Saturday, July 22, 2017

Isle Valen: A short look

The narrow entrance to Isle Valen Harbour did not escape me in the fog as I found my way in.  My first impression was that the harbour was hemmed in on all sides by either vertical rock walls or steeply upsloping banks.

Here's a screen capture from Google Earth showing the layout of the harbour.  I ended up finding just enough flat ground to pitch my tent (in the northeast end of the harbour) ...

... by the side of the water.  There was level ground further away but a longish carry uphill.

The next thing I did was to try to call home to say I had arrived safe and sound.  I climbed to the highest hill without finding any service.  That made me a little concerned that people may worry.  You see, I wasn't 100% sure I'd get out in the morning an I already heard from the attendant at Garden Cove that he had been stranded here for 30 days a number of years ago.

The fog started to lift just a bit so as I came down from the top of the hill I got some photos.  Here you can see how the harbour is hemmed in by steep cliffs.

Here was an option with some level ground but a long carry from the kayak.

I was getting the real Placentia Bay experience where fog is a regular companion.  I would have enjoyed a bit of sunshine and more walking access around the harbour but it was what it was and like any lady dolled up, the harbour in sunshine would look a lot better and, to prove it, heres a link to sunshine photos of Isle Valen.

Isle Valen was settled in the early 1800's with the census for 1836 showing 167 persons.  The population peaked at 289 in 1857 and thereafter began a steady decline.  By 1921 the population declined to 184 individuals in 38 families.  by 1945 the population was down to 147 and completely resettled in the late 1960's.

This is the only house left behind as a common practice of resettlement was to float and tow houses to new communities.  I went to have  ...

... look inside.  This room looked like it could have been used as a dining room used for special occasions.  The sideboard still had some old dinner ware stacked on it.

I wondered what family lived here and decided to just leave everything behind.  The census for 1935 shows the predominant family surnames were Bennett, Gaulton, Leonard, Lockyer and Williams.  Was it one of them?

Turns out the mother of a friend of my wife was born there and is listed in the 1935 census: Mabel Williams, age 16, daughter of John and Julia.  They also had a son named Jethro, age 23.

The census of 1945 shows son Jethro married and with a new child named Doreen which is also the name of my wife's friend, but not surnamed Williams.

The stairs looked safe enough to climb but I didn't investigate upstairs where the bedrooms were.

Here's the entry to the kitchen, the paint still looking pretty fresh after about 50 years.

The kitchen stove!  This would be the central focus, and warmest room, of the house.  Everyday meals would be eaten here and guests entertained.

I have been to many resettled communities and have always wondered how people managed to eek out a living and survive in Newfoundland's isolated outports.  Some places had good arable land, others not so much.  Here in Isle Valen I couldn't see how anyone could even plant a few pototoes to fill a barrel let alone to feed a family for a year.  I take my hat off to their memory.

So much of Newfoundland's history is in these resettled communities.  Granted we have census records but so many stories of survival, how people lived and appreciation for the tenacity of the residents is being lost.

I always feel we have it pretty cushy by Isle Valen of yesterday standards.


  1. Hi Tony..... Love the photos of Isle Valen... Will try to get some info. for you on the house ect.... Doreen and Wayne

    1. Hey guys, I am so glad you enjoyed the photos on my blog (I hope)and the photos at the site I provided the link to.

      I'm going to go back later in the year sometime in the future when there's a better chance of less fog. I hope you get a chance to go back yourselves.

      You may know Sherry's folks are from North Harbour. I've seen lots of fog there too - the Placentia Bay experience.

      Coincidence too that you ended up on the same street coming out of PB! Small world.

  2. Mike O, I got your message and I sent m@il to the address you provided but it bounced back with the following message: "Your message wasn't delivered to because the address couldn't be found, or is unable to receive mail." I've x'd out your last name for privacy purposes.