Located at the southern tip of the Cape Shore,1 Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve can lay claim to a rich and diverse identity. It is an identity that touches on the many rich ecological, social and cultural attributes of the area.
Nowadays, Cape St. Mary’s is best known for the Ecological Reserve that covers approximately 64 km2 with 54 km2 comprising the marine portion. Cape St. Mary’s had been recognised as early as 1964 as a Wildlife Reserve. However, in 1983, the enactment of the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Act paved the way for Cape St. Mary’s to become an Ecological Reserve. The Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Act functions to “preserve special and representative natural areas in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Given this aim, the Ecological Reserve is home to a wide array of the seabirds, flora and fauna that make a home in this unique part of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Ecological Reserve or the Cape, is the location of one of the six gannetries in Atlantic Canada and is the fourth largest in North America.
Image of Gannets (Source: CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikipedia).
Along with gannets who annually nest on a sea stack (customarily referred to as Bird Rock), a host of other seabirds can also be seen in the sky or nesting on the cliffs below about a ten minute walk away from the Interpretation Centre. Casting an eye around, one may spot black-legged kittiwakes, Common Murres (Turres), Thick-billed Murres, Great and Double-crested Cormorants (Shags), Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls (Saddlebacks).
Image of Double-Crested Cormorant (Source: Wikipedia).
Alongside the seabirds, land birds also nest at the Cape. Some of these birds include Horned Larks, Water Pipits, Kestrels and Common Ravens. Seaducks, such as the endangered Harlequin Duck also winter off the coast of Cape St. Mary’s. And on a good day, one may be lucky enough to spy a few other species who periodically visit the Cape, including caribou, humpback, fin and Minke whales. Wildlife present on the Cape one would be less likely to spot are species such as the red fox and coyotes.
Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve occupies an ecoregion known as the Eastern Hyper-Oceanic Barrens. And so, the flora and fauna nest and whirl amidst a land that is punctuated by its beautiful trees and plants. There are areas of tuckamore primarily of the balsam fir species. A view of the landscape will also reveal a plethora of beautiful irises (Northern Blue Flag Iris) that bloom in the summer as well as alpine moss, such as Moss Campion and Pink Crowberry. Collectively, they offer colourful decor for the open barrens.
Given the nature of this part of Newfoundland and Labrador, one of the objectives in the management plan of the Ecological Reserve is “to foster scientific studies.” Such studies help to ensure the integrity of the Ecological Reserve.
However, prior to its current identity as an ecological reserve, Cape St. Mary’s was embedded in the social and cultural life of the region. The Reserve is home to a lighthouse built in 1860. Since this time, it has ensured that the boats could safely navigate the sometimes hazardous waters of Placentia Bay.
Image of lighthouse at Cape St. Mary’s (Source: Magicpiano CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikipedia).
One of the lighthouse keepers was John O’Reilly, the father of Thomas O’Reilly, the Magistrate of Placentia from 1877-97. It was these individuals who founded communities such as Golden Bay and Lear’s Cove.
The lives and the memory of these men, women and children can be found echoing on the Cape and still animating the history that brings it to life. Since 1999, the Cape St. Mary’s Performance Series has showcased the rich cultural history, music, stories and photographs of Cape St. Mary’s, as well as other places in the province. It is a fitting event that celebrates the rich identity and mosaic we know as Cape St. Mary’s.
- The Cape Shore is located in the southwestern portion of the Avalon, a peninsula in southeastern Newfoundland and Labrador.