This past weekend, Mrs. Nice, Papa John, the Pie and myself braved the occasional clouds and drove about an hour south of St. John’s to La Manche Provincial Park. For those of you off The Rock, while “la manche” is French for “the sleeve” (and is often used by the French to refer to the English Channel), instead of pronouncing it in French fashion, “la MAHnsh,” you say it Newfie-style: “la MANch.” Just roll with it.
Anyway, La Manche Valley, La Manche River, and the geographical area are teeming with various forms of wildlife and blah blah blah and it’s all very interesting and you can read a bit about it here.
We went on a wee hike to see the river and the waterfall and the lilypads and whatnot and it was all very pretty.
BUT THE COOL PART was trekking along the trail that leads to the abandoned village of La Manche. I don’t have any photos of the trail itself because I needed both hands and my full attention to keep my balance.
But then all of a sudden you’re in a ghost town!
La Manche was originally settled by just one family in the 1840s as a seasonal fishing settlement. For about a hundred years, this isolated little inlet community survived storms and resettlement efforts, fishing through the seasons.
There was a suspension bridge connecting the two sides of the inlet and passing over the waterfall, and a school, post office, and wharves and flakes for drying fish.
The population never went above 55, because La Manche is really hard to get to — hence the efforts at resettlement by the government.
The southern shore doesn’t get a huge amount of storms, in relation to the rest of Newfoundland, but when it does, they’re doozies. High winds and rough seas would often force their way into the inlet, causing damage to the settlement, and often wiping out the suspension bridge connecting the two sides. But of course the hardy folk who lived there rebuilt, every time. As with most small fishing communities in Newfoundland, life wasn’t easy, but they did it.
It all came to a head, though, in 1966, when a particularly vicious storm wiped out the bridge, the wharves, the boats at anchor, and most of the buildings in the tiny village. Surprisingly, nobody died. After that, the inhabitants agreed to be resettled elsewhere. At this point La Manche was converted into a provincial park area and the coastline section was designated as part of the East Coast Trail.
Now all that remains are the foundations of the houses and storage buildings that once were.
It’s an interesting mix of newer concrete-and-rebar slabs built above the older foundations made of hand-hewn slate dragged up from the shore and anchored on solid bedrock.
I think one can safely assume the slate chunks were hauled up from here.
This is the newest incarnation of the suspension bridge, opened in 2000 (they tend to fall down occasionally during storms).
Mrs. Nice flat out refused to set foot on it. She’s that blue dot in the background.
Here was as close as she would get.
For more information about La Manche, you should check out the following:
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Department of Environment and Conservation: La Manche Provincial Park
Memorial University of Newfoundland, Maritime History Archive, Resettlement: La Manche
And, if you wanted to do some more research on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore communities, I have discovered this ROMANCE NOVEL set in La Manche. No, I have not read it. But I kind of feel like I should.