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Monday, October 30, 2017

Urban Exploring: Naval and Air Station Argentia, NL

Joyce and AG3 John Ehlich at the
American Naval and Air Station Argentia.
Joyce Ehlich was only 19 years old and newly married when she boarded a plane from New York and landed in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. With no idea what she was in for, she wore her prettiest beige mini-dress to impress her husband of two months, who was serving at the American Naval and Air Station Argentia. It was 1969, AG3 John Ehlich had been posted there a year earlier.

John picked her up at the airport in a Volkswagen and told her “It’s not far. It’s only 90 miles to the base and we’ll stay in the B.O.Q.” The B.O.Q. was a ten-story barracks for officers often referred to as the “Argentia Hilton” and was once the tallest building in the province.

AG3 John Ehlich catching fish in Argentia
Ehlich had already taken a ten-hour plane ride from New York to Montreal in a jet and from Montreal to St. John’s in a prop plane that had eight stops along the way. A good portion of the ride to Argentia was on a bumpy dirt road and the Volkswagen began to fill with dust. By the time they arrived she had been travelling for almost 14 hours. She laughs remembering, “I went into the B.O.Q. washroom to freshen up only to discover my face was covered in dust and dirt from her bumpy ride down the Argentia Access Road.” It was a hard introduction to military life for a 19-year-old, newly married wife of a soldier.

AG3 Ehlich was an aerographer with the United States Navy. He was a member of the Atlantic Weather and Ice patrols at the base. His unit updated weather conditions on the North Atlantic, while the Ice Patrols reported on the position of icebergs.

Naval and Air Station Argentia was a former base of the United States Navy, it
The barracks - Photographer Joyce Ehlich
operated from 1941-1994 in the community of Argentia which today, would be about an hour drive from St. John’s. The United States government spent approximately $53 million dollars on building the base. A staggering amount for 1940. In 2017, that amount would equal $926,689,857. At the time of its construction it brought welcomed economic prosperity to the area but it also brought immense hardship and resentment for the residents of Argentia and Marquise.

These families were ordered to hand their land and homes over to the Americans. Eviction notices were delivered and many residents were only given a month to leave. They received as little as $3,000 and $6,000 in compensation. Keep in mind these families had to walk away from the homes they grew up in, farmland that was their livelihoods and that had been passed down through generations.

The abandoned school as it stands today
In 1940 when the deal to build Argentia was done Newfoundland was not part of Canada and was still a British colony.  The land was given as part of the “Destroyers for Bases Agreement” between the United States and the United Kingdom which was signed on September 2, 1940. In the agreement fifty mothballed Caldwell, Wickes, and Clemson class US Navy destroyers were transferred to the Royal Navy from the United States Navy in exchange for land rights on British possessions. Newfoundlanders were told to move starting in December 1940. They did not blame the
Tiny footprints lead to the front door of the school
Americans and welcomed the much-needed work. They did blame the non-elected Commission of Government who consisted of seven people appointed by the British government. Locals accused them of not representing the residents properly in the deal. In the end, about 200 properties were burnt or torn down to make way for the base.

An abandoned building on base
The American service men and their families knew very little about the homes and history that were lost. Ehlich and her husband were housed off base in Freshwater at Kelly’s Alley. They lived in a small, very rugged house and at one point the landlord wanted to rent the space next to theirs to another military family. He asked if they would mind sharing a bathroom. Ehlich said “Absolutely not” and the landlord turned a small woodpile room into a bathroom for them.

She recalls with fondness how they would go to the base and pay a quarter to play ten-pin bowling and go to the B.O.Q. Mess once a month to dine at the beefeater’s carving station.  At 19 she was one of the youngest military wives and found the move from her home town of Long Island to Argentia like going back in time. “We couldn’t buy bread so I
The doors to the abandoned gymnasium
had to make my own” she recollected “There was no ice cream and we could only get powdered milk.”

At one point, approximately 12,000 American military personnel were stationed at the Argentia base. It closed in 1994. There is rumoured to be an active submarine base still there today and urban explorers have great fun trying to find it. Urban explorers like to seek out abandoned man-made structures or ruins to photograph and document it as a hobby.  Nowadays the base has been taken over as an industrial site. Many of the original buildings are still standing but abandoned. Most of the housing and the main hall have been demolished. You can drive or walk around the base, look through the windows and imagine its former glory. There is also a walking trail that takes you through the wooded area
The anchor is still there
around the base.

February 1942 saw the Argentia base at the centre of one of the worst disasters in the US Navy's history when USS Pollux and USS Truxtun were wrecked 75 mi (121 km) southwest of the base. Over 100 victims are buried in Argentia's military cemetery.

