Life in Little Brehat

Emma Graney
Published on August 2, 2011
Garland Budgell of St. Anthony roasts some caplin on the beach in Little Brehat.

Sunny yellow buttercups and waist-high grass ripple in a breeze just brisk enough to keep the bugs at bay and cool the air. Wild purple orchids dot the hillsides and the rocky beach is strung with brown seaweed skins.

Some 60 years ago there were 34 families here in Little Brehat — now the only people have arrived by boat for the day, or hiked across the marshes.

They’ll stay a few hours and soak up the sunshine on this perfect summer day before heading back to the Come Home Year celebrations in Great Brehat.

“I can’t for the life of me think how they got so many houses there,” says Millicent Fowler, gazing up towards the hills.

“My dear, how did they all fit?”

She directs her question to Doris Calloway, who also grew up in the community and now lives in Pasadena.

The pair start listing off all the families who used to live in Little Brehat before it was resettled in 1955 and 1956. They point to where the homes once stood, ticking off names on their fingers.

“... and over there was Uncle Don, Mr. Colbourne, the other Mr. Colbourne, Hubert, on the other side was Norm Pilgrim, Aunt May, Sandy Clarke …”

Eventually others join in the count.

“There was another six — no, seven — another seven over there by the cemetery.”

“Do you remember we’d walk up over that hill?” asks Fowler, sweeping her arm towards the craggy, stone-studded ground.

“We used to think it was nothing, maid, nothing at all, to walk up over them hills,” agrees Calloway.

“Oh the foolish things we used to do. We never had any fear.”

Standing on the mussel shell-strewn sandy beach, Calloway unpacks an envelope bulging with old photos from Little Brehat.

“There always had to be a woodpile in any photo, and if there wasn’t a woodpile then it had to be a dog,” she laughs, pointing to an aged black and white picture.

The other ladies lean in, peering at the photo and letting out raucous laughter.

It’s the beginning of a day of tales and memories — the time Don skidded down an ice-slick hill and “skinned his face right off,” the school house on the hill, the bridge over a brook that’s now just a trickle through the grass, the cod drying on flakes, the good times, the hard times.

Eventually more boats pull up to the rocks. People drop their cooler boxes and baskets of food and take to the hills.

Up here, foundations have been reclaimed by the grass and flowers; you expect to see signs of life, but they are few and far between.

“My house was right there, right where those flowers are was the front of the house,” Ross Pilgrim says as he gazes at a patch of ground.

“If you look close I bet you’d see my footprints on those rocks there. There are a lot of memories here for me. A lot of memories.”

Walkers start to emerge from behind the hills; they chose the foot path rather than the speedboats past the icebergs.

Peggy Simms is at the head of a small group of four walkers — one of them, Angela Colbourne, happily shows off a mud-stain up past her knee.

“I found a hole,” she laughs.

Across the bay the Little Brehat cemetery stands stark white against the green grass, still in perfect repair despite the fact it’s in a place where nobody has lived since 1956.

Some people have brought flowers to set on graves as they visit long-gone relatives.

Meanwhile, down on the beach, groups start small fires and begin to boil water for tea, heat cans of baked beans and roast caplin and wieners.

Rocks and patches of grass become makeshift seats in the sunshine and everyone wolfs down their dinner, sharing sweet tea buns, lassie bread and pots of tea between families.

The sun blazes as kids play in the water, happily oblivious to the cold, and those who were born in Little Brehat swap stories on the sand.

After a few hours, the first boatloads of people begin to make their way back into Great Brehat, taking with them full bellies and now-empty buckets and coolers.

Eventually everyone will head home and, when the sun sets on the resettled community, the fields of grass — now crisscrossed with silvery flattened lines where people have made paths to their former homes — will stand tall again, the air silent but for the insect buzz and the gentle waves lapping at the shore.


The Northern Pen