St. Anthony -
"I was terrified," Gerry Byrne recalls of a formative experience in his life. "I didn't know what to think of it."
"It" was a television.
It was 1969 and Byrne had just stepped off the schooner Norma and Gladys in the relative metropolis of St. Anthony. Relative that is, to pre-resettlement Croque.
In the decades to come, Byrne never forgave the television for that moment of trauma, nor did he come to share much of North America's penchant for sitting idle while staring at a glowing box.
"Father was always at something and we were all raised to be," said Byrne, tinkering with a Lester diesel motor on his sawmill.
"There was a big crowd of us youngsters and when we sat down at the table, we ate what was in front of us."
Snowmobilers around the tip of the Northern Peninsula know two Gerry Byrnes, one the politician, the other a creator of his own little kingdom in an area known as Saunders' Mill.
This is a wooded kingdom of diesel motors, a cabin and ever-evolving sawmill. The crown jewel is an ancient D2 Cat tractor which may be older than its owner. Elizabeth is queen of the kingdom. Elizabeth Byrne, that is.
"She's my right and left hand out here," Byrne said of his wife. "This is my world out here. Don't ask me how we built it, I couldn't tell you."
But he will tell you, if you spare a moment for a cup of coffee.
So Byrne gives the sawmill a rest and boils the kettle.
"We come from places where people had to help each other - if you ran out of flour, you went next door and knew you wouldn't get turned away. If someone needed a boat hauled up, everyone pitched in."
The story of the Byrnes' forest retreat involves virtue born of necessity, and the kind of economy where a man earned credit by what he'd done for neighbours, not by what he had in the bank.
The old Cat has buddies - a loader, dump truck, backhoe and snowmobiles. The diesels are all long in the tooth, gathered over the decades to spend their twilight years as well-oiled creatures of hobby work.
"I fell in love with heavy equipment while working up north in Nunavut. I've got a few buddies who showed me how to pick apart the motors and rebuild them - that old Ford backhoe is as good as new. When they need help, I do favours for them."
Byrne has a sawmill and strong back, his buddies know diesel motors and have hands eager to help. It's an exchange Elizabeth knows well. She was born a Doyle in New Ferrolle, and the Byrnes were looking forward to having her clan visit on the weekend to help shingle the new millhouse.
"Theodore Gaulton goes (out) with Liz's niece - he's like my shadow out here, helps me with everything," said Byrne. "If I got motor trouble, we fix it ourselves or we take it to my buddy Henry Humby in Griquet - if he can't fix it, no one can."
This world replaced an older one on the point in St. Anthony. The stores Byrne built are still there, but the boat and cod traps are gone - abandoned for a world of lumber when the fishery closed.
"There's no place I'd rather be than out here with the fresh air, the mill and my gardens, just like you gave a kid a lollipop," said Byrne.
"I can saw a few logs and when I get bored I can go plane them or head out to the garden. But the best is when I'm doing something for someone else - when you're doing it for yourself you get bored quickly, but when you're doing a buddy a favour ... well, there's not much that feels better."