Grand Bruit or “Grand Brute” in Newfoundland speak, is a beautiful town named for the large waterfall that cascades through the center. Most places along the South Coast have french names with Anglicized pronunciations. Some places have also informally reverted to the spellings indicated on the 1790’s charts made by James Cook, who could not spell in French, on his expedition along this coast.
We arrived in Grand Bruit to a welcoming party of Joe Billard, cousin of Winston who we met in Rose Blanche. In Rose Blanche Winston & Verna had given us a list of relatives who would be in Grand Bruit, as they unfortunately could not join us there. Joe, difficult to understand, but a great character, soon had us up on the history and goings-on of the small community. Joe is a character to be met, and if you ever visit Grand Bruit in the summer it is likely he will be around. Using bottle return money he founded the “Crammalot Inn,” a meeting and gathering place for those who come to Grand Bruit where many parties and good times were had. It is the best name for an Inn I have ever heard.
Settled in the 1830’s year round, Grand Bruit was resettled in 2010 and is no longer considered a town in the governments eyes. The Government of Newfoundland is actively trying to close down all outport (ie ferry linked) communities along this coast and Grand Bruit was the most recent to go. As sad as the people were to to leave, the time to go had come to leave as the winter population was down to around 14. How people could live here through the winter, in isolation along this desolate, cold, snowy coast, is a feat. People stocked massive quantities of wood from nearby bays, canned and dried food for their winter supply, and rotated visiting each others houses for company. At its height, in 1945, Grand Bruit boasted 239 people. The population slowly diminished from there, as fishing became more scares and the younger generations left for work. Eventually there were no longer any children, and the school closed in the early 2000’s. Without a population to support it, the only store then closed. With resources reduced and the population getting even smaller, staying over winter became more perilous and the government was consulted. To close a community the residents have a vote, where 90% must agree to leave. Following that the government comes in, gives them a payout, and cuts off services. In Grand Bruit’s case this meant cutting the power lines and halting the ferry.
In shutting the town however residents were given the option to lease their house for 5 years. After that they aren’t sure, but it isn’t as if anyone is around to tell them to leave. With a lease some residents, like Joe, come back for the summer. We also met Gord Farrell, brother of Verna, who still lobster fishes out of the port. When he and his wife Linda first relocated to Port-Aux-Basques he tried fishing there for a year, but without the local knowledge, and more competition, he went back to fish out of Grand Bruit in familiar waters. This meant getting to Grand Bruit by snowmobile in late April, and living alone, or in the company of Joe. Joe was also a lobster fisherman but sold his license to the government and burnt all his traps this past winter. With Gord retiring and Linda near retirement, they can now spend summers enjoying Grand Bruit, as well as hunting and fishing the area with their kids and grand children.
The community of Grand Bruit was our first introduction to an outport, and despite some rundown houses, quite a few are still maintained and used periodically by the former residents, making the town still seem alive. The grass is a little long and the trails no longer as clear as they once were, but the love of the people toward this place is undeniable.
While in Grand Bruit we did a beautiful hike up into the Grand Bruit Highlands, also known as the Blue Hills. It was a nice overcast day and the moose have kept the trail up. Wooden stakes also mark the way where the moose have failed. We went beyond the trail end to get our first view of the magnificent plateau of granite that makes up the highlands of Newfoundland. Small lakes dot the landscape and waterfalls link one pool to the next and eventually to the ocean. Another hiking trail goes along the coast to the Sandbanks, a beach dune area to the east of Grand Bruit.
We spent our last night in town at Joe’s house, in the company of Joe, Linda, Sheila and Jerry and Lois and Jim; all relatives and friends back to spend time fishing, hiking, berry picking and enjoying summer in Grand Bruit. They spoke of old times growing up in the area, and were instant friends. Sheila, spoke of the fish merchants, who never really paid for the fish, as she remembers it. They would come to town, pick up the fish, write on a paper “$5,” like an IOU. This was then taken to the store and whatever they bought was subtracted. She didn’t know if anyone ever saw a real cent for anything that was bought or sold. But, they were happy she said.
The life here is and was so different from my own upbringing, and that of everyone I know. I am amazed by the resilience of the people in these isolated communities to continue their lives despite seemingly getting the short end of the stick with regards to fisheries regulation and community support. These non-disgruntled people have lived a hard, barren life but are happy with family, friends and a great place to come back to. I can sincerely say that we are lucky to have met the folks here as well as Winston and Verna in Rose Blanche. They are truly the most warmhearted people you will find.