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Uncovering Hints of Turbulent Times — Fort Louis/New Fort in Placentia, NL

Uncovering Hints of Turbulent Times — Fort Louis/New Fort in Placentia, NL

Archaeologists have diligently sought to unearth the objects of Fort Louis/New Fort in an effort to tell the stories that time has quietly hidden. Fort Louis is the name of the fort dating from the period when the French controlled Placentia (1662-1713) or Plaisance as it was then named. New Fort is the term used by the British at the time when they had possession of all of Newfoundland (1713-1907). The year 1907 marks the year when Newfoundland became a Dominion.

Located in Jerseyside, on the north side of the Gut, (the narrow entrance that connects the waters of Placentia Bay and Placentia Harbour), Fort Louis/New Fort was the site of sporadic archaeological excavations from 1972 to 2012. Today, archaeologists continue to analyse many of the artefacts, engaged in unravelling their many mysteries.

During this period, by way of excavation, archaeologists and archaeological technicians have uncovered 41,650 artefacts. To enhance interpretation by the public, the workers have covered portions of the structures with rocks that show the locations of different parts of the forts.

Image of rocks depicting the shape and size of a storehouse from New Fort (Photograph: Lee Everts).

By doing so, archaeologists are seeking to shed additional light on the history of this part of the Placentia area. Beginning in 1691, Fort Louis became the second fort constructed by the French. Withstanding attacks by the English in 1692, it had to be re-built. The French were no longer taking any chances and fortified Fort Louis with 39 pieces of artillery. And owing to the violent and tempestuous history that gripped Placentia at the time, the fortification of Fort Royal (Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada) began in 1693. This reflected yet a further attempt by the French to maintain control over the area.

Despite these efforts, Plaisance was surrendered to the British with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. At this point, Fort Louis was briefly used by the English. However, by the 1720s, Fort Frederick located in close proximity to Fort Louis or New Fort, as it was referred to by the British, was largely abandoned. Although in the 1740s, the English revisited the fortification, building upon the earlier Fort Louis. The English used the buildings and features of the pre-existing fort until the latter part of the 18th century when the New Fort also fell into disrepair. At this time, Britain had already begun to favour St. John’s as a focus for their military defence and overall administration of Newfoundland.

More than a century later, archaeologists, armed with eighteenth-century plans of New Fort along with their know-how began to dig into the fortification on Jerseyside. One of the noteworthy discoveries was a storehouse and store-keeper’s house.

Aerial view of Storehouse during excavation (Provincial Archaeology Office 2006 Archaeology Review).

The archaeologists also revealed a section of the New Fort ramparts which, when first built, stood an impressive 11 feet high and 45 feet wide. When the workers dug a test trench on the interior of the western rampart, they soon learned that some of the masonry façade actually remained intact where it continued to hold back the mortared masonry.

Image of rampart (Provincial Archaeology Office 2006 Archaeology Review).

Beneath the rampart, the archaeologists also found a row of bark rings. Initially theorised to be part of another structure, upon further investigation, the archaeologist believed that it most likely was a part of the interior side of the southwest bastion of Fort Louis. This finding was of particular note as, if it was indeed a portion of Fort Louis, it would provide the first solid evidence of the French fort.

These provide only a hint of what lies below the surface. Far more remains yet to be discovered about these forts. And today, the sites remain a focus for ongoing archaeological analysis, ones that continue to prove that Fort Louis/New Fort was an important element of the history of the Placentia area.

An Underwater Forest

An Underwater Forest

It is on those calm, blue-sky days, when the surface of the water is like a smooth sheet of glass, that new worlds can be revealed. At these times, we marvel at the sheer vividness of the river bed or the edge of the sea shore. We are in awe of the colourful mosaic of rocks and plants that seemed to have just appeared. But not so.

Most of the time, we walk alongside any body of water with barely any thought towards what lies below the surface. It is at these moments when we spy the secrets lying below the surface and we are swept up into a majestic world filled with fronds, some long and wide, others slender and narrow all hypnotically swaying in the ebb and flow of the water. We have entered a whole new world.

