Give em the Slip!

Was reading through some old posts the other day, and seeing mention of my buddy Eric, and also of my Uncle, Larry Leawood, I was reminded of tailing slips.  I think pretty much every young boy has experienced this back home, and likely most continue to do so as long as they can.

For the non Newfoundlander, or perhaps for some of those too, you CFA’s know them as rabbit snares, but they’ll always be rabbit slips to me.  Essentially, they are a loop of wire tailed in a rabbit trail used to catch rabbits for eating.

Back in older days, slips were always made out of this…. braided? not sure the right term right now, but was made up of many many filaments, and was nearly impossible, for me anyway, to keep it in a loop shape without it twisting.  I still remember buying it, and the newer aluminum? wire at Handy Andy’s back in the day. Part of the fun I think was interacting with Stan and Dennis, but you could buy the wire and the licence nearly anywhere.

I also remember playing with the old filamented wire on the old flashlight batteries, and having the little ends glow red hot, but I digress.

Often times, you could tell who owned a slip in the woods, just by looking at it, as they were often as unique as the person who tailed them.  Uncle Larry for example always tied his on with a granny knot, while others made their loops in slightly different ways or shapes.  You’d often see them tailed in the same rabbit run year after year, and others you’d see someone make a spot to tow the rabbits, chopping down some tasty young birch and making a run of your own to tail your slip in.

This wasn’t done for fun, though it can be fun too, but rabbits were and are a big addition to the winter food store.  And quite tasty to boot, I’d like to have a freezer full right now!

Alliterative Camping

From what I can find out, on August 4th, 1995, Bon Jovi played in Grand Falls, Newfoundland.  It apparently wasn’t a Salmon Festival concert, but in any event, Eric and I attended and made it the starting point for a cross Newfoundland camping trip that I encourage everyone to try sometime.

We made our way to Grand Falls/Windsor arriving sometime that morning, and scoping out where to park, and the campsite locations.  We set up our tent, got everything straightened away and headed to the all day concert.  I forget who all the opeining acts were, but I do remember Ray Lyle and the Storm being one of them, singing their hit Another Man’s Gun. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w8q40IsrUI

Bon Jovi took the stage later on, and at first a lot of didn’t realize it was them as they opened with two Neil Young songs, the first, if I recall correctly, being Keep on Rocking in the Free World.  I will always remember one of the funniest things I have ever seen was Roger Avery, being pretty drunk, wandering around the field, with his back arched, hat askew, looking for all the world like Bernie from Weekend at Bernies.  I have to admit to being a little paniced once the concert was over as well, I could not find Eric anywhere, and I was designated driver, had no idea where he had gotten to.  Someone, I think Julie, told me she had seen him get on the shuttle bus to the campground, so I had no choice but to head back there.  Of course that area was full of a large portion of the 25000 concert goers and I had no luck finding him that night. After getting a couple hours sleep, I got up and started to see about what to do with my day and figured I’d look again for Eric, not holding out a lot of hope, as it was still relatively early.  Walking down the road, what do I see coming up the road, but him, beer bottle in hand, after having crashed somewhere.  From there, we got some breakfast and packed up, and started on the next leg of our trip.

We drove nearly across the island that day, and took the Burgeo highway down to the town of Burgeo.  Apparently there was a big caribou herd out that way, and few moose.  Of course you can guess from that which we saw and didn’t see.  In Burgeo or nearby is Sandbanks Provincial Park, a hidden treasure of golden long beaches, with warm water hidden in our cold north Atlantic.  If you’ve never been, I really recommend it!  We stayed two nights there I think it was, enjoying the beautiful scenery.  The island of Ramea is nearby as well, and I would love to have been able to make a trip over there as well.  Unfortunately, as with much of my days those days, I was short of cash, and relied a lot on Eric, so a lot of things I’d like to have done didn’t get done.

