Mistaken Point Newfoundland a mistake to miss

But you can't walk over the fossils these days

Susan Flanagan susan@48degrees.ca
Published on July 16, 2013
Mistaken Point near Portugal Cove South on the southern shore.

No. 5 sat spinning a globe this morning on the floor of my mother's living room. He found Newfoundland and then I helped him trace the Northwest Passage where our friend Roger is headed. He then spun the globe and pointed to Japan. I explained that was where his Mommy and Daddy kissed and got married and where his oldest brother grew inside my belly.

"Where was I in your belly?" he asked.

I then spun the globe to Western Canada to show him British Columbia and then traced the route we drove through the States as he quietly baked in my portable oven.

"You should have drived slower so I could see all the places, too," he said.

"That would have been a great idea," I lied. I didn't want to burst his bubble by telling him that the very reason we travelled across the continent when we did was precisely because he was safely inside me swimming in a bubble of fluid.

Once we reached St. John's and settled into our new-to-us house, we continued to sneak in whatever local outings we could while No. 5 was still inside cooking.

The last adventure we did before Surprise Baby made his grand entrance into the world was to Mistaken Point near Portugal Cove South on the Southern Shore.

Although I had been out the 19 km dirt road to Cape Race light station several times as a tour guide, I had never been to see the fossils at Mistaken Point. The four older children were then 8, 10, 12 and 14, perfect ages for a family outing - and what an outing it was.

It took us about two hours to drive from St. John's to Portugal Cove South where our excursion really began. We then drove about 14 km down the dirt road towards Cape Race light station and then parked and walked 45 minutes over the hills to Mistaken Point. At that time, you could just go right up to the fossils, but today, especially with Mistaken Point on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, we are more diligent in preserving the fossils.

It was supposedly more than 500 million years ago that the Avalon Peninsula was part of the same land mass as northwest Africa. It was during this time that the multi-celled organisms got squished between layers of sedimentary rock and preserved. It is these fossilized organisms that are exposed on the surface of the rocks at Mistaken Point

Here's what UNESCO's website says about the fossils:

"Located on the rugged coastline of the Avalon Peninsula, Mistaken Point and its Extension Ecological Reserves contain the oldest evidence known of early multi-cellular life on the planet. Here, Ediacaran fossils of an age estimated at 560-575 million years have been found in the rocks of two ecological reserves. Thirty species of soft-bodied animals have been preserved in situ by volcanic ash falls that covered the sea floor. Many thousands of complete specimens have been preserved on exposed bedding surfaces, providing the earliest and most complete record known of Ediacaran multi-cellular life. The fossils at Mistaken Point provide a window into the early colonization of the deep-sea floor."

Because of world-wide recognition of the importance of these fossils, visiting Mistaken Point is a little different today than it was when we went six years ago. Hopefully, the following information will help make your adventure there as successful as ours.

First of all, it's best to call ahead (709-438-1011) to ensure there's enough space on a guided tour to the site, as you are no longer permitted to make the trip unaccompanied. Right now, there is one tour daily, seven days a week at 1 p.m.

To meet up with your guide, you pull in to the visitor centre in Portugal Cove South and the guide will lead you in your own vehicle to the trailhead - 14 km in the dirt road - to walk 30 minutes to Watern Cove and view the fossils from a low cliff. It doesn't cost anything to take the guided tour, which accommodates about 15 people daily. The entire tour takes between three and four hours, so expect to spend the afternoon.

The day we went to Mistaken Point, we also visited the Myrick Wireless Interpretation Centre (709-438-2319) near Cape Race light station, which is a replica of the Marconi wireless station which stood on the site and was famous for receiving and relaying distress signals from Titanic in 1912. A new Titanic room was unveiled at the 100th anniversary commemoration of the sinking of the ship and is a must-see. As are the displays outlining the history of the Myricks who manned the Cape Race light for more than 125 years. Cape Race appeared on European maps as early as the 1500s.

"My Dad was a light keeper and my grandfather was a light keeper," says Dave Myrick, who is a wealth of knowledge about the site. "The Myricks have been light keepers at Cape Race from 1872 to 2009 when my cousin Noel had to retire," he says, marking the end of the Myrick legacy. Cape Race is still considered a dangerous area for ships, and there are currently two light keepers who work 28-day shifts there.