There are a host of marine organisms, seaweeds or flowering plants (angiosperm), that grow along the bottom. Still kelp, a type of algae and eelgrass, a flowering plant are particularly noteworthy for the important roles that they play in the shallow water ecosystems in which they exist. Eelgrass also just so happens to be the only seagrass in Atlantic Canada. Both eelgrass and kelp quietly play a starring role in the life of Placentia bay.

Nature of Eelgrass

Eelgrass meadows, as they are known, are comprised of countless blades of these flowering plants. At about a ¼ inch in width and reaching lengths of around three feet, they generally remain completely submerged. Although, the depth at which eelgrass grows is ultimately decided by the light that is able to reach the bottom. When the tide is low, they are very distinctive with their vibrant bright green blades against the surface of the water. These plants also fare well in clear water and actually have a high minimum light requirement for their survival. The eelgrass meadows also have a long lifetime which can extend to decades and sometimes even for millennia.

Eelgrass is fairly robust, no doubt a quality that has helped this willowy plant to survive for so long. And while eelgrass possess an optimal salinity range of 20 to 26 ppt for photosynthesis, the plant is also tolerant of lower salinity levels of 5 to 35 ppt and even freshwater for a short time. However, eelgrass is unable to survive in oxygen free conditions (anoxic) or ones that are rich in mineral and organic matter, commonly referred to as eutrophic conditions. Eelgrass is equally versatile with regard to temperatures and can grow in a wide range of temperatures, from 10-25 °C and can withstand more extreme temperatures, from freezing to 35 °C. Eelgrass is a powerhouse of a plant and one that is able to share its strength with other species residing in the shallows of either rivers or other water bodies.

The blades lie at the surface when the tide has gone out. Their roots or rhizomes secure them firmly to the sandy, muddy or cobble-stoned bottoms where they reside. Thus secured to the surface, the blades of grass bend gracefully in the current. Although, despite the pleasant and placid appearance of the grass swaying in the flow, there is a functional element to the actions of the eelgrass.

Collectively, the myriad blades of eelgrass are able to stabilise the sediments and buffer shorelines. Once the eelgrass reaches a certain density, the assembly of grass blades is capable of moderating the wave energy and modifying the level of turbulence in the water. When looking at the surface of standing water, it is astonishing to see the effect of the eelgrass.

While the wind may be jostling the water elsewhere, the eelgrass acts to still the waves. By doing so, any of the sediment being held in the flowing water falls out of suspension, permitting more light to reach the eelgrass and be photosynthesised.

Photosynthesis

And photosynthesis lies at the heart of how and why eelgrass is able to perform the central function it does in the ecosystem. Eelgrass habitats actually rank amongst the most productive ecosystems on earth, a position that has it rubbing shoulders with the likes of the tropical rainforests, coral reefs, and wetlands of our planet. This is no small achievement. The eelgrass function at a high level of production, primarily due to the steady ongoing turnover of eelgrass leaves, as well as the numerous algae that grow on the leaf surfaces of the eelgrass. The algae provide one more element within the eelgrass meadows that can support fauna seeking food and protection. Linked to its high level of production, eelgrass also releases oxygen into the water column, which is a hypothetical cylinder of water stretching from the surface to the bottom of a water body. While doing so, eelgrass also performs one other function by filtering the water in the water column. These small blades of grass have a heavy workload.

As Part of the Food Web

The organisms that grow on the eelgrass are a primary food source for various species of invertebrates. Given its high level of production, eelgrass plays a pivotal role in the food web in which it exists. A part of the food web includes the numerous fish and invertebrates such as crabs of various kinds that are nestled in the dense meadow of grass. For these creatures, the eelgrass serves as a source of food, as well as protection. Thus, it is no surprise that the eelgrass is a favoured location for invertebrates in particular. Eelgrass is also an ideal nursery habitat for juvenile fish, in particular for Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). So, who could ask for anything more? There is abundant food for the growing fish and the ample cover of the blades of eelgrass ensures that it is a place of safety. However, it is not all that safe for every creature seeking cover. Apparently while the level of predation diminishes substantially within the eelgrass bed, it actually increases along the edge. It makes sense that any organism seeking protection within the eelgrass will fare better in larger continuous expanses of eelgrass than in smaller patches. This is simply because there are far more edges in the latter than in the former. Life in the bay can be touch and go.

