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Basking in Isolation - Rencontre East

There are no roads or restaurants in Rencontre East, and its residents couldn't be happier

 
The Evening Telegram - IN FOCUS
by JEAN EDWARDS STACEY on Sept 16, 2000

Rencontre East is a Fortune Bay community which is not accessible by road, and where residents said "no" to resettlement to larger, more central locations. You get there by boarding the passenger boat, Northern Seal, in Pool's Cove, Fortune Bay, and taking a roughly one-hour trip across the water.

Heading out, you can look back and see tiny Turnip Cove, where residents were resettled to nearby Pool's Cove in the 1960s. Further out in Fortune Bay, you see the tickle which goes to resettled Bay du Nord. Nearby are three more resettled communities - Doctor's Harbour, Lally's Cove and Corbin's Island. Even further down the bay are resettled Stone's Cove, Anderson's Cove, Hare's Harbour, Chapel Island, Dog Cove and Bay de l'Eau.

At one time, Fortune Bay was filled with dozens of small communities that were home to fishermen and their families. People lived in places up and down Mal Bay and Long Harbour, and all around what's called the bottom of the bay. The communities are now deserted and almost all of the houses have disappeared.

Just before we arrive at Rencontre East, the boat turns left and passes between two islands. Rencontre Island and Mal Bay Island are like sentries guarding the harbour.

Rencontre Island was once the site of a bait depot. Fishing schooners would stop at the depot to load up on bait before heading to the Grand Banks. In 1853, the 30 people recorded living there took 1,260 barrels of herring and sold them as bait to French and American vessels.

The one-way trip from Pool's Cove to Rencontre East takes just over an hour and costs $3.50 per person, half price for seniors and children. For a further $3.50 you can continue on to Bay L'Argent on the Burin Peninsula.

The trip on the Northern Seal is enjoyable, but it would seem to make eminent good sense to have a roll-on ferry accommodating both people and vehicles.

With a roll-on ferry you could drive around all of the communities on the Connaigre Peninsula, then bring your the Burin Peninsula.

On this beautiful July morning, we decide to stay in Rencontre East and catch the coastal boat on its return trip to Pool's Cove later in the afternoon.

Stepping off the boat, you see a sign: "Welcome to Rencontre East. Isolated and loving it."

Immediately on arrival, many of the passengers going on to Bay L'Argent head for Bren's Place, a shop just off the wharf that sells everything from tins of beans to baseball hats. The rush to Bren's is primarily to buy pull tickets and check lotto numbers.

After checking out Bren's, we head left toward a rocky beach piled high with lobster pots. Nestled in a curve of rocky cliff, and accessible by way of a wooden bridge, there's a deserted two-storey house with remnants of green paint still clinging to its weathered clapboard.

Grace Hardy, who was born and raised in Rencontre East, tells us the house was the home of Abner and Rebecca Mullins. She refers to Rebecca as Aunt Becky.

Rencontre East is home to about 200 people. There are no cars or trucks in the community. People travel the gravel roadways by foot or on ATVs. When the coastal boat docks there are always at least half a dozen ATVs on hand to pick up passengers and cargo.

With no road in or out, the only way to get to Rencontre East is by seaplane or boat.

Grace runs a general merchant store, Judy's General Store, which was started by her mother, Eileen Sheppard, and her aunt, Judy Mullins, in the 1960s. She likes the idea that visitors are limited because they can't drive to the community.

"I hope we never get a road," she says. "What people are here now, everyone knows everyone, and come dark we always know who's here."

There is no restaurant in Rencontre East, but Grace arranges that Aunt Margaret Mullins will serve lunch.

Margaret and her husband, Fred, live not far from Grace's shop in a 100-year-old two-storey house that was built by Fred's great-uncle.

The Mullins have five grown daughters and they, like Grace, have no desire for a road to the outside world. Margaret looks on the passenger boat as their road.

For lunch, Margaret serves up a hearty meat soup, accompanied by homemade bread, crackers, cheese and an assortment of homemade jams.

After lunch, we set off to explore the community.

