Last ferry to Big Noise

Liam Dougherty
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“I lived here for 28 years and really loved living here,” said Cynthia Billard, the last woman in Grand Bruit. “But the time has come.”

Waving goodbye to the last Grand Bruiters, I paid my $3.75 and sat down.

I arrived in La Poile, a rough-and-tumble fishing village full of beat up shacks, fish carcases and piles of gear, around 10:30 p.m.

At first glance, there was little comparison between Grand Bruit’s idyllic cove and gritty La Poile.

But as I disembarked and strolled around the town, I came to appreciate its rough-around-the-edges charm.

Grand Bruit may be tidy and postcard pretty, La Poile is alive, with 100 citizens calling it home.

I saw children playing in the streets and heard playful jeers as they raced off on ATVs.

Both La Poile and Grand Bruit are bar-less. Instead, the villages have little shacks that serve as bring-your-own-booze hangouts.

Grand Bruit’s Cramalot Inn was understandably quiet when I passed by, only a six-pack of beer and a couple of empties serving as  reminders of happier times, but in La Poile I found a lively little plywood shack on wooden pylons in the water.

There, surprisingly, were five young men hanging out in a shed with walls adorned with autographed pictures of strippers, and surrounded by freezers full of frozen cod and cases of beer.

I explained that I’d just been to Grand Bruit. They nodded sagely as I told them how sad it was to see the community die. I remarked on the vibrancy of La Poile and said I hoped it would remain lively for years to come.

The consensus wasn’t optimistic.

Every one of the boys in the Party Shack was back in La Poile on vacation. Most worked out west in the oil patch, some on Great Lakes freighters, and there was nothing for them back home.

"But when you come down to it, when you lose your kids, you lose your community.” Cynthia Billard

“What are we supposed to do here? Bring back a city girl to La Poile? Not gonna happen,” one guy said.

“Ten, 15 years — tops,” added another, “and then La Poile is as dead as all the others.”

All the others — a list of euthanized towns: Petites, Muddy Hole, Rencontre West, Grand Bruit. Their dots erased from the map. Victims of a collapsed fishery and changing demographics.

We drank until the early hours of the morning, shifting the conversation from the morbid to the inane as the beers emptied, until finally I crashed on the floor of the ferry terminal maintenance building and was woken up by the tooting of a horn.

Time to go.

Collective wisdom gone

No more fish, no more kids, no more community.

Whatever collective wisdom the village of Grand Bruit had amassed is forever gone, dispersed into surrounding towns and diluted in a whirlwind of cars and fast-food.

And while Grand Bruit the ghost town will be a mysterious, charmingly creepy attraction for years and years to come, open to sea kayakers and intrepid explorers, it’s dead.

La Poile, meanwhile, is still here, for now.

See it while you can.

And bring a six-pack.

Liam Dougherty is a creative writing graduate of Concordia University who grew up in Montreal.

Organizations: Cramalot Inn, Party Shack, Concordia University

Geographic location: Grand Bruit, Newfoundland, Port aux Basques La Poile I Great Lakes Montreal

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  • jack brideau
    June 21, 2012 - 22:55

    I visited with my family a few years back.Looking for some info on a woman named Nancy Edwards,a summer resident.Would like to contact her.Would like an email address .Thanks Ps fond memories of cram alot