The high productivity of eelgrass also means the speed with which the it replaces itself leaves a lot of eelgrass fragments flowing in the current. Nothing goes to waste as this material become a source of food for a host of bacteria, fungi, and protozoans (largely single-celled organisms). Given the current, this material can be transported great distances where the eelgrass debris can feed other species.

With all these glowing words, eelgrass is like a poster child for many scientists studying this vital element of the various ecosystems in which it resides. Accordingly, eelgrass is considered to be a keystone species wherein, much as the name implies, without the eelgrass, the structure will weaken and begin to crumble.

Unfortunately, in recent years, this is exactly what scientists have been observing. During the 1930s, the eelgrass population faced a microscopic, yet grievous threat for eelgrass on both sides of the Atlantic. At this time, the eelgrass was forced to contend with something aptly known as a “wasting disease,” the result of the persistent bacteria, Labyrinthula. zosterae. The disease spreads either through direct contact or detached parts that drift in the current, an all too common phenomenon. The disease is merciless. Necrotic lesions form creating a type of slime mould that darkens the blades of grass. Eventually the mould destroys the cells responsible for photosynthesis. And without the life-giving energy of the sun, the eelgrass simply dies. Ultimately, at the time, the “wasting disease” resulted in a loss of roughly 90% of North Atlantic eelgrass, something that required several decades for the eelgrass to recover. The disease has re-appeared since the 1930s, albeit with less of a lasting impact. However, the threat remains.

Challenges to Eelgrass

This very real threat is joined by the all-too-common perils of the sea—human-related activity. Around the world, the impact of our behaviour on eelgrass has been felt by such things as human settlement. This has led to a general decline in the distribution of the eelgrass beds globally.

While human-related activities carry their challenges, yet another substantial threat for eelgrass has been the arrival of a new species—the European green crab. This species made its first appearance in Canadian waters in 1951 in New Brunswick. Since this time, its made headway into other waters of the Maritimes. Eventually, it did find its way to Newfoundland in 2007.

Source: www.nlnature.com

The European green crab can be found primarily in shallow waters such as saltwater marches, sandy beaches or rocky coasts. It is less than desirable to have around, as it is very determined in its efforts to predate and feed and will guard its territory vigorously. It is a survivor. In fact, it has an edge in the fact it can survive out of water for several days. What’s more, they can also tolerate a wide range of temperatures and salinity. Together, these qualities make the European Green crab a difficult species with which to deal.

As a voracious predator, it is actually able to change the balance between species in an ecosystem and impact their diversity. In many cases, it can out-compete the native crabs for food. In terms of the eelgrass, their impact is generally happenstance, as they tend to uproot or cut the eelgrass while digging for prey or making burrows. However, given the central role of eelgrass in the ecological habitat, this effect is less than desirable. Hence, efforts are underway to study and control the presence of European Green crabs in the waters, specifically Placentia Bay, where they were first noted.

Looking Ahead

Beginning in 2018, a five year project included a range of specialists, including research scientists, graduate students, staff from ACAP Humber Arm (a not-for-profit organization serving the Bay of Islands and Humber Valley coastal regions of western Newfoundland which involved in habitat protection and restoration). The goals of the project are to restore eelgrass at particular sites in Placentia Bay.

Eelgrass quietly features in our lives, playing a central role in helping to maintain the health and resilience of our oceans. As part of the underwater forest that is majestically arrayed along our shores, we may not always notice them. But we will know if they are gone.

Enjoy a Healthy Snack

Enjoy a Healthy Snack

Summer is a time when we’re out and about — going for a walk, canoeing, or biking. Alongside our water, which is always good to have on hand, it’s nice to have something to eat. But instead of chips or even a granola bar, how about eating a healthier snack of vegetables or fruit? It’s just a way that we can be kind to our bodies as we enjoy all the countless activities during the summer season.

New Book Release

New Book Release

Here’s the latest book I’ve written! As you may know, I commonly write non-fiction. Although, I thought, this time, I’d try my hand at fiction! It’s available here at Amazon!

