Exploits Valley

Land of the Beothuks

Distance - 261km

The Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland were called "red Indians" by early European explorers because they painted their bodies with ochre for ceremonies. The coming of Europeans to Newfoundland disrupted the Beothuks' traditional way of life. Gradually, they were squeezed out of their summer coastal villages by newcomers with superior military technology. There were clashes with settlers, many based on mutual misunderstanding of each other's cultures. By the early 19th century the Beothuk were teetering on the brink of extinction, cut off from the coast and wracked by European diseases against which they had no immunity and starvation.

In 1819, one of the last known Beothuks, Demasduit (Mary March), was captured near Red Indian Lake. The following year, ill with tuberculosis, government officials tried to reunite her with her tribe. They were too late. She died in what is now Botwood, and her body was transported to Red Indian Lake.

The last known Beothuk, Shanawdithit, died at St. John's in 1829. She had been captured with her mother and sister in 1823.

The Exploits Valley scenic tour follows, in part, the traditional Beothuk seasonal route between the interior and the coast, and includes major Beothuk attractions. This area is filled with lakes and rivers, making it ideal for canoeing. There is a two-to-four day canoe route to Grand Falls-Windsor, guiding services are available in the area, the fishing is excellent and there is a Canada Goose nesting sanctuary near Buchans.

An unpaved woods road runs south from Route 370 into the heart of Newfoundland and connects eventually with Route 480, which runs from the St. George's River area to Burgeo. If you take this route, be careful: it's a logging road. It is usually open in summer, but is prone to washouts. Ask about the condition of this road before venturing over it.

This tour starts on the shores of Red Indian Lake in the town of Buchans. The town was established in the 1920s to mine copper, lead and zinc. Those mining operations have now ceased. The town has the distinction of being located virtually in the heart of the geographical land mass of the island of Newfoundland, and is farther from the sea than any other community.

Near Buchans Junction, about 31 km from Buchans, is a stone corral built in an area residents call the Laplanders' Bog. It was built by Sami - the aboriginal peoples of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia - who along with their reindeer were brought to Newfoundland by Sir Wilfred Grenfell around 1908 in an attempt to introduce the deer, which are easily domesticated. Some of the reindeer were purchased to haul wood in winter. That experiment failed, and all that remains is the corral where the Sami kept their herd.

From Buchans Junction, a few kilometres drive will take you to Millertown which was named for lumber entrepreneur Lewis Miller.

Heading east again you will travel through a scenic river valley and on to Beothuk Park where a fascinating exhibit recreates the history of early logging in Newfoundland. Visitors can walk through a Logger's Life Provincial Museum and see exhibits that date back to the 1700s. The park is named for the Beothuks, but there are no Beothuk sites here.

Loggers had a hard life, and they had a lingo all their own. A bang belly was a pork and molasses cake made with soda that could be baked, fried or boiled in a stew like dumplings. A peavie was a cart hook for rolling heavy timber. The exhibit includes a barn, a forge, a saw filing shack, a saw pit and a go-devil - a sled with heavy runners used to haul logs over bare ground.

The highway though this beautiful valley follows the Exploits River which was the main access to the sea for Beothuk bands who travelled far into Notre Dame Bay by canoe to hunt seabirds and fish.

The largest town in the area is Grand Falls-Windsor Located 456 km west of St. John's and 272 km east of Corner Brook,

In Grand Falls-Windsor located on St. Catherine Street  is Mary March Provincial Museum,. The museum is named in honour of one of the last of the Beothuks and traces the 5,000-year human history of central Newfoundland through a range of exhibits. There are also exhibits on the complex history and traditions of the other native peoples who lived in the region and traces the development of the later European settlement.

Just behind the museum is a recreation of a Beothuk Village with winter and summer mamateeks, a sweat lodge and other exhibits.

The Exploits Valley Salmon Festival is held here every July and features great entertainment in addition to the food.

The town has one of the most impressive salmon enhancement projects in North America. To visit the Salmonid Interpretation Centre, which is behind the paper mill off Scott Avenue, obtain a map from the Visitor Information Centre on Route 1. Once there, you'll see an impressive salmon ladder which allows migrating salmon to bypass the Grand Falls on their way up the Exploits River to spawn.

The centre is open from mid-June to mid-September and has exhibits on the habitat, history, biology and ecology of the Atlantic salmon. Guided tours are available, and be sure to visit the glass-walled viewing tank in the visitor centre to see the salmon close up. And if you want to go salmon fishing, the Exploits River is a dandy place to wet a line.

Travel east 19 kilometres on Route 1 from Grand Falls-Windsor to Bishop's Falls in the heart of the Exploits Valley. The town was founded by John Bishop, but derives its name from Bishop John Inglis, who visited the falls in 1827. The town's motto `In the middle of the forest we remain' is a clear indication of Bishop's Falls reliance on the forest and its products. The community also had a long relationship with the Newfoundland Railway and was a maintenance depot for the now discontinued ‘Newfie Bullet.’ There is a municipal park on the north bank of the river with a great view of the falls, and a 300-metre trestle over the river.

The Road to Fortune Harbour

Back at Northern Arm, Route 352 will take you through coastal communities in the Bay of Exploits including Phillips Head, named for Joe Phillips, a miner/operator who came in search of iron ore. Here you can still see the remains of a strategic World War II gun battery that was placed here to defend Botwood The old battery site provides a great view across the bay to Laurenceton.

Point of Bay overlooks the Bay of Exploits and its many islands. The rounded shapes of some islands here and throughout Notre Dame Bay indicates their volcanic origin, and a number of copper mines once operated throughout the bay. On a geological formation known as the `Wild Bight Volcanics,' there were at least five mines. Maritime Archaic Indians occupied some of these islands thousands of years ago, and were succeeded by Groswater and Dorset Eskimos, and then by the Beothuks.

The Europeans soon found that the islands in the bay provided excellent access to cod and salmon, and also provided some protection from attacks by the Beothuks. The Beothuks were gradually squeezed out of their traditional coastal areas. Their occupation of the many islands in the bay is confirmed by at least 28 archaeological finds.

After the Beothuks were displaced, the islands were occupied by settlers from Somerset and other parts of England, and prospered into the 20th century when setbacks in the fishery and a resettlement program prompted many people to abandon the islands for steadier work in the woods industries.

Further north on Route 352 are Cottrell's Cove, Fortune Harbour and Moore's Cove, which is at the end of a short unpaved road. Fortune Harbour was the site of a copper mining operation in the 19th century.

To visit communities at the head of the Bay of Exploits, return to Route 1. Norris Arm is on Route 351. People flocked to this area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to work in the logging industry. Before Lewisporte was developed, it was the only town in Notre Dame Bay connected to the railway. There's a beautiful view across the bay to Norris Arm North, which is also known as Alderburn. To reach the north side, return to Route 1 and drive east to the turn-off.

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