  • Jodie Billard
    October 12, 2010 - 22:31

    I just found this article on Grand Bruit,and I must say it was very well written.Grand Bruit has had many many visitors over the years,from far away places,further than many of us will ever see,and all of them were amazed at the beauty of the little town,the friendliness of the people who always welcomed you with opened arms and warm smiles.I know this because I grew up in my beautiful little town of Grand Bruit.And for those of you that are tourist,it is sad when you hear about the resettlement,and for those of us that have left behind beautiful memmories,it is devastating. I know for myself I could not visit my home town this summer,the first in the many years I have been gone, and it was very sad for me to be in NFLD and knowing I couldn't go,but I cherise all the memmories of growing up there,the closeness of family being around,thanksgiving dinners,and lively Christmas holidays,when mummering was a wonderful thing all of us got to do,and the all year around visiting and Friday nights at Mon's shop playing games.There are so many wonderful memmories wrapped up in that little town I could go on for hours,but those of us that are from there,all have memmories of our beautiful quiet little piece of heaven,that now needs to be left to rest in peace,undisturbed by anyone,letting nature take its course,and for those that will rest peacefully there forever,you are forever in our hearts as wonderful memmories of Grand Bruit.

  • Barry Gardner
    August 21, 2010 - 05:18

    Although I'm about as upalong (Hobart, Australia) as it's possible to be, I have spent some little time among you and developed a great affection for Newfoundland and its culture and traditions. I was very moved by this article. Thank you.

    • Ray Vautier
      September 01, 2010 - 19:33

      where the hell does Marsha get her take on things.to even think rural Nfld is a drain on taxpayers is ludicrous.Obviously she hasn't been too far.I am from a outport in NL.,9 Miles from Grand Bruit and knows every resident that lived there.A big majority of these people worked away on the mainland all there lives.I do the same ,working in northern Ontario.And this is the place to go if you think Nfld outports are a drain on taxpayers money........wake up Marsha and smell the roses my dear..because you don't have a clue about rural Nfld or anywhere else for that matter.And Liam,like i said I am from Lapoile where shacks are called stages and pylons are called shores,fish carcasses are called offal and we are enjoying every minute of it.As long as there's work out west and in Ontario we will stay there ....oh and pay our share of taxes too Marsha. Ray Vautier

    • Ray Vautier
      September 01, 2010 - 19:35

      where the hell does Marsha get her take on things.to even think rural Nfld is a drain on taxpayers is ludicrous.Obviously she hasn't been too far.I am from a outport in NL.,9 Miles from Grand Bruit and knows every resident that lived there.A big majority of these people worked away on the mainland all there lives.I do the same ,working in northern Ontario.And this is the place to go if you think Nfld outports are a drain on taxpayers money........wake up Marsha and smell the roses my dear..because you don't have a clue about rural Nfld or anywhere else for that matter.And Liam,like i said I am from Lapoile where shacks are called stages and pylons are called shores,fish carcasses are called offal and we are enjoying every minute of it.As long as there's work out west and in Ontario we will stay there ....oh and pay our share of taxes too Marsha. Ray Vautier

  • Julie
    August 15, 2010 - 23:04

    Wow Marsha, you are too kind. While we're at it, why not put a McDonald's on every corner and have everyone live in a metropolis where you can't even look a stranger in the eye, let alone ask him for help? These outport communities were created by hard-working Newfoundland fisherman who saw their resources abused and depleted. You're right - shame on them for not wanting to pick up and start over immediately. Shame on all of us for even considering their feelings regarding relocation. You sit there eager to dish out your judgements. Have you ever visited an outport community? Spoken with its people? Experienced the rich culture, language, and pure kindness of their people? Obviously, the people of Grand Bruit agree that from an economic standpoint, relocation is the best option. However, there are more important things in life than money my dear Marsha, and this is a great loss to the preservation of outport traditions and Newfoundland culture. If you have no sense of compassion for these elements, I suggest you keep your comments to yourself. Furthermore, Newfoundland is now a HAVE province, while more populous provinces (Quebec and Ontario) continually look to Ottawa for handouts. While Newfoundland taxpayers (including RURAL taxpayers) are sending money to Toronto and Montreal to support their 'larger-centre' populations, perhaps they could spare a few dollars to ensure the preservation of the very culture that makes us distinct from the masses? Because let's face it, when outsiders speak the praises of Newfoundlanders and our province, they're speaking of the very aspects of Newfoundland that you find in little places like Grand Bruit, the very aspects that you would have us erase without a second thought. Perhaps once Newfoundland has become just another stop - without charm, without traditions, without the rich dialect found only in rural areas, you'll see the real impact of what has been lost. When Newfoundlanders have lost their compassion for their fellow man, and the province is filled with Marshas...perhaps then we'll recognize the true value of outport communities.

