The two large windows in the front of the little post office gave me a great view of the copper colored kelp spreading out from the little causeway into the deeper water. The postmaster remarked on how low the tide was today, and we all agreed it must be the extreme tide of the full moon. I had left my house to do a few errands and now, half an hour later, I was still only two minutes from my house, but at least I had the mail. Running into two ladies I knew, then joining a ‘tailgate’ conference as I call it, that one of the women s’ husbands was involved in, exchanging news of the day, and of course the inevitable remarks regarding the weather were shared all around. As I gazed over at the wharf through the large window I wondered out loud if the ‘Vegetable lady’ was over there today. The postmaster confirmed that she was and then advising me to ” be careful, Nanny Lowe!” which always brought a chuckle as I was adjusting to being a new grandmother, he bid me good day and off I went to the Vegetable truck. Not too many there now, I thought, so a good time to pick up my necessities.
As I walked up to her she asked “Where’s your husband lately?” That caused me to go into explaining that the boat was docked in another place and so she didn’t see him at the wharf as much now. She told me about her sore hands, I told her what cream I used, stashed my fresh produce in the car and left, an hour and a half has passed by now. But there’s a reason for this you see, it is because I live in a little community tucked up in the bottom of Trinity Bay called Shoal Harbor. It joined Clarenville in 1994 but ask anyone around and if they are from Shoal Harbor, then that is what they will tell you, not Clarenville, the adjustment has not been made quite yet. This little community has a population of approximately fifteen hundred people, (combined with the Clarenville population there are fifty three hundred people in total. Shoal Harbor has two small grocery stores, a church, post office, municipal building, two furniture stores, a gas station, an iron works company, a winery, a funeral home, a fly-in charter service, a locksmith shop, a garden nursery business and two recreational vehicle sales businesses, plus a recreational vehicle and small engine repair shop. It also has a long history of being linked to the Newfoundland Railway, and also people worked at the Hardwoods plant in Clarenville. It has just the right mix of people to make life interesting, characters who can bring a laugh on the worst of days. It is small enough that the local people know me even if I don’t know them, for you see, it is I who am the ‘newcomer’. But anybody who knows the Lowe family knows me from our frequent vacations, and they know and appreciate the fact that I love this little town. Shoal Harbor has a big heart, and people with concern for others, and they show it. It is a little place but it is an anchor in the lives of its’ people.bjlowe2
Two years ago my husband and I returned to Shoal Harbor to retire. He is a Lowe, a descendant of one of the founding families of Shoal Harbor. For thirty-five years we were away, but the pull for Shoal Harbor brought us home. Shoal Harbor has changed quite a bit since that day in 1967 when my husband first brought me to visit his parents. The fishery didn’t affect this community as much as the decline of the railway, and eventually the loss of it completely. It was then that the winds of change started to blow over Shoal Harbor, and it has been evolving and changing ever since then.
Let me take you on a tour through our little town. For me the day starts with sitting and looking out the big windows of our house onto golden and orange leaves falling now, pumpkins sitting on a rock, and the birds pushing and shoving to get a good seat on the feeders that I keep filled for them. All seems well so we can start our tour. We will drive to the gas station at the top of ‘Milton Hill’ as it is called, because our town ends there and Milton begins. A building supply and furniture store, with an adjoining convenience store and hair dressers shop complete the picture here. Always a beehive of activity usually, and generally one meets someone they know and a yarn begins. Then we turn back, down past well kept lawns, lovely hanging baskets, and occasional yard sale signs. The sea is always visible on the left driving down through and one can see Random Island and a small boat can be seen making its’ way to Smith Sound, going under the ‘bar’ or causeway, that connects Random Island to the mainland.