We drove from Burgeo to Stephenville, and from there out to the Port Au Port peninsula, where we saw many interesting things.  Such as a beef bucket used as a mail box.  We set up camp for that one night, with original plans for more at Piccadilly Provincial Park.  For whatever reason, after 18 years I’ve forgotten why, whether too many flies, or just a general mutual dislike of the place, Eric and I both decided first thing the following morning to “get the hell out of here”! On the way, we debated on a way to blow up the isthmus and set the peninsula adrift, but we were, alas, short of explosives.

Now for those that don’t know, these jaunts weren’t like an hours drive at a time or anything, we were looking at all day’s driving, and this day was as much so or more.  We drove from Stephenville to Deer Lake and made our way up the Great Northern Peninsula, with a few photo stops, such as the beautiful arches.  I can’t recall for sure if it was on the way up, or back, but we also made a trip out to Roddickton, and also caught the Labrador Ferry from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon, taking our picture with the welcome to Quebec sign, (tho not sure where that photo is) and making sure to call Lindy Smith collect (of course) before catching the return ferry.

That leg of our trip prompted Eric to write, as best I know, on the spur of the moment, “Poor Peter, pretty pissed with perverted people in Piccadilly Provincial Park on port au port peninsula picked a pleasant passage to Pistolet Bay provincial park passing parsons pond and plum point pretty promptly!”

We stayed that night in Pistolet Bay, and perhaps another I forget, but exploring St. Anthony a little, and visiting Griquet and Cape Onion.  The morning of our departure, we both decided it was time to return home, and we got packed up, and drove from near St. Anthony all the way back home to Random Island, a distance of if I remember correctly over 1200 kilometers in one day.

While broke, and unable to enjoy as much as I’d like, it was an amazing trip, and a great opportunity to see much of the whole province.  Some say I’d like to add a few of the missing places to my itinerary and do the Gander Bay Loop and the Irish Loop on the Avalon Peninsula.

If the lightning doesn’t get them!

The oldfolks would say, there’ll be lots of bakeapples if the lightning don’t get em!  July, whether there’s any truth to it or not, or just superstition or coincidence, is an important month in determining the yield of some berries.  Obviously a late frost is likely to kill the young forming berries, but we also used to say a lightning storm would kill the bakeapples (a topic for another post) before they could ripen.  Whether there’s any scientific basis for this, or why it seems to be true I don’t know.

One thing that did seem to be true though was that the yield of dewberries, also known as plumboys, seemed to be an indicator of how many bakeapples you’d get.

That was kind of irrelevant to the kid me, and possibly still would be to the adult me if I were anywhere to get some of these!  These wonderful little berries used to grow around our fence, and on the side of the old school garden path. While we never picked them to make a jam or jelly, I’ve spent many an hour hunting them out and staining my hands with their delicious red juice.  Looking similar to a raspberry, with a little seed in each nodule, they were more translucent in coloring, and would darken to a deep wine color with a ton of juice for their size.

Rubus arciicus - Dewberry

Rubus arciicus – Dewberry

They too seemed to have some sort of reverse affinity with lightning though.  If there happened to be a local lightning storm when they were ripening, the yield always seemed lower.  Again for whatever reason, even if it was just the power of suggestion in out minds, I can’t say.

In any event, I hope the lightning doesn’t get them, and someone mails me up a few hundred thousand!

Rolling on the beach

Caplin-1280Its not the Adele song, its the caplin spawn! About this time of year we start to see caplin coming ashore on the beaches to spawn.  Back when I was younger they’d come further up the sound than now, and we’d see tons of them up in Apsey Brook.  Didn’t see that as often at least up until I moved away.

I think that’s mainly because when I was a lad, there was really no commercial use for them.  People caught them for food and that was about it, but later on, their roe became popular with the Japanese market, and a large commercial fishery took off.

These small smelt like fish would teem near shore and we’d go down and pick them up in dip nets, five gallon buckets, and cast nets, getting tons and tons.

Cast Net


Some we’d eat fresh, though I was never fond of them this way, but the majority we’d salt and sun dry or smoke.  A common site was to see caplin racks like those pictured all over the island, caplin hung on them, pierced through the eye, to dry. For me, one of my favorite things to eat is a dried smoked caplin, its almost like fish jerky!  Or dare I say it, fish bacon! So delicious!

