The French Ancestors Route/La Route des Ancêtres Français

Distance - 161km

On parle français ici

This tour will take you off Route 1 onto the Port au Port Peninsula via Stephenville. On the peninsula you will encounter a vibrant and exciting culture that dates back to the days when the French colonial fishing fleet used these shores. The traditions, lifestyle and heritage of those early settlers still dominate this small pocket of French-speaking communities with such names as Cape St-George, La Grand'Terre (Mainland) and L'Anse-a-Canards (Black Duck Brook.)

Take either Route 490 or 460 from Route 1 through Stephenville to a part of Newfoundland once referred to as The French Shore, a large stretch of coastline where France held fishing and processing rights until 1904. At one time the French Shore included all of the territory from Cape Bonavista to Cape Ray. Stephenville, the main service centre for the St. George's-Port au Port area, was originally known as Indian Creek. It was renamed by a group of Acadian settlers in 1844 for one of their party, Stephen LeBlanc. Stephenville came into its own during World War II when the United States government built Harmon Air Force base on the outskirts of the town. The base is now part of the town's industrial park.

Stephenville has an international schedule alternate use airport, and a population of more than 10,000. During July and early August, the Stephenville Theatre Festival attracts theatre buffs from all over. Its plays range from original works to professional quality productions of Broadway hits.

A rewarding side trip on Route 462 off Route 460 takes you to Fox Island River. Half way along this road is the Point au Mal lookout, which provides an unexcelled view of Port au Port Bay. The stretch of sandy shore is perfect for beach combing. Geologists and rock hounds will want to take another short drive off Route 460 to Lead Cove where a small cave is all that remains of an early lead mining operation.

The Port au Port Peninsula is one of many geologically interesting parts of the province, and such minerals as marcasite, galena and calcite are found here. The most recent find is oil which may be commercially developed. However, the main economic mineral is the limestone that was quarried at Aguathuna for use in steel mills. The quarry also holds 350 million-year-old Mississippian fossils in a huge and rare column of coquina limestone.

Return to Route 460 and travel west to Campbells Creek - named for its first settler - and through picturesque fishing communities where the traditional way of life is carried on much as it has been for centuries. Photographers will love Abrahams Cove, Jerry's Nose and Ship Cove, which probably got its name from the many ships that went aground in the area. Continue on through Lower Cove to Sheaves Cove where just a short distance from the highway you will see a waterfall and spectacular wave-cut terraces.

Then it's on through March Point, DeGrau and Red Brook to Cape St-George, the heart of French Newfoundland. Every summer the people of the peninsula host French folk festivals that celebrate their heritage. In recent years these festivals have attracted traditional musicians, singers and dancers from all over the province and a host of visitors and performers from the Maritime Provinces, Quebec and the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Things to see include the remains of the lighthouse that was destroyed by fire in 1931, and the small park at Land's End, which is a great place to take photos of the coastline.

From Cape St. George drive to Mainland, a community that is more than 200 years old, from where you can see Red Island, named by Captain James Cook in 1767 when he noticed its reddish-coloured cliffs. Red Island was used as a fishing station by the Basques in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and then by French fishermen from St. Pierre, Brittany and the Acadian communities in Nova Scotia until early this century. Mainland was settled by emigrants from France and runaways from the French navy who found their way to this and other tiny hamlets on the peninsula. The descendants of these first settlers still live here and in such communities as Lourdes, Winterhouse and Black Duck Brook.

The peninsula's coastline has several unusual features, such as the rocks at Three Rock Cove, just past Mainland, that give the community its name. On the northern edge of the peninsula is appropriately named Long Point that juts out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. To reach it, continue on through Black Duck Brook.

At Piccadilly on Route 463 between West Bay Centre and Piccadilly, there's a sandy shore and a hiking trail along the shoreline. As you make your way back toward Route 1, you will notice the peculiar shape of the Port au Port Peninsula. Residents of Port au Port, which is located on the narrowest part of the isthmus, enjoy the luxury of being able to fish in both Port au Port Bay and St. George's Bay.

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