The story revolves around Quin who has left Newfoundland and Labrador for the other side of the country, following her twin sister Fin’s suicide. But unable to come to terms with her sister’s death, she decides her best chance to deal with the trauma is to return home.

Back home, she encounters other challenges. But on a trip to the grocery store, she meets her favourite old English teacher from high school. In time, Quin begins looking out for him, making sure he gets his groceries or goes to the doctor’s office. And eventually, she learns about the true identity of her English teacher, something that will change her life forever. Moreover, it will also ask her to question everything she thought she knew about her sister’s death. Ultimately, will she be able to walk that hard road to forgiveness?

I sincerely hope you enjoy the read!

Being a Friend

Being a Friend

Every now and then, we pause and think about one or two of our friends whom we haven’t seen for a while. Well, how about getting in touch with them …? Talk with them on the telephone or meet them for a cup of tea … it’s a Random Act of Kindness that you can both enjoy together!

Capelin Time

Capelin Time

Capelin time is something many must feel in their bones. Maybe there’s something about the weather and the wind that tells them, yes indeed, the capelin will be here soon. And when that time arrives, for generations, people have quickly shared the news the capelin are rolling—where and when to meet. Nowadays everyone has a smartphone at hand and within a second, the word has gotten out. And like clockwork, people begin the appear at places like Point Verde beach with their rubber boots on, nets in hand, all ready to get their share of the annual bounty from the sea.

It’s a time that many can share as a common tradition, one that bound ones forebears to the sea as strongly as it does those in more modern times. Along the shore, children run and try to collect some of the capelin, all under the eye of proud grandparents who look on with a knowing smile. They can no doubt remember when they were no bigger, for the first time greeting the capelin. Our lives have changed considerably over the decades and years, yet still the capelin remain a unifying element.

Years ago, the majority of the people who call this place home were strongly tied to the sea, fathers and mothers striving to make a life from whatever could be caught in various known locales such as Cape St. Mary’s. Although, it was always a double-edged sword, that deep and penetrating love of the sea. For as everyone accepted, with little grudge, sea could both give and take. Still everyone knew in their hearts and understood, that was the deal.

Nowadays, some people remain tied to the sea, somehow making a living in the fishery. However, it is a shadow of what the fishery used to be in this once-a-country province. And perhaps, every year, as we wait expectantly for the capelin to roll, it is perhaps a poignant reminder. It is a homage paid to a time when virtually everyone’s life was firmly secured to the sea and its many riches. Like the fishery, waiting for the capelin remains today as a harmonising element for the various communities that ring the coastline.

There is something comforting about sharing an activity with our community. It’s one of those sentiments that brings us together. We know the terms, what to do and we share a love for this tiny creature who annually graces our shores.

On the day, countless people arrive for the festivities. Some only go to watch the activities while others, pail in hand, are determined to gather as many fish as they can. After all, there are always grandparents or members of their families who are now too old to participate in the rhythmic surge forward to gather the capelin and then back again as the tide recedes. All the while, people are laughing and joyously splashing, splendidly soaked.

Capelin time is an annual event that is rejoiced simply in part by its expectation. And when it arrives, amidst the splendour of the day, it somehow brings with it an assertion of the rightness of our world.

The Value of Life

The Value of Life

I’m not even sure why I did it. I was taking a break on my evening bike ride when I encountered a cup someone had left on the bench. Ants being ants, being drawn to the sugar were unaware it would almost certainly be a fatal decision. Without thinking about it, I was soon absorbed for, I don’t know how long, in trying to extricate several ants from hardening toffee smothered ice-cream. One I was able to immediately shake loose. A few others were beyond hope. But for three of them, for that short period, it became the preeminent activity for me to free them. Maybe someone else wouldn’t have even bothered, picked the cup up and just thrown it in the bin. They could’ve left the cup and not given it another thought. But somehow, for me, the lives of those three ants suddenly meant everything. Why?

I know, as I worked, I was spurred on by the anger I felt for the person who’d left the cup with not a thought to what could happen. It boggled my mind. But then again, as I gently tried to pull away the stickiness from legs smaller than a couple of millimetres, I had to wonder. Why did the life of three ants matter to me so much anyway? I was able to free one, but for the other two, there really was no hope. The day after, a few ideas began to trickle into my mind as to why I’d given such a relatively large effort for fairly little gain. Then again, was it so little gain if I was able to spare just one life?

