nova during summer. Off-season, she does them in the lower level of Chucky’s Seafood and Wild Game Restaurant (happyadventureinn.com), part of the family business in the village of Happy Adventure.  

Brenda grew up in Hong Kong, where she became an artist. In 1973, she immigrated to Canada with her family. Seven years later, she met the love of her life from Eastport Peninsula. They married and started a family, plus opened the Happy Valley Inn, which featured Chucky’s. Now, her family operates both while Brenda paints and teaches art lessons.  

Carmen and I have a splendid lesson, each conjuring a coastal scene on a 16-by-24-inch canvas, replete with a lighthouse, boulders, and crashing waves. Working up an appetite, we slip upstairs to the dining room for dinner. As the sun set over the harbour, we eat cod tongues, seal flipper pie, a rack of ribs, and a big fat moose burger. Carmen doesn’t have room for dessert, but I somehow have no trouble putting away some homemade blueberry ice cream. 

We fit in another visit to the peninsula a week later and hike on the Damnanable Trail: a network of paths that the first settlers blazed through the boreal forest and along the coastal headlands. Our trail starts at a beach less than a 30-second drive from the highway outside of Eastport. It warms my heart to see a wide rubber mat providing wheelchair access from the parking lot to the beach.  

An artisan at work making felted codfish at House of Diamonds.

Photo Credit: Sandra Phinney

That evening, we join Time in the Hall Dancers in the Society of United Fishermen (SUF) hall. I’m 79 and relatively fit, but after a demanding square dance set called Running the Goat which can go on for as long as 45 minutes and is for four couples in a group, I’m exhausted. And I’m merely a spectator!  

Carmen accepts an invitation to dance the Virginia Reel, while I excuse myself to take photos, resisting the urge to trip the light fantastic.  

During a break, I talk with many dancers, including Mabel Hunter, the spry senior who started the group. Mabel recalls years past, attending traditional square dances called “a Time” in community halls. “There always was lots of food,” she says. “We square danced for hours, and everyone had a time.” Although they are mostly in their ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, they welcome visitors of any age. 

I yearn to go back to this region. 

 

Glovertown 

This town’s claim to fame is the House of Diamonds Arts Centre (thediamondhouse.ca) During our visit, a dozen artists are present, doing crafts ranging from knitting and rug hooking to photography and felting. It’s pure pleasure chatting with them over a coffee. 

Bonus: we meet the chairman of the centre — Kevin Blackmore, a local legend known as the lead star of the former musical and comedy ensemble Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers. Now that Kevin’s retired after 37 years on the road, he and a team of volunteers arrange several events at the centre, from makers markets to talks, soirées, and musical events. 

Soon to be a reason to visit Glovertown is the Old Mill — a haunting, long-abandoned site which rises above the tree line, with a photographer’s wow factor of 10 out of 10. In 1921, workers began building a 35-metre-tall and 400-metre-long pulp mill for a hydro plant planned for metres away on the Terra Nova River. Anticipating the creation of hundreds of jobs, the province built houses, schools, and a medical centre. Then the company leading the construction ran into financing difficulties and everything came to an abrupt halt.  

Now, efforts are underway to preserve the old mill and offer tours. 

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