There is a fee for the Myrick Wireless Station: $9.05 adults, $6.78 for seniors and post-secondary students, children $5.65 and children under five are free. There's a family rate of $22.60 and it's not capped at two children. Finally, a group of 10 is $6.78 per person, with the 11th free.

We wrapped up our day around the bay with a stop at Chance Cove to show the children the seals. The first seal we saw had no head, but once we got past that, things were great. We then stopped at the Irish Loop Coffee House for supper. While we waited for our fish and chips, we tried to finalize a name for the surprise baby. All six of us put one letter into the pot which we then rearranged to spell - CLOVER. Luckily that was already the name given to our five-foot wooden grizzly bear, so No. 5 was spared a life of mockery.

Due to the timing of the 1 p.m. Mistaken Point tour, I would recommend visiting the Myrick Wireless Station and Cape Race light first and asking if you can meet the guides at the trail head on your way back.

If your Cape Race adventure sees you heading west after Mistaken Point, be sure to stop in to Trepassey for supper and then on to St. Shotts, where you might be lucky enough to glimpse a member of the world's most southerly caribou herd or a whale feeding close to shore at St. Vincent's.

Remember, hikes on the coast may be cooler than inland so pack a windproof jacket and proper hiking shoes. You should also bring water, a snack and binoculars.

And one last thing: no pets are allowed on tours to Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve.

Baking babies however are most welcome.

Susan Flanagan is a journalist whose No. 2 son is dating a descendant of William Hartery of Waterford Country, Ireland, who was the first permanent settler in Portugal Cove South. Susan can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca.


Kent Cottage feedback:

Andrew Crichton, President, Landfall Trust writes: "Well done!! The most well researched news article I have seen about Kent Cottage at Landfall."

Don II writes: "It appears that the people who have opined that Rockwell Kent brought abuse on himself and got what he deserved are advocates of the blame the victim mentality. It appears these people prefer to completely ignore the history of prejudice, bigotry, ignorance, social ostracism and retaliation violence that is an integral part of Newfoundland history and which persists in Newfoundland to this day. It appears that Rockwell Kent's only crime was that he was a foreigner who was different, educated, artistic, sophisticated and outspoken while living in a small provincial coastal village in Newfoundland. It appears that he was subjected to verbal and physical provocation and psychological abuse by people who were less than tolerant toward anyone or anything they did not like or understand. Kent's true feelings about his time in Brigus and in Newfoundland are expressed in the painting entitled "House of Dread." The message communicated in that painting is a sad social commentary indeed. Regrettably, 100 years later, not much has changed. It appears that anyone who chooses to live in some so-called quaint coastal villages in Newfoundland and who expresses ideas, opinions or lives a lifestyle that is not acceptable to the norms of the local people, must be prepared to endure abuse. It appears that the preferred methods to encourage assimilation or to instigate 'voluntary' expulsion of the foreigner begins with the local town council which can be prevailed upon to deny permits, issue stop work orders, impose high taxes, refuse service, 'put him in Court' or ignore all requests relative to the foreigner. If that abuse of power proves not sufficient to drive the stranger out, and if he resists hints to conform or leave, he must be prepared to suffer the breakage of the windows of his house, the open threats to 'burn ya out,' the slashing of his car tires, the scuttling of his boat, the very popular use of the one inch long shingle nails turned sharp side up in his driveway, endure being socially ostracized, physically assaulted or possibly worse!

"It appears that there has been a long history in Newfoundland of some local people, with the help and encouragement of their government, ridding their towns of enlightened, accomplished and ingenious people like Marconi, Rockwell Kent and Farley Mowat and of being totally satisfied with that ruthless behaviour to run these people off. The upcoming celebrations should commemorate the complete history and paint an accurate portrait of the social attitudes that contributed to what happened to Rockwell Kent and his family during their time in Newfoundland, including, as Oliver Cromwell said, the warts and all."

M writes: "Response to Donnie Two Sticks..... Perhaps you shouldn't have settled on the Port au Port Peninsula?"