Me Down and Otterbury
A Place That Was
Roland L. Noel
Above Freshwater, along the shore line stretching from Clowns Cove Head to Salmon Cove Head, were three thriving communities: Flatrock, Blow me Down and Otterbury. I say “were,” for today all you can see of those former villages is a sea of wild grass waving in a lazy breeze on a summer’s morn, as if saying farewell to a people passed. But, in the glow of a late autumn sunset as its shadows of evening fade into winter night, you can hear, feel and see the barren desolation of A Place That Was.
Like Freshwater in bygone years, they were busy fishing communities populated with the same brave breed of men and women who came to these shores seeking a new life. They were a hardworking, industrious people trying to make a living under difficult conditions. Unlike Freshwater and Clowns Cove, they had no beaches on which to bring their catch ashore. Some of the fishermen of Flatrock used Clowns Cove beach, but others, including those from Blow Me Down and Otterbury, built stage heads beneath the cliffs and lowered ladders down the rocky ledges to them. Then, after their catch was split, gutted and headed, they would haul it in hand barrels up to the windswept headlands above to be cured on fish flakes (drying racks) built there. They were truly iron men who manned wooden boats, a brave and hardy race who laboured from the cliffs against a restless tide and unforgiving elements. They survived only through brute force and fortitude with a vision of a better tomorrow for their families.
They were closely related with Freshwater and were part of the social community. They were members of the social fraternal organizations, such as the Orange Lodge and the Fisherman’s Union, and shared common public facilities (post office, courthouse, school and church) located in Freshwater. Many were members of the Freshwater Methodist Church. In the early days the people of those communities attended church and school in Freshwater, but later, in the first half of the 1900s, they came to have their own school and church. However, these still came under the charge of the Freshwater Methodist Church. As the people from those communities passed away, they were buried in the cemeteries in Freshwater, so today one can see grave markers bearing inscriptions of the old familiar surnames that first settled there: Pottle, Penney, Hiscock, Evely, Derring, Clark, Snow, Wareham, Sommers, and others.
As a child I attended Church Bible school in Flatrock during the summer. What I remember most going down there with my friends was that they had no electric lights. In winter I was always entranced by the glow of the kerosene oil lamps and the brightly burning embers from the coal and wood stoves shining through the windows and reflecting on the snow-covered ground. I can still smell the fragrance of the burning wood and coal and the sweet aroma of the alders as it filled the frosty air.
By the time I was a youth, there were only a couple families living in Blow Me Down and Otterbury. The fishing industry diminished and the people moved out into bigger centers. Flatrock lasted on until the 1960s and then, like so many small communities throughout Newfoundland, they too went the path of resettlement. But the descendants of this small community still maintain a linkage to their heritage by celebrating Flatrock Day once a year. It’s a day when elders remember and the young folk hear the stories retold of – A Time That Was – A Place That Was. But to their ancestors, it was – A Place Called Home.
Copyright © 1999 by Roland Noel. All rights reserved. Revised: 16 Jul 2000 23:50:57 -0400