We will all move on when we die, yet while we are here, life is one of the most important elements of our time on earth. I’m one of the people who honour and laud all lives, no matter how small, for I believe we are all a part of the whole. So, to me it doesn’t matter if you’re the size of a bus like our cetacean friends or as small as the smallest insect—your life matters. It is a sentiment shared by many, from various First Nations groups, in Buddhism, Hinduism and several others, they espouse an underlying interconnectedness amongst humans, society and nature. Our lives are one.

So maybe in the seconds in which I decided what to do, in my mind, those small ants fighting for life somehow transformed into something greater—a symbol of the essential spirit and vitality that enlivens all of us.

If I zoom out for the moment, taking in a much broader spectrum, I see a world that appears, for the most part, to care very little for nature. From this perspective, nature is perceived as being very distant from ourselves and often something to control, conquer for others. I can point to an assortment of intractable problems that confront nature, amongst them habitat loss, the loss of species and diminishing biodiversity, or maybe the assault of pesticides, emotionless and uncaring in its onslaught.

For those of us who care, it seems inconceivable that the people pursuing their economic pot of gold put so little thought towards the consequences of their actions. The “cents” they make, makes no sense. The work many of us do, to all degrees, may very well be valiant and heart-felt. Still, one sometime feels like the mythical Sisyphus, condemned, for all eternity, to roll a rock up a steep hill, only to have it roll back. We’re getting nowhere it sometimes appears. But then, we turn the idea around and around, gazing from every angle, hoping to capture a glimpse of something that will reveal a way forward.

When I ponder those few moments I spent that afternoon, I certainly lamented the loss of some of the little ants, but I rejoiced at the thought I was able to save two of them.

And I realised that it mattered because those two little lives are indeed a part of the whole— all of nature—joining those of every stripe, furred, feathered or otherwise, not to mention those who are much larger or even significantly smaller.

So, when I saved those two small ants I was essentially also acting towards the betterment of all of us, as we are all ultimately one on this planet. I cannot separate myself from the others who inhabit our world.

For those fifteen minutes, I put my heart and soul into making a difference for those ants. Someone may say, “ants? Why bother?” In response, I would say, at that moment, for me, those ants were representatives of Life, all our lives, regardless of their size. Surely that is something venerable and worthy enough of my time.

A Guide

A Guide

There are always those moments when we find ourselves questioning our lives. Where are we really going, we wonder. Things just don’t seem to fit anymore. What do some of us say when a caring friend asks us how we’re doing? “I’m feeling a little lost,” we offer. Rudderless? Adrift? We wander through our days and for the moment, our heart’s not really in much of anything. Searching maybe, for some sign … of what, well, we’re not exactly sure.

We go on and it’s a usual minute, in a usual hour of a usual day. We’re pondering and really trying to figure out where we’re headed and …

…. and then we see it. Is it … yes it is! An eagle soaring high, high above the clouds. Haven’t seen one those in ages, we whisper in awe! We peer up into the sky in disbelief. Oh, there are no thoughts now, just feelings of an overwhelming sense of utter beauty and magic. We’re breathless with joy and delight! And then, all of a sudden, we feel a rush of energy flow through our body and it feels like somehow this majestic and magical creature is speaking solely to us now and is simply saying … continue. You’re on the right path. Then it banks off and disappears into the clouds.

With moistened eyes, we can only say … thank you.

Remembering the Crows

Remembering the Crows

It was early one morning on one of those grey autumn days. Cool and not too much wind. Pleasant enough. To be honest there was really nothing special about it beyond its usual specialness. At the time, I was coming home after going for my morning walk and as usual, I was on a bit of a high … bit of a skip in my step. But as I was getting closer to home, I spotted something out of the ordinary on the ground. “Hmmm … I wonder what it is?” As I got closer, I soon made out what it was and with an intake of breath and a sinking feeling, I realised that it was a crow, just lying there. No sign of life. I’m not sure how it had died. But in any case, all of a sudden, it threw me into high gear.

