Winston and Mummers in L’Anse aux Meadows

We are at the tip of the Northern Peninsula in L’Anse aux Meadows, home of the historic Viking settlement. After two days we still haven’t had a chance to go and see what this area is famous for. Yesterday was rain and tomorrow is predicted rain but we will see the sod huts and the Visitor Centre before we leave no matter what. We may leave the area tomorrow or we may choose to just stay in comfort when it is raining outside. Because we aren’t in a campground, just parked where the road ends, we have no-one to report to and no-one to ask permission from. Life is grand.

We did manage to fit in a couple of walks. We were told that the biting bugs didn’t cross the water from Labrador to Newfoundland very often. Luckily this appears to be true. The terrain here changes very rapidly. Earlier today we were walking over barren rocks with very little growth anywhere. Five minutes drive down the road and we were walking in a lush green area. Tonight we had supper in a small restaurant that has local music once a week. Two men played the guitar and accordion (French accordion I think) and sang. It was very entertaining. While they were singing we had a visit from the a group of people dressed up in weird costumes with men as women and women as men. These were the Mummers. Mummering is a tradition that was brought to Newfoundland from Rome and then Great Britain. The tradition actually has quite a violent history but today Mummering is largely a fun Christmas time tradition found mainly in rural Newfoundland. For the 12 days of Christmas people will dress up to keep their identity hidden and go from house to house playing their instruments, singing and dancing. Each host and hostess is expected to give food and drink (grog) to the Mummers. In our case these people in strange costumes came out and got the audience up dancing with them. It was all good fun.

Mike and I have had a bunch of questions about things that we have seen that we wanted to ask somebody local when we had a chance. Things like the huge piles of cut wood that we see everywhere, in areas where there is no wood growing of that size anywhere to be seen. Where does it come from and what is it doing at the side of a public highway. There are small garden plots just off the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere, what are they doing there and who do they belong to. Well in the spirit of friendly Newfoundlanders we got our answers to these questions and many more.

When we drove to the end of this road in L’Anse aux Meadows we set up our RV for the night. We saw the gentleman who lived in the last house on the road across from where we were parked. We walked over and asked if he minded us being right across the street from him and possibly blocking some of his view. His name was Winston and he assured us that it was fine. Later that evening when Mike and I were reading our books (electronic) in the RV we heard a knock on the door and Winston had come to visit. He is in his mid 70s and is a retired fisherman with a great knowledge of all sorts of things including government rules and regs and also answers to the many questions we had. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information below but here are some of the interesting facts that we learned from Winston. This all happened last night. Tonight we had a knock on the door again and it was Winston. In his hand were two large packages of moose steaks. Yesterday evening we had mentioned that we had never eaten moose, so he had taken it upon himself to bring us some. How nice people are. Winston says that he gets the appropriate permits and hunts for moose, caribou, duck, seals and of course fish at various times in the year. He also has a vegetable garden and is still extremely active even after some major injuries incurred during both moose hunting and fishing. Here is some of the information that we gathered during the two visits.

The wood at the side of the road has been cut from crown land often 4 – 8 kilometres off the highway. It costs $21 annually to get a permit to cut 8 full cords of wood which should be more than sufficient to heat a family home for the winter. The cost might be low but the effort to get to the wood, cut it and transport it to the edge of the highway and eventually to your home is significant. All the piles of wood have a permit number on them and every so often someone from the government comes by and uses a tape measure to verify that no more than 8 cords have been cut on one permit.

The land around here is extremely rocky and many people can’t plant a garden in their yards. They just check along the side of the highway until they find somewhere with suitable soil conditions and plant a garden. Apparently the government said they were going to charge for this at one point but the people held a small “rebellion” and won and they now have their gardens wherever they will grow. These garden plots are generally fenced so that moose won’t eat the vegetables. Many of these garden plots are several kilometers from any home.

People are allowed to catch up to 5 cod per person per day, maximum 15 cod per boat. This is allowed for 42 days during the summer which includes most weekends and a few complete weeks. It seems to me that most of these rules are designed to allow people to catch/cut what they can use for personal use.

A lot of people here have remote cottages or cabins. Again these are on crown land. People pay $200 per year to lease 1 acre. They build their own cabin but have no absolute guarantee that the government won’t want to do something else with the land in which case they would have to leave. These cabins are often only skidoo or boat access.

RaleighWhat I found most fascinating were the stories about Winston’s own family. They have lived in L’Anse aux Meadows for generations. Winston bought his land from his parents. At that time there was no Parks Canada in the area. Winston’s house and his neighbour’s homes are all inside what is now a UNESCO historic site owned and managed by Parks Canada. Generations ago the locals built here and had basically squatter’s rights to their property. Apparently Park’s Canada wanted these people to leave their homes and fishing docks. Winston and others took their complaints up the chain eventually getting to Ottawa. They were given the rights to stay on the land until they died. Winston complained about this and said that he should be able to leave his land to his children and their children. In what sounds like a bit of a compromise the government has given Winston a “grant” that allows him, his wife and the next generation rights to stay here. I don’t think it goes past that. There has to be a huge amount of land in coves around Newfoundland where families have lived for generations with no official purchase over a hundred years ago.

Winston also told us that before skidoos people here had dog teams for the winter. This was common until about the 1960s. There were 6 – 8 dogs in a team and feeding them all year round was a big chore both in effort and costs.

This area will see a few polar bears every year. Apparently they follow the seals on the ice flows that come down from the Arctic. Winston said that they manage to make their own way back north via both water and land. I hope this is true.

A humorous note to end on: Remember we told you in an earlier article about the awful small bugs they have in Labrador. Well Winston says that he has been told multiple times that if you don’t like someone in Labrador you would give that person a banana. Apparently eating bananas can attract “Labrador Piranhas”. Mike and I now wonder about the smoothies that I make in the RV.

Note: Written on Tuesday/Wednesday finally have internet to post on Friday (still in L’Anse aux Meadows)

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