On a sunny May morning I set out from Trinity at 9:30am and make my way to New Bonaventure. When I arrive 20 minutes later skipper Bruce Miller is waiting there to greet me and his other passengers down by the dock. There are 6 other passengers on the tour this particular morning and we each grab a yellow life jacket from the stage before climbing into the boat.
I can safely say that Bruce’s boat tour is unlike any other offered in Newfoundland. While most tours on the island focus on whales, icebergs and birds, this tour is designed to share with visitors what once was in rural Newfoundland. The tour hugs the rugged and breathtaking coastline as he takes you from one abandoned community to the next including Kearley’s Harbour and Ireland’s Eye, where members of his own family once resided.
I doubt that this tour could be duplicated in any other part of Newfoundland. Not because other communities didn’t share a similar fate, but because Bruce himself is the real highlight of the tour. When he quiets the motor in front of one of the older communities you stare out at the shore and it is hard to imagine that anything could have ever been there.
As Bruce recants tales of his family, you can almost see his Uncle Joe waving goodbye from the schooner leaving the tickle, his Aunt Meg fertilizing the garden with capelin or his father loading up the dog sled with wood. As these stories unfold you start to appreciate how painful it must have been for them to be forced from these places they all loved so dearly. Bruce points to a few grey boards on the cliffs and tells us who once lived there.
As we go from spot to spot Bruce stops the boat near a giant iceberg. He grabs a net, leans over the side and scoops up a chunk of broken off ice. With a mighty bang he breaks it into smaller pieces and we all have iceberg popsicles. As if to make the moment even more magical a humpback whale surfaces and dives down, giving us a wave with his black and white tail. Bruce never promises these moments on his tour, because he knows that nature is unpredictable. He waits around for another few minutes for the whale to surface one more time (this time we all have cameras ready) Once we get the shot he heads towards the next destination, his cabin in British Harbour.
We dock the boat and Bruce runs ahead of us towards the cabin to get the kettle on for tea. Two of the passengers say goodbye because they have opted to do the two hour hike back to New Bonaventure, passing through some of the communities we have seen from the water. The rest of us sit around the kitchen counter with Bruce’s homemade partridgeberry jam on purity crackers, warming our hands over our cups of tea. Everyone is enthralled in conversation about the politics of fishing and we can hardly believe that almost an hour has past. We have to go because we have far exceeded the 2 ½ hours allotted for the tour. Bruce says he would happily let us stay, but he has to be back in time for the 2pm tour. Warmed up from the tea we board the boat and take in the coastline one last time before finding ourselves back on Bruce’s stage.