Saturday, 2 January 2016

Quidi Vidi

Quidi Vidi
Newfoundland’s Show Fishing Village
By W. Lacey Amy
Illustrations from Photographs by the Author

From The Canadian Magazine, Vol. XXXVIII, Toronto, January, 1912, No. 3. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, January 2016.

THE first one to sound the praises of Quidi Vidi (pronounced Kiddy Viddy; the more abrupt the better) was the first Newfoundlander I met. After it had headed the list of St. John’s attractions of every Newfoundlander I talked to during the first day of my trip across the island, I changed the wording of my inquiry and asked for things worth seeing around St. John’s“apart from Quidi Vidi, I mean.”
But still each one persisted in commencing his list with the fishing vil­lage, until I firmly made up my mind that if there was one spot in Newfoundland that I did not want to see it was this show place that I knew would have a high iron fence around it and a sign, “Don’t point your um­brella at the picture.”
Later on I met a friend who had not learned the list by heart; and the same name headed his list. Quidi Vidi was more in the conversation than if it had been the new baby.
But I wentaccidentally. I have now to acknowledge that through some strange mistake someone has put the Newfoundlander about right in the name at the head of the stereo-typed rigmarole that is learned in every country for the benefit of the innocent tourist. Who accomplished this feat is the leading mystery of St. John’s. For Quidi Vidi deserves every bit of the devotion it receives.
It is its misfortune that a visitor begins to think of Quidi Vidi like por­ridge in a Scotch home: he simply has to take it in. But once he has visited it, his resentment that it should be vulgarised by the undue familiarity of thousands who can un­derstand no more than that it is “the thing” makes him somewhat loth to add to its local celebrity.
The one who properly appreciates Quidi Vidi will seldom advertise it any more than the fisherman makes known the best fishing holes. Some day the gaze of the hurrying tourist will dispel the halo around the place; at present he has seen no more than its glow. Certainly the village should be placed behind a glass case, with a pointed railing in front; and away down the road towards St. John’s should be stationed a policeman to keep away the throng that is begin­ning to smooth the roads and paths for no other reason than that some great man, some day or other, has seen fit to describe Quidi Vidi as it is. There are few places worth writ­ing about that receive the first at­tentions of the guidebook tourist. The tiny little village that adjoins St. John’s is the most remarkable excep­tion on record.
Quidi Vidi is divided from St. John’s by about two miles of road and a cab tariff that is fearfully and wonderfully made, so far as the visi­tor is able to discover. Fortunately for my impressions, I fought shy of both on my visit. It is due to the fact that I was wandering without a guide that I came upon the fishing village before I knew it, and it had impressed itself on me before I was aware I was looking at that which I had determined carefully to avoid. The road to the village is a hard gravel, smoothly graded, city-entrance affair, just what one would expect as the route to a popular resort, as well suited to what it opens into as a starched collar to a fisherman. Cus­tom and a reckless travesty on fitness have done their most against Quidi Vidi; but the village has until now managed to confine the modernity of the road within its ditches. Singular­ly successful in its fight for exclusive­ness in the face of heavy odds, it offers little out of the ordinary to the cab-fare or the hustling motorist. To see the village one must cross the ditches.
Forced by the exigencies of Regat­ta Day patronage, I was fortunate enough not to be able to secure a cab. Perhaps therein lies the sweetness of my memory of Quidi Vidi. Up Sig­nal Hill I had struggled on foot, leav­ing the crowds streaming away to Long Pond, where the regatta races were held; and I had been rewarded by having the Hill all to myself, able to look down on the hillside city and its marvellous harbour, on the gorge that serves as an outlet for the fish­ing smack and ocean liner, without the annoyance of the “how-perfectly-splendid” tourist anxious only to see the superlative things. Far below me, as I stood beside the Tower, lay the regatta course, two miles away, but strikingly outlined by the flash­ing white and deep black of the gath­ering crowd. Along the edge of the precipitous cliffs that went straight down to the ocean I pulled myself over the rocks and pathless moss, with nothing in mind but the ocean scene beneath. Then there opened far down in front a rickety cluster of houses, with a glimpse of glistening water and cod flakes. I had no idea it was Quidi Vidi; but what I did know was that there lay something I must see more closely, and for miles I clambered down the steep rocks along the water’s edge.