Along the route there are small businesses, then a large business with a parking lot full of trailers, snowmobiles, seadoos and all sorts of outdoor equipment. The lane to our house is just beyond that parking lot. Further along there are more carefully for properties, a little lighthouse sits on one lawn, and a windmill to swirl in the breeze for effect. A little convenience store comes into view, and just down the road is a furniture store that at one time was a school, then down from the store is a fenced in a playground with usually several brightly clad children enjoying their playground by the sea, with their caretakers watching over them. Further along are a Municipal Building, and Post Office and next to the Post Office is a beautifully kept United Church with the Graveyard on the hill beyond it. A graveyard where one can see the headstones with the familiar names of Mills, Ploughman, Clench, Lowe, Tilley, Tuck, Wiseman, Mills, and other ancestors who have walked here before us. Houses are springing up everywhere. Further in the road is the elementary school with its’ recess time music of the children’s voices. The road will take you up and around the cove, past Shoal Harbor River, always gorgeous, and up around the bend some beautiful big trees, lovely homes, and if you are still you can hear the call of the blue jay and the rushing of the river. This road will take you down to the wharf and the end of Shoal Harbor as it gives way to Clarenville, to the wharf where the lovely lady sells her produce. Otherwise you can drive straight over the causeway and come to the same place, the wharf where a small boat named ‘Misty Sue’ sits on her collar, with other little Newfoundland boats keeping her company.
bjlowe3In summer and fall, people are walking, chatting, their dogs on a leash and straining to chase the seagulls. One seagull has laid claim to a rock and at a low tide he looks like a mighty ruler, sitting on a granite throne surrounded by golden seaweed. The sandpipers dash to and fro on the shore and an occasional kingfisher dives for his prey. In the winter we have geese that stay and slip and slide around on the ice, but they stay. They leave in summer and come back in late fall. It is considered a strange phenomenon these geese, but that is what they do, and in winter one can find people feeding them from the shoreline. Shoal Harbor is in fact a Canada Goose Sanctuary, and proud of it.
Lines of freshly laundered clothes hang out to dry, a clothesline of salt fish hanging on a line in the sun looks wonderful, and the tricycles of the preschoolers can be seen here and there, and usually the children wear their helmets now. I often see things that are reminders of days gone by but at the same time it is a community where most of us have e-mail addresses, and send messages back and forth in the way of the twenty-first century. But it is still a place where a man can find, always, a few people to help haul his boat up on the point, where the minister and postmaster know your names and the names of your children, where people call my husband by his given name while I use a nickname, and it causes a chuckle many a time.
We have had our tour, come for coffee? Small community isn’t it? But who left the bag of tomatoes on the doorstep, who came and plowed the snow when it was necessary, who called when they wanted a nice photo taken of their skidoo, the people who live here and share with us, that’s who, a nice touch to life. We sit over coffee in my sun room and look down past the colorful trees and see an enormous barge of wood coming into Clarenville, and the binoculars come out, yes, it looks like a moving island! How do they do it? And, no, you will not hear a lawn mower start on Sunday morning until church is through, until people are out walking the trail of the old railway bed, the dogs are barking as their owners throw bright orange balls for them, and the boys have their bikes out. Shoal Harbor has changed, and is changing constantly. But the change is not all bad, because to move ahead requires change and the people know that.
My husband arrives from his foray into the woods, cutting firewood, takes a look over at the barge, asks if the Flicker woodpecker was here today, he says he saw his friend at the garage, and was told that one of the community elders was very ill. We all know the lovely man and are sad about his poor health. Come back and visit us again. The tea and craft sales will start soon and the church ladies will be all decked out and looking wonderful, making tea, serving cookies, and admiring the crafts and preserves. The geese will be in the harbor, and people will welcome you back as will the honking geese.
Yes, you have visited Shoal Harbor, as I did for many, many years, but now I am not visiting, I am home. This little shoal water harbor, tucked up in Trinity Bay has brought me home to stay. You’ll be welcome if you come back, I’ll be here, and so will Shoal Harbor and if you have time I will show you the Trout Hole, a deep hole further up the river where the children always like to swim, and maybe take you to some other secret little beautiful places as well.
And if you have enough time we can share some stories of the days gone by, the antics of the now fifty-plus age groups, and the stories they remember from their younger days here. Folklore is everywhere, and is just as interesting as Shoal Harbor itself. A little community that has stood the test of time, and has a beauty that continues to overwhelm, and a character that you can feel in the air. Shoal Harbor is moving into the twenty-first century with its’ head up, looking forward to the future with a genuine belief that although things change, some things can remain the same. For me it is ‘Home’, and to be here is a dream come true.