Roland L. Noel
Places that Were: Flatrock, Blow me Down and Otterbury
Next to Freshwater, along the shoreline stretching from Clowns Cove Head to Salmon Cove Head, were once three thriving communities: Flatrock, Blow me Down and Otterbury. 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 sights and sounds of a place that were.
A People Lost to Time
Like Freshwater, 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. For example, unlike Freshwater and Clowns Cove, they had no beaches on which to bring their catch ashore.
These fishermen could be found preparing their catch on Clowns Cove beach (in the case of Flatrock), but others laddered their way down rocky ledges and built stage heads beneath the cliffs. When they were done they would haul their handiwork 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 labored 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.
The Social Life of Early Flatrock
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.
Later Days, Decline and Resettlement
As a child I attended Church Bible school in Flatrock during the summer. What I remember most was they had no electric lights. In winter I was always entranced by the glow of the kerosene oil lamps and the bright 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 young man, there were only a couple families living in Blow Me Down and Otterbury. The fishing industry had diminished, and the people moved out into bigger centers.
Flatrock continued as a community until the 1960s when like so many small communities throughout Newfoundland, they too chose the path of resettlement. But the descendants of this small community still maintain a link 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 place that was, a place called Home.