Backpacking to Petites, Newfoundland

During the last week of April, first week of May, I traveled to Newfoundland to visit Kris  and also20060430_001 do an  exciting backpacking adventure  on the southwest shore of Newfoundland.  Having been to Nfld about 6 years ago, I was eager to go, knowing that the  trip would be  an excellent time.  And that it was.  We had perfect weather throughout — which was a gift — considering the weather there can be  wet and miserable at the best of times.  Anyway, I met up with Kris at the Halifax airport and we eventually made the 5 hr drive to Cape Breton and the 6 hr ferry ride across the Cabot Strait the following day.  After another day of prepping with Kris’ family in Port aux Basques, we prepared to start our hike on Sunday that week. 

A bit of history on our backpacking area and destination.  The plan was to hike to "Petites",  anDsc04237_1
abandoned fishing outport community, located on a peninsula along the southwest coast of Newfoundland.  Petites has a rich history in the area, having been one of the early settlements in Newfoundland (and Canada).  For instance, the construction of the church dates back to the 1830s and is one of the oldest churches in North America.  Petites was home to many different fishers, some of whom were in Kris’ family.  As a result, while with Kris’ family, we heard many stories about the sea, fishing off the coast and general living. 

One of the unique things about Petites is that it is very isolated and when people were there, powerDsc04251_1 was created from two large diesel generators.  Water was drawn from fresh water ponds in the area.  Because Petites is also on a peninsula, approximately 2.5kms (over the sea)
from the nearest communities of Harbour Le Cou and Rose Blanche, travel was not easy for the locals.  The traditional way to get over
to Petites is by boat and it is a short 15 minute boat ride from the nearest community.  No roads lead to Petites, thus making any travel solely by boat.  This also made other aspects of living on Petites difficult and necessities such as supplies, food, doctors, teachers, (etc) had to be brought in by water travel.   The population of Petites reached a highpoint in the 1950s and 1960s with over 300 residents.  Eventually people left the area, and only twelve to fifteen families remained in 2003.

As a result of the remoteness of the area and the ensuing declining population, the people of Petites were moved from the peninsula by the Newfoundland government in 2003.   The20060501_043 government  declared Petites an ‘evacuated community’ and essentially withdrew its support for anyone living there.  They were offered money for their houses and the government ‘bought’ homeowners out of their property, relocating them to other communities.  From there, power was discontinued, powerlines cut, power-poles sawed at the base and houses boarded up.  A village with a rich history was closed, only to remain an attraction for the occasional tourist.   As we would later find out, there are  people still living at the village, however on their own and only during the summer months.  They also must purchase a permit from the Newfoundland government to stay there.

Now, our goal was to reach Petites via land, hiking over the mountains, barrens, valleys, beaches and plateaus, rather than by boat.  As far as Kris and his family had heard, no one had attempted to reach Petites by land.  Many have hiked sections of the barrens, but no one had completed the 36-odd kilometre — half-circle route from Rose Blanche around Bay le Moine to Petites.   Here is a map
that we consulted fairly often along the way.Dsc04239

We started the hike following a dirt road leading in 7 kilometres to a hydrodam.  This was supposed to be our ‘in’ into the barrens, as the road ends at a higher elevation, making gaining the barrens and plateaus with packs much easier.  However, as we would later find out, the road traveled much more northeast that we had liked, creating a longer hike for us on our first day. Dsc04257 Intending to reach ‘the bottom’ or the end of Bay le Moine by the end of Sunday, we soon realized that our day of travel would exceed 20kms.  This was not following a trail, but over the barrens, requiring lots of micro navigating around small stunted growth evergreen trees, called ‘tuckamore’.  These trees  grow in dips and valley areas and usually intertwine tightly with other trees. Other obstacles were marshes, bogs, and of course, ponds.  Our plan was to travel due east from the end of the hydro road, but doing so was quite an undertaking.  After a full day of travel, we reached the top of the hills above Bay le Moine (see photo to the right) and looked at the ‘tuck’ growth between us and the beach.  Needless to say, it took us almost an hour and a half including torn clothing, ripped gear and a broken fishing rod to reach our camping spot near the beachline.  Arriving just before dusk, we ate and headed swiftly to bed.

The following day was much more relaxed.  We misjudged our timing of the tide, so we waited around for a few hours taking photos and exploring the area until the beach was clear of water.  Much of our initial travel relied on a beach walk, but the rocks were not passable until the tide had receded.  So at 2pm, we headed out for a short hour hike across the beach to Brown’s point.  From there, we regained the elevation to reach the top of the barrens yet again, this time heading south toward the Petites peninsula.

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After 6 hours of hiking on top of the plateau, descending endless rocky hill after hill, we reached the outskirts of Petites.  Small houses were visible from afar, yet when we arrived, we did a short survey of the area20060502_050_harbour to find a nice place to bed down for the night.  We surveyed the school house and the church (which we had found out would be open when we arrived) and chose the church.  It was in beautiful shape on the inside and we marveled at its condition as we spread out our bedding along the isle.  It was truly a neat experience to be able to sleep in that church.
We also pondered our options, trying to decided whether we wanted to hike back the way we came or attempt to hire a boat to pick us up.  After some time, we decided we’d try our hand at reaching someone to come out to Petites.  However, Kris’ cell phone had died.