Once I sank out of sight of the village and came upon the cable of­fice, a break in the desertion, a little, long, white building that concealed the conversational access to ocean-distant lands. There was no evidence that I was coming in touch with a guide-book route; the road I passed along was but a crude break in the rockiness, a byway making it easier for the foot-farer without mutilating the landscape. The village had dis­appeared over a rugged rise, but I pushed on, with the knowledge that it would break upon me without dis­appointment. Ahead of me the road branched into two forks, and, follow­ing the rougher, I came to the top of the rise, where the village came suddenly into sight, only a couple of hundred feet below me, the tall, rocky hillside rising abruptly behind it, and the ramshackle fish-houses hanging sleepily over the merest bit of glassy water.
I cared not what was the name of the village I dreaded to disturb with the prying eyes of the passer-by; at that moment I was content to stand and look. Up the grass-covered lane came a silent fisherman, toiling slowly upward as if reluctant to widen the distance to his favourite element. The rattle of a string of carriages stopped him for a moment to look away to his right beneath shaded eyes. Then he came on more quick­ly, reminded of some errand which he seemed to have forgotten when I first caught sight of him.
“Is this a village?” I asked, more as a means to conversation than for information. “Has it a name?”
“Quidi Vidi,” he answered in a voice that matched his pace, and with an abruptness of pronunciation that left me searching for the vowels.
And I lost all desire for conversa­tion. I had come where I had in­tended not to; the mountain path had hoodwinked me into a spot I had wished to avoid. But there was no chiding of the deceiver—just a won­der that at last I had come upon the one great exception, and an admira­tion for the village that was, after all, no show village, but a real centre of a real industry that had uninten­tionally fashioned itself to suit the guide-book and the tourist, the lover of the quaint and the beautiful, but went along its way indifferent to its fame.
Down the roadway where vehicles had never passed, but where the vil­lage cattle or goats had worn a path deep into the grass, I passed. On one side a barbed-wire fence cut off not a detail of the view. On the other a steep bank had been cut away when sometime it had been intended that this should be a real highway. The scene was like a painting, so quiet and lifeless was it. From where I stood there was no sign of movement save in the gentle, sun-touched ripple that sometimes fled across the bit of water, and a line of white clothes that waved lazily in the light breeze. The cod-flakes were white with desertion where the cod lay baking, and dusty-dark where the owner had decided the sun was too warm for perfect dry­ing. Not a sound came up to me to fit in with the anchored boats, the evidences of industry—nothing save the occasional bleat of an invisible goat. The few houses which made up the hamlet were splashed around on the rock with utter disregard for everything save a white road that ran along one side in irregular curves and twists, stamping itself by its colour as the belt-line route around the pond, a mile away, on which the regatta sports were being held. Car­riages passed along it in spots of mov­ing black, followed by a thin cloud of white dust. Now and then a swifter cloud marked the passage of an auto­mobile working up speed to take the hill at high power. It was possible to look down on the village without the blot of the travel-stained road, and I turned hastily to it.
Down near the flakes there was nothing but Quidi Vidi at its bestQuidi Vidi as the tourist does not see it; and there I was content to think that, while there was a tourist-gaped part, there was also that which really counted. Out from me, over the old fish-houses, stretched the cod-flakes, now half covered with drying cod, the remainder showing up in a tangle of poles and dead evergreen brush. Farther away and facing me was a row of fish-houses, with nothing more definite as a line to toe than the irresponsible water-front. And to my surprise, on this bright day each staging was fronted by its fish­ing-boat. Later I discovered that it is part of a fisherman’s upbringing that nothing short of a postponement will keep him from the ’gatta.
But even yet I had not come to the Quidi Vidi that will long with­stand the fame that spoils. Ahead of us the road seemed to end abrupt­ly, and I hesitated to look for the out­let; but the discovery was made that the road passed beneath the flakes, as if ignoring their presence as serious obstacles or offering overhead a com­mon flake of good extent and unsur­passed drying qualities. And through the unused flakes fell the sun in a dizzy network that made it impossible to place the group of little children running towards me. All above and around the flakes covered the ground and the water’s edge. To give access to them boards were slanted up with cleats to hold the feet; or rough stairs opened above, with creaking gates to keep down the hens and over­young children. Acres of ground and roadway were buried in dark­ness beneath the cod-covered flakes, or lit with the patterned rays that came through the poles and branches. Houses pushed peevishly against the encroaching poles in all directions, resenting the fact that they were al­lowed to exist only on sufferance. The road was marked by many feet, but not a wheel. It was the real main street of the village, whatever the autos might think of the white road beyond.