First World War, World War two and Cold war sites are popular with tourists and lots of them have been turned into museums. For example, the “Diefenbunker” formally known as Canadian Forces Station Carp is an underground complex that was built during the Cold War. Its main purpose was to be an emergency shelter for government officials including the Prime Minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker, in the event of a
The buildings are left to decay
nuclear attack. Now it is a museum offering tours to visitors.

Ehlich says it is a crime that the once glorious 53 million-dollar U.S. Naval and Air Station has been left to decay. Her and John left Argentia in 1970 and shortly afterwards John left the Navy to join the Nassau County Police Department. They have been married for 49 years and reside in Islip, Long Island, New York. She did leave with the best souvenir “I was pregnant with my first daughter when we left” she laughed “I would love to go back and see the base again.”

Naval and Air Station Argentia can be easily found on Google maps and is free to explore. Keep in mind that urban exploring has risks. Due to the dilapidation of the base exploring can be dangerous. The buildings are owned privately and entering them is illegal. If caught you may face arrest and punishment. There are also areas that are restricted by government and trespassing in those may violate Federal laws.

If you like exploring military history, you must visit Navel and Air Base
The windows have long been broken out

A few tidbits on the history of Naval and Air Station Argentia:
On August 7, 1941 the heavy cruiser USS Augusta carrying U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived in the anchorage at Little Placentia Bay off the base. Roosevelt inspected the construction progress and did some fishing from the Augusta over the next two days. The Augusta was joined by the British warship HMS Prince of Wales carrying British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on August 9, 1941. While in the Argentia anchorage from August 9–12, the chiefs of staff of Britain and the U.S. met to discuss war strategies and logistics once the U.S.
The doors are locked. You can only photograph
from the window
joined in the war. The two leaders and their aides also negotiated the wording of a press release that they called a "joint statement". That press release was issued on August 14, 1941 in Washington, D.C. and simultaneously in London, England. Several days later the Daily Herald would characterize the public statement as being the Atlantic Charter. However, there never was a signed, legal document called the "Atlantic Charter". Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill signed it. The conference concluded the evening of August 12, 1941 with the British and American warships and their escorts passing in review before departing the area for their home ports. The joint declaration was publicly announced on August 14, presumably after Prince of Wales had returned to UK waters.
AG3 John Ehlich's Argentia troup

An ex-marine claims nuclear weapons were stored at the Argentia Base in the 1960s according to a CBC story.

Combined Bachelor Quarters Implosion v=082XIVIlro
#NavalandAirStationArgentia #urbanexploring #NewfoundlandandLabrador #Argentia

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dancing in the Fairy Circle of Harbour Grace

I was blueberry picking around Tors Cove with my mother when I was a small child. The bushes had been picked over by people who were there before us so we had to wade deep into the brush to find the good ones. With a bucket each, our nimble fingers would pluck the berries from their stems. She noticed me wondering off toward a wooded area and yelled, “Don’t go near the woods, the fairies will take you away.”

Those horrible little fairies ruled my childhood.

“Put a crust of bread in your coat pocket” my mother advised another time when I told her I was walking to my friend’s house near a big field, “The fairies will leave you alone that way.”  It wasn’t unusual to find a religious medal pinned to my night dress to ward off the fairies while I slept. My mother was big into the fairies

Why were the fairies afraid of bread? No one seems to know.

Recently I heard of a Fairy Circle located somewhere in Harbour Grace. My husband and I made the hour-long drive one Saturday afternoon. I was able to find a few pictures on the internet but no one was saying exactly where the fairies kept their circle.

We stopped so I could ask a gentleman walking on Water Street. He told me the circle is unlucky and wouldn’t tell me where it was. “If you find it, get out before it’s dark and don’t dare bring any children near it. You don’t want the fairies to take them.” I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my leg or not. So, we stopped into a bed and breakfast in the area and asked the owner if he knew where the Fairy Circle was. “It’s in a big field behind a farm. If you can’t find it, follow the music” he whispered. “The fairy music that supposedly lures children in to the woods?” I chuckled. “No, the Irish music from the band playing in the soccer field.” Apparently, there was a music festival on that day.

We found the edge of a big wooded field and decided to start walking until we found the circle or the fairies took us away. We ran into a group of three young girls and I asked them if they knew where the Fairy Circle was. “No” said one, “I wouldn’t look for that.” Her friend said, “Be careful you can only find it if the fairies allow you to see it.” Looking back I think these were teenaged fairies sent to scare us away.