Not far from the Mullins' house, situated on top of a hill, there's a large, wooden church that dominates the community below. Built in 1926, red-roofed St. Stephen's Anglican Church can hold up to 300 people.

The graveyard next to the church has headstones that include the names Coultas, Baker, Sheppard, Kearley, Bullin, Vallis, Keeping, Coffin and Mullins.

As we're leaving the graveyard, we meet a man with a scythe coming to tend the grass. He tells us there's a new graveyard off the road that goes to nearby Rencontre Lake. Following a funeral service at St. Stephen's,
mourners now wait at the bottom of the hill and follow as the casket, loaded on a trailer, is pulled to the graveyard by an ATV.

As we walk along, everyone we pass, including a man who's busily tarring his roof, nods, smiles and says hello. Grace has told us that by the end of the day, everyone in Rencontre East will know who we are and what we're doing there. News of strangers travels fast.

The gravel roads that wind through the community go past well-kept homes, many with gardens bordered by picket fences. A woman driving an ATV stops to offer a ride. We politely refuse and continue our quest towards the far end of Rencontre East.

The point of land here, known as Hartigan's Point, as well as nearby Little Harbour Brook, was home to Rencontre East's Roman Catholics.

The Catholic church, St. Joseph's, is perched atop a hill. The small, wooden structure has nine pews and six windows, three on each side. Statues of Jesus, of Mary and Joseph, and of St Theresa, the "Little Flower," are near the altar.

Across from the church, there's a cemetery where many of the stones are so weathered and worn the names have disappeared. Names you can read on headstones include Oakey, Augot, Hartigan, Clayton and Giovannini.

Humbert Giovannini and his wife Celia (Rielly), who are both in their 80s, live just below the Catholic church. Their house is one Humbert built for his first cousin, Casmir, one of the Giovanninis buried in St. Joseph's graveyard.

Humbert bought the house from Casmir's widow, Margaret. An English nurse who came to Rencontre East and married Casmir, a fisherman, Margaret Giovannini has become known to many people in this province as a result of recitations she's done on radio and television. Following Casmir's death in 1969,
Margaret moved to St. Lawrence, then to St. John's, where she currently resides.

Humbert tells us that the Giovanninis used to operate a merchant store on land near his house. The Hartigans, originally from Ireland, had a herring factory nearby, on Hartigan's Point.

A picture from the 1920s shows the area full of houses, including the large and very impressive Giovannini home which was built by Humbert's grandfather, Enrico. The Giovannini house in Rencontre East is a duplicate of one built in the Burin Peninsula town of St. Lawrence by Enrico's brother.

The story is that in the 1800s, three brothers - Gregory, Celestine and Enrico Giovannini - came to Newfoundland from Lucca, Italy, to seek their fortunes. Gregory and Celestine became merchants in St. Lawrence, Placentia Bay, while Enrico and his Italian wife came to Rencontre East. Enrico, known locally as Henry, established a general merchant's shop as well as two lobster factories, one in Rencontre East, the other in Placentia.

Enrico's business went into decline following his death. Enrico's son, Steve, earned a living fishing. Humbert, Steve's son, worked as a fisherman, a miner in the fluorspar mine in St. Lawrence and as a carpenter.

Peter Cook and his wife, Louise, live near the Giovanninis.

The Cooks, from St. John's, sailed into Little Harbour Brook one summer day and ended up buying a house once owned by a fisherman.

Their house is close to the brook that runs down from Rencontre Lake, a four-mile body of water that empties into Fortune Bay. There used to be a families, the Augots.

We're so fascinated by all the stories in Rencontre East that we practically have to run when we hear the boat's warning whistle.

On board the Northern Seal, pulling out from the wharf, we look back and see the deserted green house on the rocky beach.

We see stages and wharves lining the shore and high above the community, majestic on its hill, is St. Stephen's Church.

As the boat moves further out into Fortune Bay, we can see Hartigan's Point and then into Little Harbour Brook.

If anyone could come and stay in Rencontre East for a while, it would be an absolutely perfect place to write a book.

 

 

This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (October 2000)
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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