  • canuck
    August 05, 2010 - 02:11

    It's sad what has happened. Moving it self, from a different home to another home is difficult by it self, moving from a place you've lived in after 20 + years and moving by force not with one's own decision is even harder. Only thing to do is pick up the pieces and continue on. I defitintly afree with Geroge E's words. He nailed it right on the money. And by the way it's towns like these that, where the personalities of Prime Ministers, Doctors and Teachers come from. Not back washed dirty cities.

  • George E.
    July 29, 2010 - 20:42

    There's lots of good sound argument why small isolated towns, like Grand Bruit, should cease to exist from a purely economic standpoint. Their reason for being, the fishery, no longer exixsts. However, that being said, I don't think there is any other type of community on this earth that produces people of finer character, people with a tenacity to make it on their own, people who can and will 'find a way or make it' when an inventive solution to a problem is called for. Their resourcefulness, to survive and make do under what may seem like impossible conditions, knows no bounds. I am always saddened when I think of the poor souls who struggled to the end and who will now lie unheralded for eternity on a desolate, fog-bound coast. Their interred remains oblivious to the lonesome calls of soaring, successive generations of seagulls as they scavenge the shores for paltry scraps. For the next few years there will exist two or three of the oldest generations from Grand Bruit whose lives will be enriched by the memories and the stories of life in that South Coast gem of a community, picturesque beyond description. I just hope that some individuals will feel motivated strongly enough by a passion for our past history to capture and secure their stories. All will be lost, piece by piece, as time will surely take its toll to wipe the slate clean. We need that history, those stories of and from our past. Let's get them now and preserve them for posterity.

  • Politically Incorrect
    July 29, 2010 - 07:58

    Nice sentiment, Marsha. It's this kind of loving and caring attitude that really marks many Newfoundlanders apart. We see a community in need or just someone struggling and we boldly leap into action by climbing onto our high horses and loudly proclaim that they are not worth our time or resources. I would say this is the same attitude I experienced living in Toronto towards Newfoundland during the cod moratorium and while NL was a have-not province... oh, except that it wasn't. But thanks for taking the time to share your compassion with these people who are going through a very difficult time. These words are what they really needed to hear.

  • Marsha
    July 28, 2010 - 13:55

    Great news. One less community draining resources from the government. I'm not sure why people would complain about the 'injustice' of forced settlement. How about the injustice of those who live in larger centers having to pay extra taxes for those who choose to live in the middle of nowhere. We should be charging people for utilities and the like based on the cost of providing them. That would cause mass resettlement very quickly and let the government lower taxes on people in this province. There's no reason that so many should pay so much extra for the benefit of so few.

  • saxon
    July 27, 2010 - 12:52

    Phenominal article, eloquently written. Sad to see the days of Grand bruit behind us. I have always been fascinated with the life and dynamics of isolated communities. A Whale for the Killing by Farley Mowat touches on these communities,

  • ART BILLARD
    July 27, 2010 - 10:06

    if someone offered me 90,000 bucks i would think i won the lottery. best wishes art billard london ontario.

  • Elena Blanco
    July 24, 2010 - 16:53

    What a tragic tale. I had no idea small towns sometimes have to arrange for their own destruction. I figured it was always an injustice forced upon them, but not everything is so black and white, I guess. This is a great article. The topic was handled with sensitivity. And I bet there isn't a lot of writing on Grand Bruit, so it's nice to see the town preserved at least in a first-hand-account description. It was easy to picture this beautiful town even without the gallery.

  • Sarah MacD.
    July 24, 2010 - 14:11

    Good job, Liam! I love the colour and personality you've shown!