The Grebe’s Nest

Susan Flanagan
Published on June 5, 2012
— Submitted photo

One evening I went to put Surprise Baby to bed and after four stories, a couple of prayers and a few cuddles, I came back out to the kitchen to find a chunk of Bell Island sitting on my table. I stared slack-jawed, for I had been gone no more than an hour, but in that time No. 4, with direction from her cousin, had constructed an amazingly detailed papier maché model of The Grebe’s Nest.

If you’re not familiar with The Grebe’s Nest, not to fret. It’s not a destination promoted by Bell Island Tourism. And although spending a sunny summer afternoon with your family at The Grebe’s Nest can be one of the most pleasurable things you can do, there’s a reason brochures for The Grebe’s Nest are not running off the presses of the Queen’s Printer.

Why not?

Because getting there is a treacherous undertaking. In order to access The Grebe’s Nest, you either need your own small boat or you have to take the ferry and make your way to the back side of Bell Island — at least it’s the back side to a Townie. Once there, you descend a shattered shale path, cross a beach covered with what the children call inverted fossils, scramble up a slippery rock ledge and navigate through a damp, dark tunnel that looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. It is only then that The Grebe’s Nest, a magical beach surrounded by 30-metre shale cliffs, will present itself to you.

Of course, for our family, getting there is half the fun. Not only the sea life you see from the ferry, but the half a dozen wrong turns I’m bound to make while navigating the gravel roads east of the air strip.

It was in 1968, my daughter learned while researching her Heritage Fair project, that two fishermen, brothers named Art and Bill Reid, blasted the tunnel through the rock that makes The Grebe’s Nest so exotic. For decades, if not centuries, several families had fished out of The Grebe’s Nest, which was a fine place to land a boatload of cod, but a dangerous place to walk home from.

Why couldn’t the fishermen bring in their boats on the next beach over, she wondered? It’s only a stone’s throw away.

The fishermen couldn’t land a boat there safely, she learned. But The Grebe’s Nest beach had just the right rounded beach rocks needed for bringing a dory chock-a-block full of fish on shore. After that, however, things got a bit tricky. In order to bring their fish to market, the fishermen had to transfer the fish from the boat to baskets, which would then be hoisted up the steep shale cliff face using horses stationed on the meadow above.

Once a basket of fish was ready to go up, someone on top of the cliff would tap the horse and he’d walk forward, pulling up the basket. It took about 15 minutes to hoist a load of fish up the cliff. A waiting truck would then take the fish to be sold.

This still left the problem of how to bring get the men safely up the cliff. A dangerous ledge from The Grebe’s Nest to the nearby beach was difficult, if not impossible to navigate with their equipment. In rough seas, they could easily be swept off into the hungry bay.

So in 1968, the Reid brothers came up with a safe way of getting themselves home to their families simply by blasting a tunnel through the shale cliff.

And where did the Reid brothers come up with enough explosives to blast a corridor through 75 metres of shaley rock?

Until 1966, the iron ore mines had been operational on Bell Island. Bill had been a blaster in the mines and was well trained in the use of explosives.

The Dominion Steel Corp., known as DOSCO, thus entrusted Bill with a loan of a drill, batteries and enough dynamite to blast through the rock. With the blasting done, the brothers went about cribbing the tunnel using timbers as supports.

As a result of the Reid brothers’ innovation, several families were able to safely fish off the Grebe’s Nest alongside them, for example, the Clarkes and the Galloways.

Art Reid’s son, Gord, who was a child at the time of the blasting, still remembers it vividly.

“I was a little boy,” he said in a telephone interview. “It was really exciting looking through (the tunnel). Everyone loved it.”

One of the reasons our family loves The Grebe’s Nest so much is because there’s pirate treasure hidden in the tunnel.

But that’s a story for another column. Stay tuned in two weeks’ time for more on NaGeira’s Treasure.

Susan can be reached at

Hants Harbour feedback

Michael writes: “Thoughts of yesteryear at Strathlaurie House and Farm, Bell Island.”

Townie writes: “Do you mean ‘I had no warning he would take to the bay like a beer to the dump’ keeping in context with your article? Does anybody know what the author is talking about in this article? Seems like a lot of rambling going nowhere. Gotta like Ants Arbour.....where ever that is.”

Cathy writes: “There must be something magical about that spot. Although, I must add that by the description of the house I was wondering if it were a house, or an old stage shed?”

Cuddle Bug writes: “The most beautiful woman, on all levels, in the world is from Hants Harbour.”

Rex writes: “Loved your article on the Hamptons… Going out (to our cabin) next Tuesday for a few days. Time to hook up the electric pump to get some flowing water; otherwise, we have to bring water in buckets and jugs. Love it.”

Todd writes: “We had a cabin in Capelin Cove for 12 years. One day we were in New Chelsea fishing by the NPower substation plant. I was only a scrawny teenager then but I certainly loved troutin’. Anyways my folks’ friends were there. I was fishing for the Big Ones under the generating plant (where the water comes out of the generator). The plant wasn’t going and what BIG FISH. I tried really hard to catch them; even put a live white moth (butterfly) on my hook and let it flutter on top of the water. To no avail. I couldn’t catch the bloody things. You see, my parents’ friend was seeing all this on the other side of the river. For badness, he started throwing rocks in the frickin water and frightening away the trout. I got terribly upset and told myself he wasn’t going to get away with that. So, when he wasn’t looking at me across the river on the other side of the plant, I slowly and gently laid down my pole. Then as fast as I could, so he wouldn’t be suspicious as to where I was, I ran around the back of the plant, jumped over the steel water pipe and got to the other side where he was (like an idiot, still throwing rocks in the water). I creeped up behind him not making a sound. He towered over 6’5’’. Then with all my might I ran down the embankment and shoved the devil into the river. Good thing he never got hurt otherwise we probably would have been sued!”