But I was even more intrigued. About twenty minutes later hubby says, “Look on top of those tall trees over there. They are beech trees!” We started to run and to my utter joy we stumbled upon where the fairies dance.  It was a circle of extremely tall beech trees. I didn’t know trees grew that tall in Newfoundland.

The ground surrounding it was baron as nothing can grow on fairy ground and the branches stretched out like thick arms with smaller branches with boney fingers reaching out and touching the ground forming a protective cage all around the circle. No one knows where the Fairy Circle came from, who planted it or how long it has been there. Locals believe it is where fairies have their meetings and dance in the pale moonlight. I was told by one elder the reason some people can’t find it is because it disappears from time
to time. I could go back next week and it will be gone.

Someone else told me the trees were planted in a circle to protect the grave of a powerful witch. Stepping into the circle and carefully walking on the eerie ground that covers the witch’s bones sent shivers down my spine. I could feel her cold, boney fingers reaching up from the grave and pulling me down with her.

Now I had wished I put my underwear on backwards to ward the fairies and witches off. When I stood in the center of the circle my first instinct was to dance. Not the Hokey Pokey but a Gaelic Irish river dance. The urge was uncontrollable and I could feel a strange energy coming over me like a soft fog lifting from the dirt. The wind picked up and blew the fallen leaves on the ground into a small tornado around my body. I closed my eyes and it felt like I
was lifting off the ground. I tried to walk outside the circle to see it from a distance but there was a small gravitational pull keeping me in the centre. It wasn’t a feeling of fear or dread but peace and joy. Maybe this was why the people never came back once the fairies took them. My friend Dee warned me to “Keep some pages from the bible and coins in your pocket so the little people don't get you!” I wished I had listened. Hearing the faint trace of Irish music playing in the distance made it all the creepier. Or was it a concert? Maybe the inn keeper himself was a fairy and pointing me towards the woods because he knew my mother saved me years before and now they were getting their revenge! These are not Disney fairies.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians don’t fool around when it comes to fairies. ALL of our grandparents know someone who was taken away by fairies never to return again. It’s nothing to laugh at! They all know someone who had been exchanged for a changeling too. That is when fairies might swap a perfectly good baby for a changeling, which is a sickly being, not entirely human. I am pretty sure my first child was a changeling.

Everyone in the province has roots going back to Ireland, England or Scotland and with Gaelic roots come leprechauns and little people.  My mother warned me they come in different shapes and are not always little cherub children. Some are adults, glowing lights and even animals.

If you dare to head out to Harbour Grace to find the Fairy Circle remember you can’t tell anyone where it is or the fairies will come get your children. If you do decide to take your life in your own hands, remember to keep a crust of bread in you pocket, your underwear on backwards, and make sure you have a few coins in your pocket or pin a silver coin to your clothing or a religious medal and if your taking infants put coins inside their baby carriage.

Don’t talk to the locals as they could be adult fairies who are trying to point you
in the direction of the wrong woods just so they can take you away. (No one seems to know where they take you to.) It must be like some big fairy Bermuda Triangle.

I will tell you that when we were leaving I could still hear the Irish music coming down over the hill and a few times I caught something out of the corner of my eye. 

It was just a glimpse of something traveling quickly through the woods. Hiding in shadows.  

I turned back toward the fairy Circle but it was gone. We could no longer see the tall beech trees towering above the forest. The fairies had closed it down.  

Do you believe in fairies?

*** Update: I never gave out the location of the Fairy Circle but thought this was just a field. I was contacted by the owner of the land and he says: "The land is all private property, and we are trying to keep it that way. We have had multiple breakens and damage to the property. We have to lock the front entrance and now people are entering through the back. Your story is written, but could you pass on that it is private property and not a abandoned farm, if anyone asks."

Monday, October 23, 2017

Woody Island: A party like no other

Early in September, my husband and I, joined by some close friends, decided to take a romantic getaway to Woody Island. We had never been there before and had said for years we wanted to go. 

We booked on line at  and headed out on our journey.

It is about a two-hour drive from St. John’s to Garden Cove where you board the Merasheen for a 40-minute cruise to Woody Island. The island was resettled in the early 1970's. Located in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, this quiet outport community, which once boasted a population of 400, is one of hundreds of fishing villages that were relocated under the government resettlement program. Today it is home to mainly summer visitors. The owners of the resort and residents have done an extraordinary job preserving much of its original heritage.

