Deirdre Mendoza travels to Canada’s East Coast for an unforgettable stay filled with windswept waves, Humpback whale sightings and charming fishing communities.
Writers and artists periodically seek a kind of self-imposed exile, a chance to unplug from screens and gadgets, and connect with the beauty of the natural world. This desire to check out and check in was the motive for my month-long stay at an artist and writers residency in Grates Cove, New Foundland on Canada’s East Coast. In this fishing village poised on the northeastern edge of the Avalon Peninsula, (jutting so far into the Atlantic it claims an additional half hour in Eastern Standard Time) I experienced an intimacy with the land and the sea that comes from parking at one edge of the world.
The residents of New Foundland’s outport fishing communities suffered through a series of relocation movements from the 1950s to the 1970s, and were hit again with a moratorium on cod in 1992. These upheavals created ghost towns where fisheries once thrived. Today, towns like Grates Cove, whose population has declined from a high of about 600 people to an estimated 80-year-round residents, are quietly being resettled by retirees and a few keen adventurers seeking the rugged beauty and simplicity afforded those willing to live off-the-grid.
In my cottage facing the Atlantic, I found many ways to procrastinate, despite the town’s notable absence of stores, bars, yoga studios and, yes, cellphone coverage. I lingered over my tea at the kitchen table each morning, studied the ocean for an hour or two, and then, when I ran out of excuses, sat down to peck at my novel.
The days were long, and often overcast. They began with the soundtrack of the wind, which pounded and purred relentlessly, stirring up the sea. Residents quietly rejoiced on the sunnier days, and the verdant beauty of Grates Cove was a constant. However, as I slipped further into solitude, I began to wonder whether I would be missed should I fail to emerge from my cottage. This cinematic thinking was compounded by the abundance of cemeteries (there are three) in a town the size of a postage stamp. The one across from my cottage had weathered tombstones, which were huddled together and bent over like a band of drunken cousins.
Breaks from my active imagination included several walks around town. Parked on a rock, I studied the changing color of the sea, the way the wind swept the waves, or the fountain-like spouting of the Humpback whales. At dusk, I often walked a trail marked only by smudges of blue paint bordering an ancient rock wall, which led to a glimpse of an eagle’s nest—and maybe the eagle itself—and finally to a stadium-sized platform anchored into the ocean. The highlights of these walks were the whale sightings. In the distance, Humpbacks spouted and cruised against the horizon, while sea birds circled overhead.
My day also included a march through knee-high fields of grass and purple lupine to the newly opened café at Grates Cove Studios. There I found a wee bit of community – Newfoundlanders are extra-nice Canadians, as welcoming and jovial as can be—along with the homemade pizzas, touton burgers, and fish soup prepared by my residency hosts, Courtney and Terrence Howell. Terrance, an artist, and native of the nearby town, Old Perlican—also worth visiting for its seaside view and tiny lending library—and Courtney, a former Louisiana native, moved back to New Foundland in 2009, opting to raise their daughter in this rural, outport community.
Beyond Grates Cove, there is plenty to see throughout the Avalon Peninsula. I only touched the surface. Each town has its own unique charm, featuring historic landmarks and jaw-dropping scenery. Do note that there is no public transportation available. No tour guides calling out where John Cabot may have landed. Travelers should plan to rent a car in the scenic capital, St. John’s.
There are several budget-priced hostels and private homes for rent in the area. While traversing the Peninsula, it’s easy to stumble upon a priceless view of the edge of the world.
Getting to The Avalon Peninsula
Fly to Toronto, Canada. From Toronto, fly to St. John’s.
Grates Cove is about a two-hour car ride from St. John’s.
For more information about accommodations:
Lead Cove Hostel
Open June to August (discounted booking May and Sept.)
316 Main Road, Lead Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Ph: +1 709 586 2536
Contact: Marko Barron
©2013 Photos by Deirdre Mendoza