Last week, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced the first-ever designations under the newly-established Provincial Historic Commemorations Program. The program is designed to recognize and commemorate distinctive aspects of our province’s history, culture and heritage. Dildo Island, which represents more than 2,500 years of occupation by various cultures, was commemorated as a Place of Provincial Significance. Kelly Russell, well-known fiddler and tireless promoter of Newfoundland and Labrador’s traditional music, was recognized under the category of Tradition Bearer.
Because we worked on the Baccalieu: Crossroads for Culture Project and have worked closely with clients in the Dildo area, as well as with Kelly and his family through the Bay Roberts Cultural Foundation and “A Time in Pigeon Inlet,” we have in depth knowledge about the two choices.
Like almost everyone in the province, I was familiar with Kelly Russell, the fiddle player, but until “A Time in Pigeon Inlet,” I did not know that he is also a skilled storyteller, a producer and director, and recorder and arranger of music. With his company Pigeon Inlet Productions, he has produced Tales from Pigeon Inlet (3CD set, featuring 30 original recordings of his father, Ted Russell’s works) and a number of other compilations of music and spoken word by the best know performers in the province.
He has developed and printed two unique books of musical notation: Fiddle Music of Newfoundland & Labrador – Volume 1 – The Music of Rufus Guinchard & Emile Benoit, containing musical notation to over 250 fiddle tunes learned from master fiddlers Rufus Guinchard and Emile Benoit. Volume 2 is also now available, containing tunes from 25 other fiddlers around the Province including several fiddlers from Labrador.
Needless to say, over the past two years, I have gained tremendous respect for Kelly’s contribution to the culture and heritage of the province, and he is very worthy of the name Tradition Bearer. A Time in Pigeon Inlet which he produces in cooperation with the Bay Roberts Cultural Foundation, helps to preserve the legacy his father, Ted Russell and to preserve the traditions and culture of outport Newfoundland. His own website, Pigeon Inlet Productions, www.pigeoninlet.com, provides information about the items he has produced, and his contribution to ensuring future generations are aware of our traditional music.
Dildo Island was also an excellent choice. Dildo Island, is relatively unknown outside the region, although it is a treasure of international interest on many levels. The fact that so many different cultures chose to live there, speaks volumes. The island is located in area which is visited by seals, whales, and various types of birds. Fish swim in the water and the land provides quantities of berries and other editable plants. A caribou migration path was located in nearby Blaketown, and various types of small animals such as rabbits and beaver live in the woods. The various cultures that occupied the island took advantage of the abundant food supply. In spite of the many excesses of hunting and fishing habits during the last half of the 20th century, the island, the waters around it, and the Dildo area are still home to many species of plant and animal life on land and in the water. Dildo and Dildo Island can be the site for marvelous hiking trips, studying the natural history of the area.
Everyone loves a good story and the story of human habitation on Dildo Island is an amazing tale. I was first introduced to that story by William Gilbert, chief archaeologist, when Baccalieu Consulting worked with him to produce a booklet for the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation entitled Journeys Through Time: 10 Years of Archaeology on the Baccalieu Trail. The amount of documentation and the number of artifacts that have been found are truly amazing, and William Gilbert has an ability to tell a detailed technical story in plain, coherent language that is easy to understand.
In 2005, we were project managers for Baccalieu: Crossroads for Cultures, which brought together a large number of groups and individuals, including William Gilbert, to tell the 17th century history of the region, in preparation for the Cupids 400 Celebrations, which are taking place this year.
For a person who loves history and anthropology, the ability to be able to handle items that people used on that island over two thousand years ago is unimaginable. It was fascinating to learn that the Dorset Eskimo over 1000 years ago actually fashioned lamps which burned seal oil and that they produced serrated blades on their cutting instruments.
It was eerie to read Henry Cout’s 1613 account of landing on Dildo Island. He entered a Beothuk home where the fire pit was still warm and examined the inside, seeing how they slept. When he was ready to go, he left gifts for the Beothuk that own the home. The following day, when he returned, he found the Beothuk had left a gift of cooked meat for them. It is heartbreaking to read his plea, saying do no harm to the Beothuk people, in the light of later events.
More Information about Dildo Island
If you are interesting in following the story of Dildo Island and of the visit by the Cupids colonists, you can find detailed information.
From Baccalieu: Crossroads for Cultures – “The Beothuk at Dildo Island” (available in English and French )
From Baccalieu: Crossroads for Cultures – Henry Crout’s letter to Sir Percival Willoughby, Summer 1613 transcribed by William Gilbert (available in French and English)
If you want to find more information about the archaeological dig, and the various cultures that occupied Dildo Island, you can find detailed information.
From Baccalieu Digs (website of the Baccalieu Heritage Corporation, maintained by William Gilbert, chief archaeologist) – Dildo Island
And, to find information about events and activities of Cupids 400, you can see Cupids Cove Chatter.
Accommodations in the Region
If you are interested in visiting the area, we maintain websites for a number of accommodations. These accommodations consist of B & Bs, Cottages, RV and Camping Parks and range in cost. The whole area covers a radius of about 40km, so if you stay in one place, you are with easy driving distance of all other parts.
In addition, we maintain the website for Northern Bay Sands RV and Camping Park, which is also on the Baccalieu Peninsula.
We also maintain the website for Northern Avalon Tourism Association – Accommodations – All the accommodations listed are within an hour of the Cupids – Dildo area.