Rose Blanche is a beautiful shoreline community east of Port aux Basque, NL. Three summers ago, I visited and spent the night in the Hook, Line and Sinker Bed and Breakfast. It was a perfect Newfoundland day. The wind off the ocean whipped around my hair and crashed waves upon the rocky shore. Rain whirled around us but we didn’t get that wet.
History is etched deep into the stone of the isolated community. It is shared with visitors through the many signs placed along the trail to and from the Rose Blanche Lighthouse.
The name Rose Blanche is a corruption of the French words, “roche blanche” (white rock), which can be seen in the distance at Diamond Cove. This white quartz was highly visible to the French migratory fishermen when they first approached the shore in the early 1700s. The first permanent settlers came around 1810.
The prosperity of Rose Blanche has traditionally been tied to the harvesting and processing of cod, especially during the winter months. This harvest, which sustained the community for hundreds of years, came to an abrupt end in 1992 with the announcement of a cod moratorium. The fish processing plant, which was opened in 1960, closed in 1998. Today far fewer men and women work in the fishing industry and they are restricted to specific species and quotas.
During the provincial government’s resettlement plan of the 1950s and 1960s, people from smaller communities along the southwest coast, like Cape La Hune, Parson’s Harbour and West Point were moved to Rose Blanche. Caines Island (near left) and the Neck area were also inhabited until the 1960s when residents there relocated to the main harbour. Rose Blanche was an isolated outport until 1961
when a road connection to Port aux Basques was opened. Electricity was provided to the community in 1965. The population peaked in the late 1970s but has been in sharp decline since the collapse of the fishery in the 1990s.
Rose Blanche is the birthplace of Newfoundland author Cassie Brown who has written many books, including Death On The Ice (the tale of the Newfoundland Sealing Disaster of 1914), which sold nearly 100,000 copies.
The first of two signs detailing the lighthouse history.
D & T Stevenson, Lighthouse Engineers in Edinburgh, Scotland designed the lighting apparatus for the Rose Blanche lighthouse. This is the family of the famous author, Robert Louis Stevenson. Although it is known that Robert Louis worked in his family’s engineering firm on school breaks, we do not know if he actually worked on the design of this light. The light was dioptric of the 4th order. It was a fixed white light that was exhibited from sunset to sunrise at an elevation of 95 feet above sea level and it was seen in clear weather for thirteen miles.
There were six lightkeepers during the lifespan of the lighthouse. They were John A. Roberts, John Cook, Bruce Cook, Philip Hatcher, and James Skinner. Philip Hatcher served a second term and was the last lightkeeper.
There were several ships lost in the vicinity of the lighthouse. Some of the better known are the Dorothy E., the Julia A. Anderson and the Monica Hartlery. This restored lighthouse is dedicated to all those mariners who sail our shores and to the lights and their keepers that bring them home.
“Remove not the ancient landmark, which they fathers have set.” Proverbs 22:28
The Second Sign
On February 21, 1871, the Journal of the House of Assembly for Newfoundland reads: “Mr. Emerson presented petitions from John Cunningham and others of Burgeo and vicinity, P. H. Sorsoliel and others of Rose Blanche, Petites, Burnt Islands, Harbour LeCou, Sound Islands, Garia, Western Point and LaPoile Bay, which were severally received and read praying for the erection of lighthouses in the districts of Burgeo and Lapoile.”
On July 26, 1871, Inspector J. T. Neville selected the location of the lighthouse. In 1873, the lighthouse began operation and continued until the early 1940s when the light was replaced with a beacon mounted on a wooden support. This wooden support was replaced by a steel structure in the early 1960s.
In 1988, South West Coast Development Association and other community groups began the long process of restoring the lighthouse. Actually, restoration work began in the fall of 1996 with funding from Human Resources Development Canada and the Strategic Regional Diversification Agreement.
“For love of lovely words, and for the sake of those, my kinsmen and my countrymen who early and late in windy ocean toiled to plan a star for seamen, where was then the surfy haunt of seals and cormorants: I, on the lintel of this cot, inscribe the name of a strong tower.” Robert Louis Stevenson
The Dorothy Edwards
On January 23, 1925, a fierce winter gale swept the southwest coast of Newfoundland. When the storm abated, the toll of the sea was counted. Thirteen schooners and sixteen crewmen were missing. It has been referred to ever since as “The Southwest Coast Disaster”.
The crew of the Dorothy Edwards were among the lucky ones. They were returning home to Harbour Le Cou from the Rose Blanche Fishing Banks when the storm hit. They were unable to get into port because of engine problems, high seas and heavy winds, so they tried to seek shelter under the “Neck”. Their plan was to anchor the schooner and ride out the storm. However, the anchor cable got tangled around Captain Robert Edwards’ leg. To prevent the Captain from being pulled into the stormy seas, the crew quickly cut the anchor cable. At 3:00 a.m., without an anchor, the schooner soon drifted into “Winging Rocks”.
Edward (Neddy) Parsons who resided on the “Neck”, saw the pending disaster of the Dorothy Edwards and her crew. Raising the alarm, he summoned his neighbours who helped him tie salmon net moorings together to make a lifeline. The line was then attached to a small boat which the wind carried out to the doomed Dorothy Edwards. The crew climbed into the small craft and with the help of the men on shore, pulled themselves to safety. There they were taken into homes, given dry clothes and made warm. Later they walked the two km. overland to Harbour Le Cou, where their anxious families were waiting and worrying.
The crew were: Robert Edwards (Captain), Henry Edwards, John Edwards (Sons of Robert), John Clarke, Bert Reid
The little outport village of Petites, 3 miles to the east, is one of the few remaining communities in Newfoundland without a road connection. Petites has a very small harbour sheltered by a multitude of small islands and rocks but it is likely that the community takes its name, not from the size of the harbour, but from the Petite family of Fortune Bay. This family, dating back to the 1700s, has a long tradition of involvement in the fishery on the western banks. Access to the prime fishing grounds of the Rose Blanche Bank attracted the first settlers to Petites in the 1840s. By 1869 their numbers had increased to 304 and Petites was an important economic centre for the whole southwest coast. Since that time the population has declined steadily to just 20 permanent residents in the year 2000. The all grades, two-room schoolhouse closed its doors in 1998.
Granite, used in the construction of the St. John’s Courthouse came from a quarry near the harbour entrance in Petites.
The community has a well-preserved, wooden Methodist church the oldest in North America still standing on its original foundation. It was built in 1850 and has been a Registered Historic Structure since 1994. Although the interior has been renovated and modernized, the original pews, balcony, windows, altars, columns, and diamond-shaped design covering theinterior perimeter of the church remain.