The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Grand Bruit, Newfoundland—After The End

Once again we’re off into the fog that has closed in, right up to the wharf this time. Our next stop is Grand Bruit, only 12 miles from LaPoile, so the youngsters decide to forgo drugs, especially since the first five miles of the trip is in the shelter of LaPoile Bay. This is probably not the right choice since, within a few minutes, Ryan is hanging over the side, and Sarah is breathing deep and searching for that illusive horizon in the fog. Sarah, who has had lots of experience with seasickness over the years of sailing in the North Atlantic with her father, manages to hang on to lunch, but it’s a close-run thing.

Finally, two hours later, we turn to port and make our way among a cluster of rocks and islands. Though the chart shows a number of buoys marking shallow areas, none of them show up on the radar. The fog remains thick until we thread through the narrow harbour entrance channel and the small bowl of Grand Bruit harbour opens up in front of us. There are two substantial wharfs, one on either side of the cove. The starboard one has a sign welcoming us to Grand Bruit and is obviously the ferry dock. The port one has a derrick and a floating dock on the inside, probably it’s the fish dock. Both are empty, as are the private pole wharves and the moorings in the inner cove.

The east wind mandates we tie up to the ferry wharf, a slightly difficult feat as it’s up to windward and there’s no one on the dock to catch our lines. Oh, well, we’re used to managing on our own, and at least Sarah and Ryan can toss the lines up to me, meaning I only have to get myself onto the wharf, not myself and a springline!

There is a constant swell, snubbing the lines, washing up and down the rocky shore. That and the roar of the substantial waterfall running between the houses, rushing into the harbour, are the only sounds. Not even a seagull’s squawk disturbs the silence.

The school and church stand on the hill behind the town. We walk the empty sidewalks and peer into the window of the locked school. A photocopier and one chair stand alone in the large room. The church is unlocked but the only items are an old pump organ in the far corner and a guestbook on a shelf just inside the door. I pull the bell cord but no sound rings out—it seems the clacker has been removed.

The electricity meters on most of the houses have also been removed. Looking in through the windows, we can see one-burner propane stoves sitting on top of electric ranges in one or two of the better-kept houses. A few places still have a mown path up to the door but most of the houses are surrounded by knee-high grass and look rundown.

We walk through the overgrown cemetery. The dates on the headstones span the 20th century; the latest one we can find is from 2007. There’s a small solar-powered plastic cross standing on one of the most recent graves. After dark, we can see its glow from the boat. Two other small solar powered lights scattered in among the houses and the red light on the antenna tower behind the village are the only lights to be seen, intermittently visible in the fog.

The next day the fog lifts, so we walk inland, along a trail marked by white stakes. We follow it for several hours, righting fallen markers. We are surrounded by ponds, a ridge of high hills looms ahead with a huge waterfall running down one flank, and the ocean occasionally peeks through breaks in the hills to our right. It’s a glorious sunny few hours, a welcome break in the fog that has dogged us for days. We stop on a hilltop to munch on power bars and sip from the small ration of water left in our water bottles, and then we turn back towards the boat. A stag caribou on the hill above the town is the only living thing welcoming us back to the village.

Welcome to Grand Bruit, Newfoundland sign reading Tiny But Beautiful

Once a winner of the provincial Tidy Towns competition, loved by its citizens as Tiny But Beautiful, Grand Bruit is now a ghost town, closed up in 2010 when its population fell to 35. There are no boats tied up to its wharves, all navigation aids have been removed by the Coast Guard, its school no longer rings with the sound of children’s voices, and its youth have moved on. A sign of things past and most likely of things to come.

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