Getting to know the locals in Port au Choix, Newfoundland
Port au Choix is another little picturesque fishing village on the western coast of Newfoundland but this one turned out to be special.
For the past two weeks we have been traveling along Newfoundland’s western coast, most of the time parallel with the Gulf of St. Lawrence and enjoying continuous impressive seaside scenery. We are going from town-to-town after landing here on an ocean-going ferry at Port aux Basque from North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Ship at anchor inside a protected harbor at Port au Choix.
We have not been a bit disappointed, so far with our previous decision to spend at least five weeks on the island, or “the rock” as locals refer to Newfoundland.
Although we are not traveling on a schedule, it seems we are always rushing from one town to another and haven’t had much time to get to know the locals but three days in Port au Choix introduced us to friendly, generous and outgoing people that we had not previously experienced. And, surprisingly, we could understand their Newfoundland dialect, at least most of the time.
Founded in the 16th century by French fishermen who dropped anchors here and harvested cod, the descendants left behind still speak the language and ply offshore waters. The settlement became known as Port au Choix, which in French means “the little port.”
A flock of gulls compete for bits of fish after a fisherman tossed them into the bay after cleaning the day’s catch.
Now called the “fishing capital” of Western Newfoundland, the community boasts a large fishing fleet, big enough to supply a local processing plant that processes north-sea shrimp.
We camped on the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the Oceanside Lions Club ocean front campground a few miles from town. These are not the sandy beaches we are familiar with in Florida, but small rock shores that still provide eye-popping sunrises and sunsets and large waves that lulled us to sleep each night.
On arrival here, we drove into Port au Choix searching for a fresh fish market. We had purchased fresh cod and scallops in Rocky Harbor and wanted more of the same. Although a town of about 1,000 residents and the self-proclaimed fishing capital, didn’t have a fresh fish market. The visitors center sold frozen shrimp from the local processing plant, but no where to buy fresh cod.
We drove to the outskirts of town and passed a dozen or more fishing shacks, places where fishermen store their gear, clean their fish and secure their boats. One of them had a well-built replica of a Viking fishing boat behind a glass partition that caught our attention. It was probably 12 to 15 feet long. I stopped to take a picture when the fisherman who owned the place appeared from behind the building and told the story that a friend had made the boat and he thought it worthy of displaying.
The chaloupe is a boat with Basque or French origins and was used in Newfoundland for whaling, cod and seal fisheries. With the help of a group from Ciboure, France, they built three boats, one of which is on display at Port au Choix.
I complained that the town did not have a fresh fish market and the fishermen told me that most everyone here were fishermen and said they had their own fresh fish and questioned, “who’s going to buy it.”
He asked if I wanted some fresh cod and told me to come back in an hour or so and he would have some.
We drove around town, came back to the fisherman’s shack and he presented us with four large cod fillets, probably weighing 8 to 10 pounds and refused to take payment.
“I give away fish to tourists all the time, he said.”
Fishermen here make their living selling fish and I was determined not to accept his offer, but was convinced otherwise and gladly accepted the fish.
I drove to an adult beverage store in town, purchased a bottle of spirits and drove back to the fishing shack and gave it to the fisherman with my thanks for the fish. I got the impression that no one had ever reciprocated for his kindness. That’s a shame.
Camped at the Lions Club Campground near Port au Choix I grilled fresh cod fillets outside over a portable gas grill and dined at a picnic table only yards from the sea.
NOTE: Port aux Choix is a National Historic Site of Canada, and is regarded as one of the richest archaeological finds in North America. Burial sites uncovered in the town in the 1960s & 70s provide evidence of its earliest settlers – dating back almost 5,000 years ago.
NEXT: Fresh bread from an ancient French oven