BLOW●ME●DOWNER

A Website and a Monthly Newsletter about the Outer Bay of Islands, Newfoundland

The DISCOVERY PAGE

Blow-Me-Down Mountain in late fall with snow

 It's hard to imagine how eons ago this mountain was part of the Earth's mantle, kilometres below the surface, and was brought up by the collision of continents.  However scientists believe that this mountain and the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park to the north all originated in that way. The rock is called "ophiolite" and in this area is often composed of serpentinite which has given its name to the Serpentine River in the Lewis Hills.

What's in a Name?

The Outer Bay of Islands is dominated by Blow-Me-Down Mountain with an elevation of 763 metres or 2,313 feet.  The mountain is believed to have received its name from early British mariners who experienced the sudden violent winds of the area nearby.  The Blow-Me-Down mountain range, part of the Lewis Hills and the Appalachian system along the eastern seaboard of North America, exercises a great influence on the climate of the region, often creating characteristic conditions of high winds, huge seas and spectacular cloud formations.  In common with many regions of the world where mountains dominate as, for example, in NW Scotland,, it also exercises a powerful influence on the lives of those who live nearby.  The Blow-Me-Down Mountains contain some of the most spectacular and interesting scenery in Newfoundland and even in Canada.

This influence is recognised in the names given to other natural features like Blow-Me-Down Brook, and has been adopted locally in the name of the Provincial Park, Public Library, an annual festival in August called "Blow-Me-Down Days", and in the name of our local news publication, the Blow-Me-Downer. The mountain has even lent its name in Corner Brook to the golf course, although it is mis-spelled as Blomidon !

How Newfoundland was discovered by Europeans

Newfoundland was the closest part of North America to Europe.  According to the Greenland Saga, one of many Icelandic Sagas, about the year 1000 AD the Norsemen arrived there and established the Vinland Settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows at the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula.  They stayed there about four years and then returned home to Greenland.  For years their discovery was forgotten as history, believed to be merely a fanciful tale in the Icelandic Sagas.  It was dismissed as fictional until traces of what could be an ancient settlement were shown by a local man, George Decker, to a Norwegian archeologist Helge Ingstad in the 1960s.  Over the next few years Ingstad and his wife Ann Stine excavated the site at L'Anse aux Meadows and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site maintained by Parks Canada.

After their return to Greenland those Norsemen remained in contact with their compatriots in Iceland for several generations, but climatic conditions became gradually more difficult until contact was lost with the rest of their people to the south, and finally they died from isolation, disease. or the harsh climate in about 1500.  This was around the same time as new discoveries of North America were being made.

The "Rediscovery" of Newfoundland

The Island of Newfoundland was then "rediscovered" by Europeans who were regularly visiting there before 1500 AD, about the same time as Christopher Columbus made his famous voyage of 1492.  In the waters around Newfoundland these intrepid mariners were making their perilous journeys to catch codfish (Gadus americanus) which they salted and brought back to Europe where it was sold for great profit.

Once the news of this wonderful resource became known in Europe, large numbers of vessels began to make similar voyages, returning with their catches to various ports on the coasts of western Europe and an industry which would last for the next five hundred years was born.

This was the Age of Discovery, and adventurous seafarers from Europe were pushing the boundaries of exploration in every direction.  One such mariner was Giovanni Caboto, an Italian from Venice, better known by his anglicised name John Cabot.  He had tried to secure financial assistance from Henry the Navigator, king of Spain, but was refused.  He then went to England and eventually found backing from Henry VII, king of England.  He thus obtained a caravel, the reliable Portuguese ship design which came to dominate the 16th Century.  He set sail from Bristol, England, in 1497, reaching Newfoundland's east coast and claiming the Island in the name of his sponsor, the English king.  Thus Newfoundland, or Terra Nova, the New Land, was on its way to becoming "Britain's Oldest Colony".

Replica of the Matthew

With an overall length of only 73 feet, a displacement of 50 tons, and a draft of 6 feet, John Cabot's little ship, with a crew of 19, crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497, taking just over seven weeks.  Today we hear of small boats making the same voyage, sometimes with only a single person on board, but imagine what it must have been like for Cabot and his crew, with no radio and only primitive navigation equipment, setting out to a place of which no one knew anything.  An alarming prospect, but they went anyway, and in Cabot's case they lived to tell the story.  Many other explorers set sail and were never heard of again!

The picture shows the 1997 replica, built to original specifications except where modern safety regulations required compliance.  Also with a crew of 19, this ship arrived in the Bay of Islands to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Cabot's voyage.   Researched and designed by British naval architect Colin Mudie, the ship's hull was constructed with 26 oak trees, and a mast made from a 75-foot Douglas pine, while other wooden parts were made of larch, and metal fittings of steel or aluminum bronze to resist corrosion.  The replica was fitted with 1997 state-of-the-art navigational equipment and assisted when necessary with twin propellers driven hydraulically by a 200hp diesel engine, but could also run under sail exactly like the original.

John Cabot's great little ship Matthew in the Bay of Islands                                                 Click the picture below for more.