Somewhere I could hear the puffing of the cars and the rapidly fading laughter of flying visitors; but they were apart from the world down there, and the descriptions that would be carried home of Quidi Vidi to listening friends would fit as well asas tourists’ word-pictures usually do. One automobile with instincts for the hidden crept carefully around a corner and stopped at the edge of the overhanging flakes. But it did not delay. With some haste the chauffeur turned with many a back­ward plunge and forward pitch, and facing the return road darted away in a cloud of dust that had never be­fore followed this break in the scene. Another car, with longings for inti­mate views, but a commendable sense of decency, stopped on the main road, just where one of the private streets branched off and showed the corner of a covering flake, satisfied itself with looking, and then quietly went on its way with unusual modesty and respect. There are hopes for the owner of that car. There should be signs along the travelled road warn­ing modernity from leaving the beaten track. An automobile in Quidi Vidi is like whistling in a Catholic cathedral.
A woman came towards me beneath the flakes, shading her eyes from the flickering sunbeams to see me the more readily. I waited to speak to her, but she turned aside under the network of poles, her pail knocking noisily against projecting ends as she wound down to the fish-houses.
The merry sound of children broke on me from some unseen playground close at hand, and now and then they would cross the path with disturbing suddenness, to disappear as unac­countably into paths known only to these underflake dwellers. Two little girls passed, their hair done up in strange veils, and their clean, white dresses conspicuous with hands that carefully held them up from all dan­ger of dirt less deep than the knees. I accepted the invitation and asked the reason of the special garb and seeming haste.
“We’re going to the picnic,” one of them answered, describing the re­gatta as it appeared to her.
“But most of the people are there now,” I said thoughtlessly. A shadow passed across their faces, and their reply was full of disappointment.
“We know. But mother won’t let us go ’fore dinner, ’cause our dresses wouldn’t last. We’d ruther go ’thout dinner if she’d let us.”
A call came from some unplaced direction, and the girls dropped their dresses and darted into a narrow opening among the poles.
Near the edge of the village a small stream had worn its way down through centuries until it boasted a gorge entirely out of pro­portion with the volume of water. And beside the hill-enclosed pond it fell into a shower of falls that gave the finishing touch to the native beauty of the spot. A few goats struggled for existence on the sparse verdure, placed there, it would seem, more for their picture-effect than for their use.
Of course, now that I was in Quidi Vidi, I had to visit the spot from which all the local photographs are taken. To the top of the rock a well-worn path showed the reason for the advice I had received from admirers of Quidi Vidi, who saw I carried a camera. Everyone took pictures from that point. Acquiescing to conven­tions, I did the same. It proved to be another instance where custom was not injudicious. Below lay the village church, with its squatty steeple, the sole attempt at conven­tional architecture in the village. Close beside it was the tiny school, a building with ambitions, but limited realisation. Its brown sides stood out abruptly fresh in colouring; in its short length an attempt had been made to squeeze in three windows, with the result that they crowded the end-walls with terrifying effect.
Climbing down the hill to the road the village ended abruptly in the gravelled, much-travelled highway that vindicated the guide-books. Now it was a procession of cabs and car­riages and automobiles filled with tourists and residents who had select­ed the long way around through Quidi Vidi to the regatta pond. The show fishing village had ceased to be as suddenly as it had come into view. But it should always be. If anything in Newfoundland has justi­fied itself in the list of local attrac­tions, or to the traveller who sees it accidentally, Quidi Vidi can claim that distinction.


This is the first of a series of Newfoundland and Labrador articles by Mr. Amy. The next will appear in the February Number and be entitled “St. John’s: The Impossible Possible.”

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.