A trip Back in time

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Barbara Dean-Simmons
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'Random Passage' set hosts Family Festival

It wasn't a great day for making fish, but it was fine for chinking a shed with fistfuls of moss.

The "Random Passage" site came alive Aug. 12 during its first Family Festival.

Despite the rain, folks were learning the art of drying codfish while others were helping to keep the tilt snug from the weather.

New Bonaventure - It wasn't a great day for making fish, but it was fine for chinking a shed with fistfuls of moss.

The "Random Passage" site came alive Aug. 12 during its first Family Festival.

Despite the rain, folks were learning the art of drying codfish while others were helping to keep the tilt snug from the weather.

The event was the brainchild of the Cape Random Trust, the volunteer board that manages the former TV mini-series site. Their aim is to entice not just fans of the books and television movie, but those seeking to understand what early settlers had to contend with.

"People are coming here to this area with families, but there's not a lot here for children," says site manager Bernice Miller.

That was the reasoning behind their first-ever family days.

There were activities and games to engage younger visitors - those too young to read "Random Passage" and "Waiting for Time," and who had never seen the mini-series.

Making fish and chinking were on the agenda, as were more bookish pursuits.

"We have the little school house on the site, and the slate is there so we can show children how people used that in the past in school."

The site is also interested in bringing back some old games - like tiddly - in the future.

Last year was the first time they had a request from a primary school for a tour of the site. Miller says high schools often bring student groups there because many of them have read Bernice Morgan's novels, on which the mini-series was based.

When the Grade 2 class from Clarenville Primary asked to visit, however, the Cape Random Trust decided they would have to create a tour geared towards a younger age group.

"Our lead interpreter, Fred Rex, put together a marvellous program for them. He did everything hands-on with them - spreading the fish, chinking the moss in the houses, using water hoops to carry buckets of water, going to the little school and writing on the slates.

"He told them stories of how things were years ago, and they loved it," says Miller.

The experience was so realistic, she said, that when the children were caught in a downpour as they were heading back to their bus, one little boy turned around, ran back to the interpreter and said, "Fred! We got to get the fish in - it's raining!"

More than a set

Cape Random, the fictitious community created by Morgan, was built near the community of Old Bonaventure, for the filming of the television series "Random Passage."

Once filming was finished in 2000, local citizens felt the replica tilts, fishing stages and church could have value beyond their original use as props and sets.

They formed the Cape Random Trust and in 2001 the site became a tourist attraction.

The volunteer board figured interest in the site would last for a few years but that after five years memories of the movie would fade and interest in the set would wane.

However, seven years after the series aired in Canada, Ireland and the U.K., people are still coming by the thousands to wander the rocky terrain, to step inside the doors of the rough, wooden huts and ponder what life must have been like for early settlers.

"So far this year, we have over 4,000 visitors to the site since we opened on May 24," says Miller.

Visits were up in July, with 2,289 dropping by. Visitation has been down slightly in August, probably due to more than two weeks of rain, but she expects the total number of visitors to be on par, or even slightly better, than last year when all is said and done.

Visitors still come because they saw the TV series, and they still ask questions about the making of the movie.

However, she says, the board aims to focus on the fact that the site represents an early 18th-century fishing village.

"Last year we wondered how it would work with the Grade 2 children. But it went over really well," Miller says, adding that "Some of the kids came back on a weekend with their parents. The parents said the children had talked about it so much that they had to come back."

While the weather on Aug. 10 wasn't ideal for outdoor activities, it didn't daunt those who showed up for the Family Festival.

"It went really well. We're pleased with the number of visitors, considering the weather," says Miller.

Attendance was pegged at 165 people.

Visitors also got a chance to meet Morgan, as well as some of the actors involved with the television series: producer Barbara Doran, screenwriter Des Walsh and actors Ruth Lawrence and Tina Bailey Rex.

Miller says the festival will definitely become a tradition at Cape Random and the group will soon begin planning for next year's event.

As this year's event wound down, strains of Baxter Wareham's accordion music wafted down from the open door of the little church on the hill and floated across the rocky ground, mingling with children's voices and dancing across the fishing flakes before drifting out to sea.

Organizations: Cape Random Trust, Grade 2

Geographic location: New Bonaventure, Old Bonaventure, Canada Ireland

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