Commercially, they were also a good way for us younger folks to make a few extra dollars, as the plants would pay us to pick the males from the females. Males were used for fish meal, food, or what have you, while the females were milked for the roe.

Not sure the caplin racks are very common anymore now, or how many we see rolling on the beach, but I’m sure people still call the damp foggy days in late June caplin weather.

I think now I’m going to have to head out and find some caplin, still see some smoked ones from Golden Shell fisheries in the stores here sometimes!


One dark night, early in the morning, 3 hungover lads got up to hunt….

Well that’s not quite the way the old rhyme goes, but my version suits the story more.  In the fall of 1995, I had a caribou license for up in back of Terra Nova/Gambo area.  Myself and Eric had decided we were going to go hunting over the weekend, but like young gaffers do, we had been to a bonfire the night before till late. I did manage to get myself home for a few hours sleep, I can’t say if Eric did or not.  But I know the third member of our expedition did sleep, even if only for a little.  I know this because when I drove up to pick up Eric at about half past 3 or 4 o’clock, all I could see were feet laying on the edge of the pavement.  At first I thought it was Eric, but nope, it was Rod in all his glory sprawled out on the ground.  I know he did it for devilment, but if he tries to say he didn’t at least pass out for a little while he shootin something, and its not caribou!

With that the trio was formed, and off we went.  We drove my dad’s old GM Sierra pickup first up to Terra Nova area.  Not being familiar with the area, we really just drove around the back roads.  At some point Rod had to make use of a tree, and for whatever reason also changed his jeans.  This latter point will relate to the story, but you gotta stay patient!

We decided to give up on the Terra Nova area, and instead made for what we, at least, called Mint Brook road.  This is off the highway near Gambo, and goes winding all over the back country. I believe it can even take you down to the south coast if you know the way.  Anyway we drove and drove, till according to the truck odometer we weer about 65 miles up in the woods.  And of course what should happen? Well the exhaust let go on the truck.

Luckily we had some old wire in the back, and we stopped and got it wired up somehow.  I know there’s a picture somewhere of me laying under the truck doing it.  Good to go once again, at some point we pulled off for a lunch.  And what should we see, 65 miles up in the woods, but crab legs!  Yes somehow, whether by birds, or people having a meal, there were old crab leg shells in a turnaround.  Being frustrated with the lack of caribou, I know we took a picture of Rod pretending to shoot them.

I seem to remember seeing one caribou way off, but maybe that was on a different trip, because I also seem to remember us not seeing anything alive except a beaver, and then debating whether we should shoot it!  If we thought we could get it out and that it was fit to eat, we probably would have.

Giving up on the hunting, we drove back out of the woods, and made an excursion to Glovertown.  I am not certain, but I believe it was somewhere near here we saw a “Taxidermy and Take-Out”.  I kid you not.  We decided against trying the take-out, figuring since it was also a taxidermy, we weren’t sure we’d want to eat what they were cooking.

At some point during our many wanderings, Rod thought for some reason he had left his other jeans back near Terra Nova. He kept telling me to “git” back there to pick them up.  That and him jabbing his finger in the direction of the road had me in tears laughing.  (not to be confused with the tears shed from, well lets just say the gas from too many beer the night before).

I know we were going around for weeks after saying “Git!”  It still brings a laugh to me now.


Waking up the camp

After a late night at the bonfire at Rickman’s Harbour Pond, with many a beverage in hand, Eric and I are usually the first to stir.  Always a morning person, no matter how late the night, I am usually awake with the dawn.  Its May 2-4 weekend, Victoria Day, probably the biggest party weekend of the year back home, and for quite a number of years, we always made our way to Elvis’ cabin for it.  We get the naphtha in the old Coleman stove and start pumping it up, while someone else heads to the pond for a kettle full of water.  Firing up the stove we get the kettle on and the frying pan too, and soon the scent of bacon is wafting around the place, causing the rest of the crew to stir.

