As the sun sets, anyone driving along the Cape Shore highway north to Placentia couldn’t miss it. Like a glowing ember, it’s red rock warms the heart, giving way to wonder. It soundlessly beckons us to understand its deep history. When we do, it reveals a storied past that reaches to a time long before any human set foot on islands such as Merasheen or Red Island. These rocks that comprise the islands are not dormant and empty. Rather they are representative of the resonant spirit within our landscape.
Millions of years ago, the earth began to write the story of the land below Placentia Bay. No doubt, it was quiet at times. To be sure, there were no birds yet to punctuate the rare silences that defined the period. They had yet to come. For much of the time, however, it would have been a time defined by turbulence with roaring and explosive ejections jettisoned from the cracks in the earth. Molten lava would have seeped out, hotly glowing before it gradually cooled.
Each of the islands have their own identifying characteristics, the result of a unique story stemming from their origins. In very much more recent times, the islands came to be the home of many generations who plied their trade in the fishery, wood-cutting and gardening, the pillars of the time. Although, countless millennia earlier, these islands had a different story to tell.
Photograph of Merasneen (Source: https://alchetron.com/Merasheen%2C-Newfoundland-and-Labrador)
We would have to close our eyes to imagine the maelstrom of geological events that defined the time. Owing to an explosive past, Merasheen Island and the Ragged Islands are composed of something called Hadrynian basaltic (751-833 Million Years Ago — Mya) rock. That simply means it was a rock formed from the solidification of molten rock. It’s an intermediate composition between dactite (a volcanic rock formed by rapid solidification of lava that is high in silica and low in alkali metal oxides) and rhyolite (the most silica-rich of volcanic rocks). Combined, they are known as rhyodacitic.
This merely reflects the ongoing and vigorous nature of the earth as it regularly spewed the molten rock that formed these islands. Added to the rocky mosaic on Merasheen were metamorphosed (transformed by heat or pressure) into silica-rich sandstones and shales. The island’s landscape is characterised by its relatively high relief and steep cliffs. Its shorelines are also less jagged due to faults and folds that followed a more NNW-SSE trend, the general orientation of the island. Nowadays, all is quiet, but it belies a highly boisterous past.
A little to the southeast of Merasheen lies Red Island, aptly named for its firey-coloured landscape. Millions of years ago, the region danced to the roar of molten lava surging from below. Eventually, a plume of lava known as a pluton or outcrop, would cool and over time, plate-tectonics, the jigging of the landscape, would expose the island on the surface.
These plutons were composed of granite resulting in Red Island’s vibrant hue. The plutons have been dated from the Devonian period, around 416 Mya to the Carboniferous period (318 Mya). And since people began to occupy the islands, it has naturally come to be known as Red Island. Elements of other islands, namely Bar Haven and the Ragged Islands also owe their origins from the depths of the earth. The rocks of Red Island also fractured in a particular manner along right angles, thus yielding its steep, but low cliffs and rolling interior.
In time, what changed the story was an ice age. Millions of years later, around 25,000 to 10,000 years ago, glaciers trailed over the landscape. With them, they readily carried their burden of rock, or ice-contact sediment known as till that was carried by the glaciers from many distant sources. This led to a range of formations, some of which were drumlins (an elongated hill or ridge of glacial drift), flutes (long ridges on the ground parallel to the glacier’s movement), and crag-and-tail (a plug of hard rock like granite with a “tail” of softer material in its lee) features. These formations are spread out over Placentia Bay’s bed, now hidden below its vast undulating waters.
Walking amongst the rocky outcrops and rolling hills affords us with an opportunity to pause and absorb the depth of time which surrounds us. We may touch the granite of Red Island or any of the other islands and surging within us is a feeling of deep respect and awe that resonates in our hearts. It is almost incomprehensible the time from when these rocks first began to form. Millions of years seem beyond our comprehension of time. Yet, here they sit. They offer distinct evidence of the timelessness that surrounds us. It is palpable. For a moment, running our hands along the various ridges and indentations on the rock or simply standing before a towering cliff, we feel the energy the silent rocks emanate. And for just a moment, we feel a connection with something that is much greater than ourselves. An eternal spirit.
Brushett, Denise 2008 “Late Wisconsinan Glacial History of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, As Interpreted From Seabed Geomorphology and Stratigraphy,” Master of Science Thesis, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL
Catto, Norman 1998 “The pattern of glaciation on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland” Géographie physique et Quaternaire 52 (1), 1-24