A Day in La Manche

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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.

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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.

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We went on a wee hike to see the river and the waterfall and the lilypads and whatnot and it was all very pretty.

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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!

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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.

c. 1900, from Newfoundland Salt Fisheries
c. 1960s, from East of Eden
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Taken Saturday (2013).

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.

One of the more original suspension bridges, c. 1952

The population never went above 55, because La Manche is really hard to get to — hence the efforts at resettlement by the government.

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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.

La Manche Rock, c. 1930 from MUN MHA.
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La Manche Rock, c. Saturday. It’s quite large.

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.

c. mid-1960s, from Geocaching.com

Now all that remains are the foundations of the houses and storage buildings that once were.

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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.

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I think one can safely assume the slate chunks were hauled up from here.

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This is the newest incarnation of the suspension bridge, opened in 2000 (they tend to fall down occasionally during storms).

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Mrs. Nice flat out refused to set foot on it. She’s that blue dot in the background.

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Here was as close as she would get.

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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.

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On Top of Mount Scio

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On Thanksgiving weekend, the Pie and I decided to take a hike to somewhere we’d never been.  St. John’s has an extensive concourse trail system and in our four years here, we’ve explored a good part of it.  Gren definitely has his favourites, as well.  On this day, though, we left him at home.  He doesn’t have the same energy as he did when he was a puppy, so we knew that he would get tired long before we did.  If you’re ever thinking of getting a dog to encourage you to exercise, don’t get a corgi.  They are so lazy.

Anyway.  We took the Long Pond to Oxen Pond Walk.  One of our regular walks with Gren is the Long Pond walk just behind MUN’s campus, so it was familiar territory.  The trail to Oxen Pond, however, is a bit more of a hike.  In fact, it pretty much goes straight up Mount Scio, which is kind of the backstop for the city.  There are a good many stairs, which my poor battered knees protested before long.  The view once you reach the top of the mountain is pretty epic, though.  You can see all of the North Valley, which is where we live and where Memorial University is.

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You might want to click on the photo above and zoom in on my Flickr page.  MUN campus is in the foreground in the middle, hiding our house, with the Health Sciences Centre and hospital at the left side of the photo. At the centre of the shot you can see the two clock towers of the Catholic Basilica. To the right of that are the red roofs of The Rooms, our museum. On the other side of the Rooms is a giant hill leading downtown, which you can’t see in this picture. The vee of water behind the church and museum is the opening to the Narrows and St. John’s Harbour. The water to the left is Quidi Vidi Lake, which empties into Quidi Vidi Bay. The river that feeds Quidi Vidi Lake, Rennie’s River, actually gets some of its start from tributaries up here on the mountain. And that’s your geography lesson for the day.

From the top, we took the trail along and down a ways until we crossed Mt. Scio Road and entered the MUN Botanical Gardens.  Because we are Memorial students, we got in for free!  Of course, it being October, much of the showy summer foliage has died back, but we spent a good 25 minutes tooling around the edible and medicinal herb gardens, marveling at how people figured out which herbs did what when you ate them or boiled them or steeped them.  This one was of particular interest to me, a long-suffering victim of chronic UTIs.

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Another part of the ornamental garden illustrates the various plants that live in Newfoundland’s climates. Many of these plants adapted well to extremely harsh conditions, and some of the environments in this province have been re-created here. I took a picture of this one because it grows in our backyard (on almost pure gravel) and I can never remember what it’s called.

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Inside a shelter there was also a neat little succulent and cactus garden, with a few flowers thrown in.

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A little of a last hurrah for warmer weather.

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Once through the ornamental garden we finished the trail down to Oxen Pond. We had self-righteously refused to buy duck feed at the admissions desk, because as a rule we try not to feed wild animals. However, as soon as we arrived at the pond we were greeted by some very hungry ducks.

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Who soon called in all their friends.

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From all the way across the pond.

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Eventually we were mobbed and had to leave when they started yelling.

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With angry quacking ringing in our ears we continued along the trail to the fen, admiring the lush moss along the way.

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In the summer in a bog you can see all manner of cool things, like orchids and lady’s slippers and iris and stuff like that. You might remember some of that from our trip to Gros Morne last summer. But most of those flowers have died back by this time of year. What remains, however, are representatives of the province’s official flower: the pitcher plant. I think carnivorous plants are so cool.

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I petted this one (though I probably wasn’t supposed to). Those little hairs are quite soft.

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On the way back, we marveled at some more Leslie damage.

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A moose path leading who knows where.

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And some truly epic fungus.  Here is a small sample.  I don’t know why Newfoundland doesn’t have a booming mushroom industry, considering how damp and dark it is.

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Not to mention this poor tree, which was covered in galls. Galls are reactions to irritants for trees. Like an oyster covers a grain of sand in mineral deposits to make it smooth, a tree grows these bulbous things around stuff like insects and worms and fungus and stuff to protect itself. Neat, huh?

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So even if it wasn’t summer, we still got to see some cool stuff, which we probably would have missed had it been overshadowed by the more ostentatious products of warmer weather.