Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The boot of Burin

[Post for Monday, July 27, 2015]Frenchman’s Cove, NL – One of the more pres-sing items on our list of priorities this morning was to get the car washed; it was streaked with mud, and the visibility out the side windows was almost nil. Marystown had a carwash, we discovered, so we emer-ged looking much spiffier, and rolled on over to Tim Hortons for lunch before we began our circuit of the Burin Peninsula.

Like Italy, the peninsula resembles a boot – or perhaps a Christmas stocking –  and our route took us down the calf and around the heel to begin with. The route includes some interpretive “parkviews” from time to time where aspects of local history and geography are laid out on storyboards, with viewing platforms and a couple of benches or picnic tables nearby.
When we got to St Lawrence at the bottom of the heel, we stopped to visit the Miners’ Museum – easily identified by a giant miner’s helmet and lamp set atop the roof. Inside, we learned about the mines that were started during the Depression, when the cod fishery was failing (a tsunami in 1929 had devastated the cod spawning grounds on the sea floor). A rich deposit of fluorspar, used in the chemical and steel industry among many other applications, offered a livelihood to local residents.

Few safety precautions were in place for the men who went underground, and in ensuing years many suc-cumbed to respiratory diseases. Compensation for the widows and their families was also non-existent until one woman petitioned authorities with such doggedness, they relented and paid her and other bereft families.

A marine disaster in 1942 demonstrated the community’s generosity, when two US military ships heading for Argentia ran into a storm and were wrecked just offshore. Townsfolk managed to rescue over 100 victims, under harrowing conditions, and cared for them in their homes. One survivor, a black American named Lanier Phillips, was deeply moved by their compassion. The women who bathed his oil-soaked skin had never seen a black person before. He said he had never been treated so kindly by white people, and maintained a longtime relationship with St Lawrence until his death years later. The US government also donated a hospital to St Lawrence as a gesture of gratitude.

The museum gift shop had lovely fluorite gemstone jewelry for sale. Our guide, Roberta, brought us into the workshop where the rough fluorspar stones are shaped, polished and made into the jewelry by workers with developmental disabilities. The stones come in some 30 colours ranging from blue-green to pink. Roberta cut a piece of stone and showed me how to polish it – and then let me keep it!
We continued our drive around the boot, enjoying glimpses of blue sky over the offshore islands of St Pierre and Miquelon on the horizon, and checking out the ferry location in Fortune for our trip across to St Pierre tomorrow. We’ll be spending the night there – so the next blog instalment will be a day late, as we’re making the crossing without the car, bringing hand luggage only. Au revoir!


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