Canadian photographer R. John Knight shares the stories behind some of his nature and wildlife images

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Battle Harbour, Labrador

Last August, when we decided to return to Calgary from Newfoundland via Labrador, we realized that we had an opportunity to visit Battle Harbour (NL), a place that we had long wanted to visit.

View from the rocky hill overlooking Battle Harbour and tickle
Battle Harbour is an old community that is situated on a small rocky island, Battle Island, about an hour by boat, depending on the winds and sea state, west of Mary's Harbour (NL).  The tickle between Battle Harbour and Great Caribou Island to the west forms a sheltered narrow natural harbour.  The community became an important permanent settlement for the Labrador fishery with establishment of a mercantile saltfish premises there during the 1770's.  Battle Harbour prospered from the processing of salt-fish, salmon and seal until its residents were forced to relocate/resettle to Mary's Harbour between 1965-1968 under a provincial government sponsored program.  Some residents continued to use their homes seasonally as a base for fishing until the Government of Canada closed the cod fishery in 1992.

Restored mercantile premises and other buildings, Battle Harbour
Many original residents continued to use their homes as cabins during summer vacations, but clearly the community and the outport life was in decline.    In 1990, the Battle Harbour Historic Trust Inc., a not-for profit registered charity, was established to hold donations of property rights and funds, and to oversee the seasonal work of restoring the old buildings by volunteers and staff.  The intent of these dedicated people is to continue the lifestyle and community of an old outport for others to visit and experience.

The buildings of the old saltfish premises have been restored.  They contain numerous displays and artifacts that relate to and describe the Labrador fishery and life in the community.  There are other historical buildings, several of which are used for visitors to stay in overnight.  Visitors can take a guided tour through the fish premises and community, walk the numerous walkways and paths on your own, or hike around and over the rest of the wind and salt spray-swept island.  Many of the staff were born in Battle Harbour, or nearby, so they have many first-hand stories to tell.

We stayed comfortably at the Battle Harbour Inn, one of the restored buildings.  Here, we met John and Robin who were on vacation from their home in Goose Bay.  We spent our evenings chatting with them, and other visitors, in the cozy veranda, usually with a glass of wine in-hand.  There was a full kitchen for our use, but we chose to eat in the dining room that was located upstairs over the old General Store.  The food was great, and it gave us an opportunity to meet other guests and converse with some of the staff.

Battle Harbour Inn with 'sticks' in the foreground
Battle Harbour Inn with cozy veranda overlooking tickle

The geology of Battle Island is complex and fascinating.  The rocks include deformed and metamorphosed Proterozoic supracrustal rocks with mafic igneous sills in the northeast part of the island, and complexly folded  granitic pegamatites (intrusives) in the western half of the island.  According to Gower (2008), one pegmatite from the southern end of the island has a preliminary age slightly older than 1 billion years.  For those wanting more information about the geology of Battle Island, download the following PDF files: "Battle Harbour - A Geological Treasure in Eastern Coastla Labrador" and "Tourist's Guide to the Geology of Battle Harbour, Labrador" by Charles Gower (Newfoundland & Labrador Natural Resources).

Granitic pegmatites and old fishing boat
Deformed granitic pegmatites in a mafic hoast rock
The staff will take you by boat to Great Caribou Island which is just across the tickle to the west.  There, you can spend the day hiking and exploring the rugged natural landscape, and the old abandoned communities of Matthews Cove and Trap Cove.

Surprisingly to us, Battle Harbour is also the destination for adventurous sailors who have the right skills and equipment to sail through the cold, iceberg infested waters and along the rocky and 'sunker' strewn shores of Labrador.  Jamie and Lori, whom we met here, had sailed from Boston aboard their boat, "Sea Quester".  And, this was not their first visit. 

Jamie and Lori's boat, "Sea Quester"
Battle Harbour is rugged, but beautiful place that immerses you in the lifestyle of an old outport.  It's a place that we hope to visit again.

For more information about Battle Harbour, visit their website.


  1. What an enlightening lesson on Battle Harbour. It sounds like a fascinating place to visit. Thank you for taking me there. :-)

    And now I can say I know what "Deformed granitic pegmatites in a mafic hoast rock" looks like. A good topic for the next Christmas party. Ha!

  2. It makes it more interesting to know the history of the area. Thank you for doing the research and sharing it. Kerry & Teresa