A two day/ one-night accommodation costs $165 plus HST per person. That includes the boat tour, food and lodging. It does not include alcohol. That is bought at the main lodge. Keep in mind, they don’t give refunds so once you book, you must go. They will change the date of your reservation if time permits.
The resort consists of four lodges that can hold up to 60 people based on double occupancy (30 bedrooms with 2 double beds in each room). There are private and shared bathrooms, showers, baths, a dining room/common room with a fireplace. Each of the lodges has a large patio and deck that overlooks beautiful scenery and the ocean.

The accommodations are equal to a cabin not a hotel. The rooms are small and
hold two very basic double beds (no pillow top mattress). The bed was uncomfortable for two full size adults to sleep in.  The rooms are basic: no TV, clocks, phones, anyway to contact the main house or hair dryer. The shower is smaller than a cruise ships. A full-size man would have a hard time getting washed in it. There is a huge common room in each lodge with tables and chairs. Keep that in mind if you’re travelling with kids and want to put them to bed. The walls are paper thin and the party continues into the night until the electricity is turned off around 3 AM. The resort is on a generator so the electricity is turned off around 3 AM and comes back on around 7 AM.

I found the little things to be an unexpected inconvenience. Trip Advisor rated
Woody Island number one out of 92 hotels in Newfoundland and Labrador according to their web site. So, I expected them to be on par with other hotels. I didn’t bring a hair dryer and when I couldn’t find one in the room, hubby went to the front desk to see if we could borrow one. He was told they didn’t have one. Not having a clock in the room was odd. Realizing they couldn’t have digital clocks because they shut the power off, but they could have the battery operated or old-fashioned wind up type that would fit in with their old-fashioned style. It would have been nice to have the option of a queen size bed also. It’s hard to have a romantic get away when you have to sleep in separate beds! The furniture throughout the lodges was old, worn and in some cases, broken. Keep in mind cell phone coverage is also very limited and that’s just to do with the remoteness of the island.

The one thing you won’t complain about is the food and staff! Woody Island Resort gets five stars when it comes to the cooking and service.  It’s better than the home cooked meals your grandmother used to make. After our boat trip to the island, we were served a lunch of thick bowls of pea soup, homemade bread and toutons. They also offer a gluten-free option but you must put the request in with your reservation. That night, our supper was fresh pan fried cod, oven roasted vegetables, more homemade bread, cottage pudding for dessert and a complimentary glass of wine. You can ask for another plate of supper and they are only more than happy to bring it to you. The next morning you could smell breakfast cooking a mile away. We pulled up a chair to a delicious feed of bacon and eggs with homemade toast, juice, tea and coffee. I believe over the two days I ate about two loafs of homemade bread! Guests can take a little snack in between meals too. You are most welcome to go in the kitchen and help yourself or ask the staff to fix you something. You’re not going to go hungry.

Good thing there are lots ways to work this homemade food off. There is a very easy trail that goes around the island and lots of stuff to explore from abandoned grave yards, the “Rock house”, to the sandy and rocky beaches. There are lots of treasures to find. You can take a rowboat out for a spin around the harbour and cast a line to get your own fish. Guided kayaking tours are also available.

After supper the kitchen party starts in the main lodge. The entertainment was excellent. They had one performer with a keyboard but he was as good as a whole band. We danced and sang the whole night. It was one of the best kitchen parties we have ever been to.

 On the second day, after our hardy breakfast, we packed up and headed back to
the boat.  We sailed around the northern areas of Placentia Bay. We watched a bald eagle soar through the tree tops and kept a keen eye out for whales and dolphins. The boat docked at a beach for a boil up where we were fed homemade stew and sandwiches on what else, but of course, homemade bread.  The live music continued as our performer switched to a guitar and kept the party going.
With bellies full we boarded the Merasheen again for the trip back to Garden Cove.

When packing for Woody Island, keep in mind this is “Glam-ping.” Or glamorized camping. Bring jeans, sneakers, hiking boots and a warm jacket for the evening and boat trips. You’ll also need a hair dryer.

It is quite rugged and there’s a steep hill from the boat dock to the main lodge. Then stairs and small hills to the other lodges. So, if you have mobility issues you should keep that in mind.

I loved our stay at Woody Island and would highly recommend it. We were expecting to be the only Newfoundlanders there but the entire resort was filled with Newfoundlanders. There
was neither mainlander to be seen! 

I think they do need to make a few small inexpensive changes; update the furniture with some new items, including queen sized beds, put a clock in each room and for God sakes buy a hair dryer!

To book a Woody Island vacation go to:

#woodyisland #newfoundlandandlabrador #urbanexploring #travel #adbandoned  #abandonedisland