“It’s not many years now since they all moved away, to places more prosperous way down in the bay. There’s not one soul left now, not one who remains, they’ve all become part of the government game.” — The Government Game
Brothers Pat and Joe Byrne and friend Baxter Wareham sang those words in the well-known folk song, The Government Game.
The lyrics apply to their hometown of St. Kyran’s, one of many resettled towns around the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, but it only partially applies to the resettled Woody Island, located off the coast of the Burin Peninsula.
Woody Island is inhabited by one family year-round, but in the summer months, the population fluctuates almost daily, with tourists flocking to the island to check into the renowned Woody Island Resort.
Embarking the popular two-day/one-night trip, my adventure started off with a short boat ride on the M.V. “Merasheen”, departing from Garden Cove, located 20 minutes from Goobies.
Arriving on the island, the luggage of the 32 visitors was transported to the main lodge, giving us time to gallivant around the area before lunch.
With four separate buildings, the Woody Island Resort offers simple yet comfortable accommodations – the focus is more on the outdoor exploration of this resettled island than it is cozying up in a hotel room.
A large lodge houses an industrial kitchen, and a homely dining room/living room, where guests enjoy communal dinners of Newfoundland staples like pea soup, toutons, freshly caught cod, root vegetables, and more. A seemingly endless amount of homemade white bread is available, to the chagrin of many of us who opted to treat our tastebuds instead of sticking to our healthy diets.
The calories consumed during lavish mealtimes are soon burnt off walking around the coastal community, which still houses a surprising number of summer cabins, as well as a surprising number of graveyards, given the size of the small island.
Walking the winding trails from Back Cove to Jane’s Cove, one is swept back in time as the imagination creates an image of what Woody Island looked like in the early 1960s, before resettlement. I spent my first afternoon on the island trotting in the rain with Jordan Harnum, the resort’s hired musical talent.
We covered almost every inch of the island’s trails, checking out graveyards, ancient houses, the site of the old schoolhouse, little beaches, coves, and the Store Loft Museum – a key to the building comes with your hotel room key.
I was tempted to take a dip in Back Cove, but cold wind and rain (and Harnum’s insistent comment that I was “absolutely cracked”) made my decision for me.
That evening, amidst the storm, the entire crew gathered in the main lodge, enjoying dinner and listening to tunes played on guitar by Harnum, accompanied by resort operator and boat captain Gary Pomroy on accordion.
A group of mainlanders and Americans got swept up in the fun, dressing up as mummers and hitting the dance floor during Simani’s The Mummers Song. Warm, cozy, and finally dry, most of us headed to bed around midnight – there was another large day of exploring ahead.
An ocean adventure
After a decadent breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon (hold the pork for me, thanks) and unsurprisingly, more devilishly delicious white bread toast, we loaded onto the boat for an ocean adventure, circumnavigating Woody Island and viewing Merasheen, Brule, Spencer’s Cove, Tacks Beach and Isle Valen from afar. Along the way, we spotted multiple bald eagles, countless jellyfish, and even a sunfish – a rarity that is becoming more common in these cold northern waters.
Our destination was Muddy Hole, also known as Bollard’s Town, located on Sound Island, resettled in 1940, 20 years before the official resettlement program rolled out.
After docking, the group gathered on a large wharf with a covered shed, enjoying hearty beef soup, a slice of bread, and hot tea and coffee, the water boiled in ancient kettles over a small fire.
Soaking in the sun, Harnum broke out the guitar for a couple of tunes. I opted to take a dip – there was no threat of foul weather, and the water was surprisingly warm.
The golden days
Most attendees still thought I was a bit bonkers for jumping into the bay, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim in three separate bays during my extended Labour Day Weekend vacation.
After cleaning up from the boil up – and for me, getting into dry clothes – we departed Sound Island wrapping up our “baycation” with a leisurely boat ride back to Garden Cove, munching on cookies, squares, and for some, more delicious homemade bread.
Sufficiently full, and also filled with great new memories, it’s evident that even though the golden days of Woody Island are long gone, it certainly has not been forgotten, thanks to the Woody Island Resort.