Artists give an abandoned military site new purpose

Ashley
Ashley Fitzpatrick
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The derelict buildings of an abandoned military installation in Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove are being occupied once again.

But instead of housing radar operators and airmen, the concrete structures at the Red Cliff Air Station have been hosting graffiti artists, campers and paintball players.

The buildings — some being swallowed up by surrounding vegetation — have been used as free walls by graffiti artists for several years.

Visible dates go back to 2009, but the practice of painting over previous work that is starting to fade and works by competing groups of painters make it difficult to determine the first use of the site for large graffiti pieces.

Graffiti art, along with some rushed tags, covers the inside walls of each building. One has even earned the label “The Art Gallery.” The name is painted beside the main entrance.

Other buildings have been renamed by their users since the 1960s. A former radar tower building is now the “Fish Bowl.”

The structures were built in 1951-’52 by the American military. They are about eight kilometres northeast of where the American air base at Fort Pepperrell was located.

According to remembrances of troops stationed at Red Cliff Air Station at the time, as well as unofficial historic sites such as Kevin Elliott’s “Unofficial Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove Website,” the station had 246 employees — 140 military personnel and 106 civilians — when it initially shut down in October 1961.

Today, an empty Red Bull can or stencil art of Paul Reubens in his PeeWee Herman bowtie are more likely to be found at the radar station than any type of surveillance equipment.

•••

“Rat-a-tat-tat.”

Outside the nearest concrete building, there’s a hand-painted sign: “Paintball.”

“Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat.”

A paintball gun is firing.

At least five guys are playing the game around the “Fish Bowl” on this Wednesday morning. Brothers Mark and Luke Noftall are two of them.

The group is digging protective goggles from backpacks, loading ammunition and checking their weapons prior to the start of their game. They are all wearing dark clothing, with camouflage and bandanas mixed in.

Asked why they’re there, they say it’s a good place to play, with low cost, good layout and not a lot of people.

“We don’t bug people at their houses and stuff. Like, we can’t play this in our backyard,” Luke says.

Loading his gun with paintballs, Mark agrees.

“No, you can’t play in the city. So we’re out of the range of normal people — we don’t have to be bugging other people,” he says.

“You can play at Frontline, but they charge. So instead of having to worry about paying extra fees, we can play ourselves up here. … It’s just a bit of fun.”

Meanwhile, inside the next building over, a tent is pitched. Outside the building, set inside a circle of rocks, there are the charred remnants of a campfire.

“Building” is a generous description, considering that much of the roof has caved in and the day’s RDF has ominously made its way inside as well.

No one is seen around the campsite inside the building mid-morning.

•••

Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove Mayor John Kennedy told The Telegram the town hasn’t had any complaints about the use of the site, as far as he’s aware. He wasn’t surprised to hear people have been using the space.

“Since the East Coast Trail went through there, the amount of people that go through has been increasing,” he said.

“I’d like nothing better than to see it all cleaned up.”

A cleanup would be no small task considering the size of the concrete structures.

“If it’s going to be cleaned up, it’s going to be done by the provincial or federal government,” he said.

Exactly who owns the property is unclear.

A portion of the area, about 1.2 hectares, is federally owned and under the control of Transport Canada. Yet according to a federal file on the property, that land doesn’t include the derelict buildings.

“In all honesty, we’re not really sure who owns what there,” Kennedy said.

Steve Joy, office manager with the East Coast Trail Association, said he was aware of the history of the site, but could not say with certainty who is responsible for it. The East Coast Trail Association is not.

•••

On April 30, 2003, the Red Cliff radar site was mentioned during a Government Services committee meeting at the House of Assembly. The meeting was to discuss budget estimates for the Department of Environment (now Environment and Conservation).

Then-MHA for Cape St. Francis, Jack Byrne, asked what was being done with the site.

“Particularly in Red Cliff, we haven’t done much from the Department of Environment’s perspective,” said then-assistant deputy minister, Ken Dominie.

“We tried to get a handle last year on the land ownership up there, because there is a myriad of land ownership, some provincial, some federal and some that has been passed over to people like the Newfoundland telephone company. There is a variety of land ownership up there and it is very difficult to say to one person, one group or one government that they should take responsibility for that site.

“Essentially, I am not aware of any action being taken up on that site.”

Byrne pressed the matter, saying the property should be cleaned up.

“There is a combination of responsibilities, I suppose, but it is something that I think should be looked at and is going to have to be looked at eventually,” he said.

Dominie said determining who was responsible for what would be the first step.

The Telegram contacted Environment and Conservation to see if any progress had been made. A spokeswoman for the department said the property is split between federal, provincial and private ownership, with the Department of Transportation and Works responsible for the provincial portion. Who owns the buildings remained, despite best efforts, unclarified as of press time.

 

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Red Cliff Air Station, Frontline, Department of Environment Transport Canada Government Services Department of Transportation and Works

Geographic location: Logy Bay, Red Cliff, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Mike
    August 30, 2011 - 08:09

    I agree, this place is perfect for airsoft, I also go there quite regularly for airsoft & campfires. We have never had any complaints and we post signs on the trails when we are playing a game. Safety has always been something we have made sure of. I know there has been alot of work done up there by the locals cleaning up some of the rebar and metal pieces sticking up out of the concrete. blow torch and cold chisel worked quite well with removing dangerour rebar... The one thing that does concern me is that there is radioactive material buried somewhere up there from the radar station. Often as were running through the woods we run into OLD expired Monitoring equipment... It doesn't appear anyone had bothered to update the monitoring stations... the one i saw up there a few weekends ago expired in 2001. There is also alot of stuff that was dumped at the bottom of the cliff, including what looks like a tank or a large metal truck at the bottom of the cliff just under the water. I would suspect there is probably other stuff buried, there are also some sealed fuel bunkers and other tunnels that have been filled in... chances are they dumped stuff in those ones as many many others have not been filled in.

  • Shane S
    August 16, 2011 - 20:55

    I agree with "Nobody." I think the site should be left for the young folks. I play Airsoft/paintball at redcliff every weekend and its the only place half close where a group of people can go and have fun with either guns or paint cans without the cops being called or destroying others property. If some wrinkly old fart from ottawa decides to tear it down im gonna be less than pleased. LEAVE IT BE!!!!!!!

  • nobody
    August 15, 2011 - 21:26

    Wow... Those are a lot of repeating paragraphs to say the land is divided and no one is 100% sure who owns what and who's responsible for a clean-up. I'm no journalist but everything could have been said with much less. Writing besides, the location is amazing and should remain untouched for teens. Last thing we need are 50 year old politics who never go there to decide it's unfit and everything should be demolished.

  • Ken O'Brien
    August 15, 2011 - 09:05

    Red Cliff had an interesting history as part of the Pinetree Line, a Cold War defence system for North America (see the archived Pinetree Line website at http://web.archive.org/web/20080317104201/http://www.pinetreeline.org/). When we were kids, our father would bring us up to Red Cliff for Sunday picnics and to set up targets for shooting practice with pellet guns and with a .22 rifle. It's a shame that the site could not be interpreted as an historic site, with information displays on the various buildings that were there and their purpose. There was a reunion of US Air Force personnel here a few summers ago. And the views from the site are amazing.