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Dsc04295 When we thought we’d be hiking out, we  found out that there were still people living on the peninsula, as we had encountered them on one of our walkabouts.  After introducing ourselves, they agreed to give us a ride back to Petites and were somewhat surprised that we had hiked overDsc04325 the mountains.  Knowing our ride was confirmed, Kris and I had a good feast that night, enjoying quite a bit of our remaining food. 

The following day, we relaxed along the shore and I tried my hand at fishing.  Tried.  Later, we met up with the Bennett’s for our return boat trip, allowing us to take a few photos from the water.  Quite a neat wrap up to our travels and a good way to wind down the adventure.20060502_091Dsc04306Dsc04336Dsc04283

After getting back to Port aux Basques, the next day we took a short day hike to Brachois Falls, where I promptly ripped my pants.  We also made a trip to the Rose Blanche lighthouse  (mandatory as per Sheena) for some photos.  Our extra day in Nfld was spent enjoying the great hospitality from Kris’ family.  It was an excellent time. 

If you want to meet friendly people, enjoy great scenery and the outdoors,Dsc04342
head to Newfoundland, there’s nothing like it.   I’ve posted some photos from the trip on this post, but Kris has an incredible amount of photos on his own flickr site.  Be sure to check them out.  I’ve used a couple of his panoramas to supplement my collection.

11 thoughts on “Backpacking to Petites, Newfoundland

  1. As far as I know, the church is the oldest wooden protestant church in North America. It was built and maintained by the people of Petites by the selling of one fish a day. Each man would sell his largest fish and donate those monies to a fund.
    You refer to Petites as very isolated. I tend to think of that as a matter of perspective. To me, I see Petites as one of the least isolated out ports, due to it’s proximity to Rose Blanche. I don’t tend to think of Brook Village as very isolated, yet it takes about the same amount of time to get to Mabou as it would to get out of Petites. When the road from Port Aux Basques to Rose Blanche was completed halfway through the last century, I’d argue that isolation became further reduced.
    Your statement regarding ‘travel not being easy for the locals’ I’d also argue. Travel by boat was how they traveled. To us it may seem perilous to travel on the Atlantic at night or in the wind, but our ancestors lived on the ocean, and of the ocean. No sweat. Could you imagine Austin in a little sub-compact car in Calgary rush hour? Talk about not easy 😛
    Great trip though, I’d love to head back someday.

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  2. I have reason to beleive that an ancestor of mine, perhaps, John Petite, first came to this outport. They moved eventually to English Hsrbour West were a few decendants remain. J.(Jerry) Petites and Sons) represent my grandfather and father. They were French Hugounots who came from France via the island of Jersy. They left France in 1697.

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  3. I have always wanted to make a backpacking tour to Newfoundland and I’m going to do it as soon as I can.I am an adventurer type of person and love all kinds of backpacking,canoeing,bungee jumping and want to practice them more often.

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  4. I was very excited to find the account of your trip and the fantastic photos of Petites.
    My great grandfather, Joseph Gaitz Hamilton, was born there in 1859.It was great to see the church where he was baptised and to see what sort of a place it is and read your description of the landscape. I don’t know when Joseph left, but he was married in Melbourne, Australia in 1883. I don’t know anything about his family who I guess remained in Petites.
    Thanks for sharing
    Meredith Quinn

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  5. Thank you for the information on Petites, my great grandfather Ephraim Hann was born there in 1897 and died there on January 23, 1925… thanks again for the insight on my history…Victoria Hann

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  6. Thank you very much for your post. Petites was and is still my hometown. Many, many fond memories and happy times spent in this little community. Truly enjoyed the read and glad you enjoyed your trip.

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  7. enjoyed your story on your travels to my birthplace of petites kris were you related to george griffin he at one time fished with my father william munden thanks again for the memories and pictures

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  8. My Father Lloyd Collins grew up in Petites, I have very fond memories of running around, picking periwrinkles, searching for arrow heads in the nearby cove. I remember that the church was huge and impressive. Its an amazing place.

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  9. My Grandfather – Harry Major – was also born and raised there!
    He moved to Halifax area, worked at the docks – and was a lighthouse keeper on Betty’s Island for about 10 years which is the best memories I have in my life so far, being out there listening to the fog horn all night… the BEST! He and grandmom have both passed now… but those years were the best for all of us and made us better people living isolated (albeit for me not quiet so much) … you appreciate everything more when there’s not a doctor just down the street (as for a 10 year old running along slippery shores even young kids realize having fun you still need to be careful!).
    I wanted to reply to someone (Kris) early in the posts that mentioned how these people grew up on an island and had to be good at boating at night… my granddad would take me to mainland from the island to pick up groceries or something … and in the thickest fogs watch his speed, compass and watch… and more than once I remember being convinced were we LOST – and he’d cut the engine, turn the wheel and reach out into the fog and grab ahold of the dock!!!! Perfect landing every time!
    Naw, he wasn’t afraid of the water or the ocean at all – but could NOT SWIM! and respected it and what was in it as much as I do today!

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