View of islands near Long Island in Placentia Bay (Source: https://paddlenl.ca/Sea_Kayaking/trip_reports/hollettreport1.html)
The islands of Placentia Bay, with their rugged shorelines and beautiful wind-swept vistas, have enjoyed a centuries-long relationship with the people who have traversed this part of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Although the evidence is slim, there are indications that First Nations, namely the Beothuk, visited and perhaps made a home on the islands of Placentia Bay. Burial sites have been located on several islands and suggest they held some solemn significance for these residents (see The Beothuks or Red Indians by James P. Howley). In these early years, the islands of Placentia Bay were also part of the “domain of islands” of the Mi’Kmaq who would travel between Cape Breton and Newfoundland and Labrador.
After a while, the history of Placentia Bay began to include newer residents — the Basque, French, English and Irish whose lives eventually crossed paths with these islands. As early as the 1650s, the French Basque may have begun to over-winter in Placentia Bay. And then, in 1655, the French elected to establish a colony and garrison in Placentia, a place they called Plaisance. Already by this time, several small settlements had begun to develop on the islands of Placentia Bay. It was only a matter of time.
Caught in the tide of history, in 1713, places such as Placentia were granted to the British as part of the peace agreement known as the Treaty of Utrecht. Given this change, there was a new group of people who sought to make a home on the islands of Placentia Bay. With the opening up of Newfoundland and Labrador to Britain, settlement often followed the establishment of fishing industries such as at Oderin or Red Island on Placentia Bay. More often than not, the origins of the settlers would be Ireland from counties such as Wessex.
Since these centuries, people have been making a life on the islands of Placentia Bay. Within these diverse communities, life was intricately and determinedly wrested from land and sea with fishing, farming and berry-picking being main-stays. Into the twentieth century, a considerable number of islands held an assortment of communities.
However, social and political changes in Newfoundland and Labrador were accompanied by programmes such as Resettlement in the 1950s to 1970s. The idea was to “resettle” communities so they would be close to so-called “growth centres.” In many ways, this spelled a heart-rending end for these communities as the people resettled in places such as Placentia.
But loyalties and ties run deep. For many of the people who recall growing up on these islands, their former homes are etched in their hearts. Consequently, both the former inhabitants, as well as their children have organised a number of reunions that offer those connected to these places, an opportunity to share stories and reminisce. Additionally, some of the former inhabitants have, on some occasions, chosen to again live permanently on their former island homes. Otherwise, some individuals have built summer cabins that allow them to live there for the season.
And for anyone, the magic of these islands is unquestionably breathtaking. Over time, groups and individuals have organised kayaking expeditions that have provided a chance to explore and experience these islands. On other occasions, individuals have opted to ply the waters of Placentia Bay, moved by the sheer beauty of the islands, as well as by the haunting remnants of the lives that were played out on their shores. Nowadays, there is an ample amount of detailed information that avid mariners can have at hand to successfully navigate and find anchor in communities such as Indian Harbour (Merasheen Island) and Petite Forte (Placentia Bay West).
In any case, the islands of Placentia Bay remain as symbols of awe-inspiring beauty, ones that have for centuries played a quiet and yet unmistakable role in the way of life.