Big heads require a beer to start the morning, a hair of the dog, to help cure the hangovers, that and a nice greasy plate of bacon, toast and coffee get us started for the day.  The sun is shining, unusual for May 2-4 to be honest, but its about 2 degrees Celsius outside, and we got about an inch of snow over night.  Doesn’t matter, the few of us who actually want to trout pack up or rods, tackle and baskets and make our way to catch lunch before the partying starts again.

We laugh about Junior and the beer box on his head, him swearing the whole time it was me.  We make fun of Kendall and Jamie singing the wrong lyrics to Lightning Crashes at the top of their lungs the night before.  We laugh at me lighting the barrel on fire with white gas and singing my eyebrows when I thought it was barbecue starter.  Its a ritual, a rite of passage, and all good natured.  We drive that back road, stopping at ponds we can reach easily, and catch a few trout.  Of course Eric catches more than anyone else as usual.

Back for lunch, pork fat in the pan, trout coated in flour we make our lunch, while the barbecue goes outside stacked full of hot dogs, hamburgers, steak, and everything you can imagine. Lunch over, beer in hand, we start visiting everyone else’s camp sites.  Its like Christmas visits, and part of the event. Moonshine and drinks are shared.  Everyone has a slight glow for the day.

Its friendships, events, memories created that last a lifetime. Its the 24th of May and we likes to get away.

The Scariest Thing in the Woods

Newfoundland is lucky in both our variety of wildlife and our lack of wildlife at the same time.  Being an island, a lot of mainland species aren’t, or at least weren’t present on the island till introduced.  The common squirrel (ie: a rat with a furry tail) was totally unknown to me growing up and I think I saw my first one in the early 80’s.  I also never saw a snake, porcupine, deer, or skunk till I visited the mainland.

Yet we do have a variety of animals, some very large, some quite small.  Random Island was at one time over populated with moose.  I remember one drive to work at the Holiday Inn in Clarenville, I saw 19. I also remember a bike road home at about 10 or 11 pm, and having to drive one out of the road near Cooper’s Brook on the Apsey Brook road. I hear bears are getting pretty common too now, and while they were there when I grew up, I only saw one.  We had a few caribou, but again only saw one of those.

Smaller than these we had tons of mink, otters, beaver, muskrats, and even the teensy shrew.  Yet none of these gave us a scare when walking in the woods, except in rare instances, we left each other alone.

But there was one thing, one not so large thing, that would send your heart to racing, and make you jump about 50 feet when you encountered it.  Yes, there was nothing any more frightening than when you flushed a snipe.  These little birds were so well camouflaged you could nearly step on them, and when you did, they flew up in your face, making a sound like all the banshees of hell had been released.

Beware the snipe!

The “Salmon”

One of my and my best friend Eric’s favorite past times is trouting.  When I still lived back home, we’d often head off for a day around the ponds as I’ve mentioned in other posts.  But we weren’t always in the mood to walk for an extended time to a pond, so sometimes we’d just pack up the car and drive to some easier location.

Generally brook trout are pasty and white fleshed and not very good eating.  There are exceptions though, and one of these was Ryder’s Brook, just past George’s Brook, on the road to Harcourt.  There we could get some nice eating trout, and if you were lucky a salt water trout as well, which were extremely tasty.  Years back the road looped in around the brook to a narrower location, but sometime more recently the road was straightened, and a new bridge added.  This old section of road, and the old bridge remnants offered an ideal spot to pull off the road and pools and eddies to fish in.

One Sunday Eric and I decided to head over, and while the trout weren’t plentiful, we were getting a few.  After a while Eric hooked into something unusual, it fought hard and took a bit of work to get it ashore without breaking the line. We got it in and looked at it, and while neither of us were experts as we didn’t really do any fly fishing, though I think Eric may now, we both agreed it must be a small salmon.