Birds are special. Well, every animal is special. That I do know. But birds are particularly close to my heart and all I knew was that I couldn’t leave this crow on the side of the street. For it to even die there seemed wholly wrong. It didn’t belong here amongst our cold buildings and empty streets. No, I had to lay it to rest in the woods. And so, off I rushed home. My door was just a few steps away and so, this wouldn’t take long. I could grab a bag that I would use to carry the crow and then head back up Castle Hill. Hurry!

I managed to find a bag and, all business now, I was about to rush out of the door when I heard a huge cacophony. “What?! What is that?!” I looked out of my window to see about ten crows arrayed around the one who had died, some up on the wire, others on the ground, kawing and calling out. What was going on? I thought. I couldn’t make immediate sense of it, but it seemed like somehow, they had come and, I don’t know, as a sign of reverence, were in their way showing their respect. Bidding it farewell? Mourning?

Maybe it was just my sincere wish for it be so, but if I closed my eyes, I could imagine that with their kawing and keening, eventually its spirit rose up from the ground. And when the crows all began to fly off, as they did, its spirit, too, took to wing and flew off with them. Yes, it would only be right wouldn’t it, for they had come to take it home.

And then, after they had all left, I was given the honour, privilege, and solemn duty to take its body into the woods and give it back to the planet.

Basque Headstones

Basque Headstones

Now located at the O’Reilly House Museum and Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada, the Basque headstones enduringly signify how the Basque have been finely interwoven into the history of the Placentia area. Originally found in the cemetery surrounding St. Luke’s Anglican Church, they harbour a unique and distinct aspect of Placentia area history.

By the 1500s, the Basque were expertly navigating the waters of Placentia Bay. And on their travels, they invariably encountered a beach encircled by a covey of hills — a vista that bore a striking resemblance to a place they may have called home in the Basque Country. And so, it is possible that it was the Basque who initially graced Placentia with a name, one after their own Plentzia.

Without question, having ventured to this new place, the Basque also would have erected a church on the beach. There is sufficient indication that the voyages of the Basque to Newfoundland and Labrador may have included Priests. In one instance, news of the death of a Basque also notes how he was given Sacraments, something that would only have occurred had a Priest been in attendance (see The Spanish Province of Terranova).

As time progressed, by 1655, the French crown elected to locate a garrison in the place that, to the French, came to be known as Plaisance. Perhaps the name of the place visited by the Basque migrated in the minds of the French to a name that held more meaning for them. In 1662, after several false starts, the third Governor of Plaisance, Sieur de Perron was the first to take up residence in the new colony. However, it was an ill-fated appointment as Du Perron was killed in a mutiny a few months following his arrival.

The Basque continued to be a part of Plaisance, fishing and, at times, assisting in the defence of the colony. Although the headstones do not stem from the earliest period when the Basque initially encountered Placentia, they offer some indication of their presence. For instance, one of the earliest headstones dates to 1676 and when it was translated in the early 1900s, the memorial reads,

“Here lies dead (or having died)

(on) The first of May 1676

John De Sale Ce——ana

The son (or heir) of (the House)

of the Sweetest Odour”

Another headstone bears the name “Iones Sara,” a form of the name “John.” On the back of the stone is the Christian monogram of I.H.S. alongside the depiction of a cross, both further indications of the religion of the Basque buried in Placentia.

Somewhat later, during the Nine Years War/War of the League of Augsburg from 1689-1697, the Basque were central in some of the French attacks on the English. In one of these attacks, on the 10 September, 1694, a Basque ship captain was mortally wounded in Ferryland.

Ultimately, the French forces had to retreat and after sailing back to Plaisance, bruised and battered, the ship captain was given his final send-off. He was buried in the cemetery that would have been near their church. The name of the Basque captain was Svigaraicipi and centuries later, it is one of the headstones that Bishop M. Howley found and examined in the late 1800s.

The Basque headstones offer a hint of the people and events who helped to shape the unique history of the Placentia area. They provide proof, words inscribed in stone, that the Basque were deeply involved in the life and events in the latter 1600s and no doubt, earlier.