Brigus and Cupids – History and Archaeology

The villages of Brigus and nearby Cupids are ideal destinations for a day trip from St. John’s.

Brigus

Brigus is 86 km (53 mi.) from St. John’s (about an hour’s drive).

Nestled in a protected harbour, Brigus is as close to the image of a perfect Newfoundland outport that you are likely to find. The streets of the sleepy village are lined with brightly coloured and well maintained old houses.

Stop in at The Country Corner for gifts and fresh cod chowder with blueberry crisp, and visit other welcoming shops in town. If you want to stay the night in this idyllic village there are a number of Inns and bed and breakfasts all of which provide exemplary accommodations. If you are lucky and visit Brigus in the second week of August you cannot avoid taking in the Annual Blueberry Festival.

One way to have a great view of the outer harbour of Brigus is to walk through a unique 80 foot tunnel excavated in 1860 to provide access from the town to a wharf for deep sea vessels particularly those belonging to the town’s most famous resident, Captain Bob Bartlett.

Captain Bartlett, a hero of Canadian exploration, was known world-wide for his courageous exploits at sea. Between 1893 and 1908 he served Robert Peary on three expeditions to reach the North Pole. It is still in debate whether Peary himself reached the Pole on the third voyage.

Later, Bartlett in command of the Karluk was part of the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913. On the ill-fated voyage the Karluk became frozen in the ice. Bartlett and his men escaped the ship which was crushed and sank. After ensuring his men were safe in an Inuit encampment, Captain Bartlett hiked well over 800 kilometres to Siberia and then on to Alaska where he collected a party to rescue his men. For over 20 years after this adventure Bartlett sailed the Arctic seas collecting botanical specimens for scientific research and animals for zoos.

Captain Bartlett’s Brigus home, Hawthorne Cottage, is open to the public. In the summer months a series of plays are performed in the gardens. They are dramatic tales of Bartlett’s life.

Another very famous but definitely odd character settled in Brigus in 1914-15. The opinionated American artist and writer, Rockwell Kent lived in a small cottage that is picturesquely situated on a steep hill overlooking the town. Some of the locals, suspicious of anyone from away who would want to live in their community, decided that Kent was a German spy. Their gossip drove the painter to abandon his home and return to the United States. An historical novel by the Newfoundland writer, Michael Winter, titled The Big Why, is well worth reading before or after your visit to Brigus, as it deals with Kent and his friend Bob Bartlett.

Cupids

Cupids is 86 km (53 mi.) from St. John’s (about an hour’s drive) while only 4 km (2.5 mi.) from Brigus.

Not far from Brigus the village of Cupids has the honour of being the location of the oldest English colony in Canada. An ongoing archaeological dig at Cupids has unearthed some 150,000 artefacts from the 1610 settlement founded by John Guy from Bristol, England. Many of the artefacts are on display in the Cupids Legacy Centre. Here you will be told the history of the settlement and the squabbling, pirate attacks and hostile provocations by fishermen that eventually led to the abandonment of the onshore plantation.

To inspect the dig itself and to see the processes of cataloguing and preservation of the artefacts discovered on the site walk five minutes from the Legacy Centre to the Cupids Cove Plantation Site and Archaeology Lab.

For the hiking enthusiast, there are several trails from Cupids, one of which leads up to the abandoned communities of “Deep Gulch” and “Greenland”. The names themselves are inspiration enough to undertake the walk.

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