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Visit Bragg's Island To Stay At This Remote Island By Yourself

Aug 13, 2023

In Newfoundland and Labrador, you can be the only person on the island

It’s pitch black, and in the front of the boat, Captain Bryan Oram uses sonar to find his way, aided by guide Duane Collins shining a flashlight into the water to avoid any lurking rocks. In the back of the boat, I’m leaning over the gunwale, fascinated to the point of awe by the biophosphorescent flashes of plankton in our wake. It’s magical, stunningly quiet, and I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to experience this, on the edge of danger but feeling completely safe as we maneuver through fog to the glamping pod where I’ll spend the night alone. As in, alone on an entire island by myself.


The lure of the pod on Bragg’s Island in the Newfoundland region of Newfoundland and Labrador was that I’d be spending the night solo. The island is a ghost town after its 1950s resettlement, an effort by the Canadian government to move people off islands and onto the mainland, usually with disastrous results as residents were forced to leave behind everything they knew and had accumulated in life. At its height in 1951, Bragg’s Island’s population was 300. Today there is only a scattering of fishing cabins left which people visit seasonally—most of the original houses here were floated over to Hare Bay with only two remaining on the island. Oram’s father grew up on the island and his family lost their fishing income when relocated to Hare Bay where there was no fishing. “The nine kids had nowhere to go and were put up in an abandoned school,” says Oram. “There were three or four kids in bed with prayer, a blanket, and plastic to protect them from the leaking roof.” He adds that, “Nan came back every summer until she was 84 and as soon as she pulled into harbor, she’d say, ‘I’m home.’”

Even without knowing the island’s tormented history, I got nervous about being a solo woman on an island I’d never visited before, so my tourism host Matt Molloy offered to stay in a tent near the pod and I gratefully accepted. Upon my first sight of the pod in its little inlet, with the ocean hidden behind it, I was immediately charmed.

Earlier in the day, Collins’s company Hare Bay Adventures, co-owned with his wife Renee Collins, had brought Molloy and me to the island from the town of Hare Bay. Along the way, we’d stopped at The Beaches where Collins knelt to show us multiple pieces of shaped rhyolite once used for tools by the Beothuk tribe (phonetically, bee oth’ic). “You can find a semicircle of flakes where you know someone sat,” to make the blade, he says.

Here there are nine Beothuk house pits, each 10-13 feet in diameter. Originally, the pits had a sod perimeter with a wooden structure atop it, but today all that is remains are the depressions in the ground. Collins has also seen a fire-cracked rock from a long ago hearth. The Beothuk people were part of a bloody battle with European fishermen; nearby Bloody Bay’s name attests to this historical massacre. The last Beothuk woman died in 1842 in St. John’s. Climate change has affected the important archaological site as soil erodes the beaches. Around the year 2000, retaining walls were placed but have not been maintained. “This site will not see 2080 if we don’t address climate change,” says Collins. Even within the last year, erosion has sent some of these artifacts to the sea. The oppressive sense of loss here was somewhat abated by my having experienced just the day before the buoyant and thriving celebration of First Nations culture at the Miawpukek Tribe’s Conne River Powwow.

We returned to the boat where we saw puffins in flight as well as razorbills, kittiwakes and terns...and the rolling, shiny backs of humpback whales. One waved his flipper repeatedly, slamming it down onto the water in a behavior Collins said was people believe is a form of communication. Oram was always careful to keep a fair distance from the whales and to move us along to see other whales to not pressure them.

I’ve never considered myself a fisherwoman, but when Oram showed us the cloud of cod below us on sonar, Collins dropped a line and handed me the fishing rod. Almost immediately I felt a tug and started reeling in the line (first, given that it was me, trying to turn the reel in the wrong direction). It took a while, but I managed to bring in a 20 inch cod. I’ll admit to some discomfort as it expired, along with one that Collins caught, inches away from me with its glossy, horrified eyes, but I knew we’d respect the fish by eating them that evening.

As we arrived at Bragg’s Island, we first passed the small fishing cabins clustered near each other until we came to the inlet where the pod sits. It’s a good sized pod that holds two queen beds, a large sofa and a dining area. The shower and toilet are in a separate structure on the same platform. Its best feature is a wall of see-through PVC plastic overlooking the inlet. It’s a wild and beautiful spot where you hear waves hitting the rocks all night, and there are even two benches anchored to a lookout where I read a little bit the next day. Oram motored away to clean the fish and returned with grocery store-sized steaks that Collins cooked over an open fire. The cod was delicious, especially when followed with partridgeberry cake baked by Renee Collins.

The adventure wasn’t over. As twilight fell, Molloy and I walked a slim, often muddy path back to the settlement of fishing cabins, eerie and otherworldly in the fog. At one house, a light shone and we passed a grand evening in the company of a charming and kind cousin of Oram’s, Derek, who immediately offered a lobster from one of his traps and who was generous with the pours. It was returning from this impromptu gathering in the dark boat that led to seeing the profusion of biophosphorescent sealife glittering in the water.

I slept wonderfully in the heated pod under warm quilts. The pod itself is amazing, but it’s really the Hare Bay team that makes the experience so memorable. A final note: we saw a minke whale on the way back out the next morning, a tiny black cherry on our sundae.

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