In Da Cow Head Shed

In 1991 when the Atlantic cod population was commercially fished to near extinction, Noof n’Lnd took the brunt of the collapse. The clusters of Caribbean colored cabins that dotted the rugged coast were abandoned as inhabitants fled to jobs in the burgeoning energy sector in Ontario and Alberta in order to survive. There were still lobsters, of course, but the fishing villages were lost. Sometimes there just aren’t enough lobsters. The Noof n’Lnd fishing sheds on the water’s edge where generations of fishermen and family gathered to sing and drink at the end of a long week fell silent. The Shed Party died.

Not the kind of shed in which to have a party but representative of the colorful palette nonetheless.

With the controversial Canadian moratorium on Atlantic Cod fishing in place for all those ensuing years, the cod population may have recovered but the industry didn’t, so we will never really know. Eventually some of the people did return, at least in the summer, drawn by childhood memories of the unique rugged landscape that tumbles into the ice cold, crystal clear sea. They were now oil men, construction workers, nurses, truck drivers and the like, now working in faraway cities but making an annual pilgrimage to reunite in the shed. They come with their accordion, banjo, guitar, fiddle and ugly stick to re-live the joy of their youth, with traditional drinking songs that sound sort of like Irish jigs, but with a uniquely Noof ‘nLnd-ish jam. Nostalgia drifted over the beach on a Saturday night. The Shed Party lived on.

It’s no strip mall but it just might bring in more tourists.

Sheri wondered what does one wear to a Shed Party and is there any chance that it is in her luggage in Boss’ bed. She settled on a colorfully striped sweater, festive yet warm. Her date, wearing his woolen toque pulled down over his ears, picked her up promptly at 7:30, which wasn’t hard since he was living with her in a clearing of thick spruce within ear shot of the coastal waves in Gros Morne National Park, the crown jewel of The Rock’s west coast. The local crowd of Cow Head descent poured in to the theater for the premier of Shed Party – the musical. On a whim, Eric and Sheri had scored the last two tickets when they popped their head in the theater door, drawn by the unique architecture of the building.

West Brook I and II sit ready to take the crew on a two hour fjord float.

Earlier in the day they had turned down an opportunity to sit with 100 of their closest friends on a small boat for a two hour ride around West Brook lake. After hiking the 2 miles to the concession stand, they couldn’t pull the trigger on the fjord float even with the promise of a distant waterfall sighting. Sometimes you have to go with your gut, and this one felt entirely too touristy. Still, the invigorating stroll through the wind swept-bog provided ample opportunity to gather uniquely native flowers to press for a future art project.

The Gros Morne coast next to our temporary home at Green Point Campground.

The small town of Cow Head offered a compelling hike and brown bag lunch spot at a dwarf lighthouse perched high on a prominence with commanding views of the entire Gros Morne coast. It was on the return to camp that Sheri’s eagle eye, always on the lookout for a thrift shop or local arts gallery, caught the sweeping lines of the new theater. The rest they say is Shed Party lore. The Newfoundland Theater Troupe told the story of Cow Head in song and dance on the special opening night meant primarily for those who had come home again, who sang along and danced in front of the stage. In true Canadian Newfoundland tradition, they welcomed the interlopers to their shed party.

Glen, a life long resident of Newfoundland, spills the truth to Eric on Shed Parties.

It is the great Canadian hope that tourism will replace cod fishing as a sustainable industry on Newfoundland. Shed Party turned its musical spotlight on the promise and peril of progress. As the troupe sings a song about Uncle Clank’s plan to sell his shed on the banks of Shallow Bay to a mall developer, Eric thought about sipping his morning cup of coffee in the campground on the banks of Green Point. The early morning chirping sounds of the waking forest and the lapping sounds of the cobbled shore became muffled by the sound of a RV generator cutting on from a too-big-for-its spot Winnebago with foreign plates and curtains drawn to the outside world. He thought, be careful what you wish for. In the end, Uncle Clank tore up his contract with the developers and passed the dilapidated shed to granddaughter Ronnie, while the family promised to help fix it up and keep tradition alive.

A midget lighthouse at the end of a local hike are hidden secrets in Cow Head.

The Gros Morne Visitor Center inexplicably lacks any information beyond the briefest of pamphlets and an equally uninformative but exceedingly friendly face behind the counter. There is a stunningly decorated modern lounge with high speed WIFI and an initially confusing inclusive washroom that would not look out of place in the trendy Mondrian Hotel in Miami. Canadian’s have their priorities set: style, beauty, and courtesy first. Details like maps, attractions and directions, second.

High design at Gros Morne Visitor Center

The park lives in a tension of there being so much natural beauty, and at the same time, so little tourist attractions. Thankfully they used development dollars for a community theater and not an outlet mall. The western coast is more of a vibe, an emotional calmness, a return to a nature that is only connected to the civilized world by ferry. It is a fairy tale world filled with breaking waves, Christmas tree forests, hot chowder on the stove, and music in the shed. Hopefully the burgeoning tourism industry preserves this wonder without destroying it in the process.

Maybe not chowder, but Eric introduces vegetarian chilli with kale and Molson XXX beer to Noof’ nLnd.

In Da Cow Head Shed