Well the problem with that, is that Salmon are regulated, and catching one the way we did carried a heavy fine, and more.  But there was also no way we were throwing it back, I’m not sure it would have survived anyway.  So we, nervous as cats, got it into the trunk and covered it up. While we’d never been asked before, fish wardens were common in those times, and wouldn’t have been unusual for one to stop us, or drive down to the brook to chat.

We packed up the rest of our gear and took it home to Dad for confirmation or better identification.  Once there, we realized, thankfully, our nervousness had been for naught, as what Eric had hooked was in fact an Arctic Char.  Still a pretty rare catch back in those days, and it also turned out to be a rare good meal.

Painting the boat

In fall of the year, we all pulled our boats up on the beach, and turned them upside down for winter.  Typically this became somewhat of a social event, as one man can’t pull a boat up by himself.  We’d put down some time washed round sticks, and some wet slippery slabs and get a few people on each side and pull it up, and then most people on one side, with a couple on the back to brace it as we’d turn it over onto some supports.  Often we’d pull up several boats at once, and a few beer would be drunk, drank, drinked, whatever the right derivation is, and a few yarns would be told.

Once spring came, preparations began to get the boat in the water again.  This involved scraping the flaked paint off, adding oakum where necessary, and repainting with marine paint.  This chore often fell to the kids of the family, and really wasn’t that hard, nor onerous so, I at least, didn’t mind it.

However paining a boat does involve one piece of knowledge that apparently for one year at least I forgot.  I took the paint and oakum down to the beach, and proceeded to scrape the boat, and give it a nice new white coat of paint.  Dad went down later that day or the next to check on my work, and came back laughing his head off.  I of course asked him what was so funny.  He said “Well you did a good job on the boat! Too bad it was Ralph’s!”

While Dad is gone now, he never let me forget that, nor will Eric I’m sure, as its his favorite story.  Maybe someday I’ll get a boat back home and Vince can return the favour!  Miss you Dad, and Ralph too!


Random Island Industry

UPDATE: Just found a link with some history of the Milton Brickyard, and comments on our own at clarenville.newfoundland.ws

Snook's Harbour Brickyard (Photo by Eric Cooper)

Snook’s Harbour Brickyard (Photo by Eric Cooper)

I’m sure many of the younger generation on the island are in the dark about the fact that in past years, there were, if not thriving, at least operating businesses, making use of local products.  Yes, many many people had sawmills and some even operated as a going concern till recently at least, and I’m sure I’ll talk more about mills later.  But back in the early 1900’s up till the early 50’s there were for a time two brickyards on the island, one in Elliott’s Cove and one in Snook’s Harbour.

I remember Dad telling me about his first job being at the brickyard, 10 cents an hour for 10 hour days.  Back in those days the owner was as much your bank as your employer too, Dad also told me the story of wanting a bike, so rather than actually buying it, his boss Uncle At Smith got it for him out of his wages.

The brickyard supplied brick for all the locals, I know our well was lined with brick from Snook’s Harbour, and our chimney was made from it as well.  Looking closely at the picture you can see shards of brick amongst the snow on the shore (yes I know its hard not to look at the view, see how tough we had it scenery wise?).

When I was younger it was easy to find full bricks, maybe slightly imperfect scattered on the shore with the Smith name stamped in them.  I had one as a kind of souvenir in our house back home, wish I had thought to keep it now, those keepsakes mean more as you get older I find. There were also remnants of equipment to be seen.  I’m sure more of this has washed away or grown over over the years.

The Snook’s Harbour brickyard area was also home to some people, I’m not sure it it ever had a name as a community, but there is a small graveyard near there.  I’m sure someone reading can give me more details (and I’ll try to look them up later).  I’ll update this if I ever get info.

View from Brickyard Area (Picture by Eric Cooper)

View from Brickyard Area (Picture by Eric Cooper)

Elliott’s Cove brickyard too had remnants, but were harder to find as that yard closed much earlier.  I’m sure its still worth a visit to the curious or nostalgic though.  Adding another view from the Snook’s Harbour brickyard here, just because.  Enjoy the view, and thanks Eric!