In July 2014, I joined my brother Pete, his friend Gene Carlson, captain of Exit, a Passoa 46, built by Garcia in Normandy, and crew member Tom Mann, on a cruise from Nova Scotia along the south coast of Newfoundland. We poked into the rapidly disappearing outports on our way, starting with Grand Bruit.
The 2008 Cruising Guide to Newfoundland had promised a wonderful experience of a departing way of life.
Grand Bruit is a quaint isolated fishing community only accessible by boat. The name “Grand Bruit,” no doubt French, means “great noise” as is apparent by the roar of the falls which can be heard from a great distance. The community is situated on the shores of a well protected harbour with sloping hills and a waterfall that makes a path through the centre of the village.
A visit to this picturesque fishing village will take you on a path that is dotted with brightly colored houses, providing an opportunity to meet with the friendly people of Grand Bruit. Because of its safe and interesting location, the Grand Bruit harbour has become a popular resting point for visitors to the area by way of pleasure crafts.
Natural and traditionally Newfoundland, the settlement of Grand Bruit remains among the now few isolated fishing communities on the island. It offers a truly unique experience that is filled with the rich culture and heritage of outport Newfoundland.
We were looking forward to meeting people and enjoying a home-cooked meals at the “Cramalot Inn.” The Go Western Newfoundland Brochure declared “the annual population of about 30 residents more than doubles during July and August as former residents and CFAs (come from away) return to their summer homes. The town has tourist accommodations. Stay for a night, a week or longer.”
The town’s website http://www.bbsict.ca/grbrt.html advertised summer attractions: “Guided hikes, boating excursions, beach picnics, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and swimming, and the chance to see caribou, moose, eagles, seabirds, whales, and dolphins,” and in winter, “Skidooing, Snowshoeing, and Cross-country skiing.”
The first thing I noticed in pulling into Grand Bruit, on a bright afternoon aboard Exit, was the lack of harbor buoys. We had to pick our way through the narrow channel to the harbor. The second thing I noticed was the startling absence of boats in the harbor; it was desolate and empty. The final clue was the lack of clothes drying on lines.
We tied up on the government wharf, still in good condition, but with a “Do Not Use” sign on the rusting crane. On the private wharf across the harbor, a sign recognized Grand Bruit as a winner of the provincial Tidy Towns competition, loved by its citizens as “Tiny But Beautiful.”
As we started to explore the town along footpaths winding between the homes, past what had once been well-tended lawns, gardens, and flowerbeds, now overgrown with weeds, and climbed the hill at the top of the waterfall, we confirmed what our approach had suggested. Grand Bruit was now a ghost town. It was closed down in 2010.
Many of the sixty-plus houses looked as if they had been abandoned years ago, with rusted padlocks on doors and planks nailed across the opening. A few looked as if they had been recently cared for — still with brightly colored paint or new siding — summer homes for residents determined to stay in touch with their history a little longer, perhaps.
Where one could peek in windows, the finality of the death of a town was evident. Some houses had been picked clean; in most, people took what they thought they might need and left the rest: dressers, beds, kitchen tables, some with plates and cups still on them, and a hand truck sitting in the middle of the living room floor. One can easily imagine the last piece of furniture carted out, the hand truck returned and placed upright – forever – and the door shut and locked for the last time. As bleak testimony to the death of the fishing that doomed Newfoundland’s outports, a yellow slicker hung on a hook with boots placed neatly on the floor beneath them were just left. No one would be using them again. As we walked from the wharf to the town, the piers and buildings were littered with the tools of fishing – buoys, lobster pots, nets, rope, hardware and engine parts that no one would be using again either.
Inside the church, the pews are empty, and the walls are stripped bare; the small pump organ, still stands, forever silent.
On their explorations through the town, Pete, Gene, and Tom Mann found one family had left their abandoned house unlocked. It was empty except for a pair of jackets, some furniture and a few food staples. But taped to a cabinet door was a family photo and a note. “Take anything you want — all free now. We’d appreciate your leaving the cabin itself in good shape. We may be back someday. Best wishes and good health. The Jensens.” As Pete commented, ‘Someday’ is not likely to come soon, if ever, for the Jensens and the cod.”
I wonder how long it will take these homes and buildings to decay and return to the earth. A generation? For the families who once lived here and loved their home and way of life, all that remains is a lament.