Neither Here Nor There

Margaret’s house

Published on August 9, 2011

The heap of crushed building materials - no piece of wood, brick or shingle bigger than what a child could lift - lies atop the rock bench, tipping over the edge and streeling down the slope to the brand new pavement below.

The motor of the huge yellow excavator is shut off, and only the sound of the wind riffling the water on the harbour below underlines the empty silence.

The house, whose scraps now litter the ground, had been built sometime in the Twenties or Thirties on this rare and minuscule  scrap of level ground at the base of the cliff a hundred feet below the summit of Round Head.  Leaving barely enough space outside its walls to plant a garden, the tiny bungalow, a scant five paces by eight, was a cosy refuge for the several families who lived there over the years. 

Though inside the scale was petite, the windows looking north and west admitted a view of vast proportions. Seventy-five feet above the harbour’s surface, for three quarters of a century, the house had surveyed the part of Salvage that rings the water from the fish plant in the south around to the west where Dyke’s Point bookends the harbour’s exit to Bonavista Bay and the world beyond. 

On the northeast side of the harbour mouth, Burden’s Point is a sea of grass, dotted with two white houses and their five red outbuildings.  Formerly the centre of town, the appearance of motor vessels, along with the disappearance of the salt fishery and the arrival of the road, provoked an exodus of homes to where convenience meant an automobile standing by the door, rather than a boat tied to the wharf. 

In 1968, when the spring ice destroyed the pedestrian and cart bridge that joined Burden’s Point to the outside world, the traffic on the track passing by the front door of the little house below Round Head reduced to a trickle. There was scarcely anyone, save the occasional funeral party with the dozen pall bearers necessary to tote the coffin in shifts up the steep slope to the cemetery.

It was then that Margaret Pickersgill, my mother, fell in love with the tiny bungalow perched over the harbour. My brother Alan, a student at Memorial, negotiated the purchase for her. It was the early Seventies, and all winter long, she counted the days in Ottawa until she could be back in Salvage, stripping old wallpaper and painting the walls with the help of her neighbour living below the hill. 

Carrie Sturge became a dear friend, joining my mother in work breaks with tea and buns, chatting and gazing at the reassuring bulk of Cow Head guarding the harbour entry, and revelling in the play of sun and mist over the chain of islands stretching out Bonavista Bay.

My parents delighted in their summers here together until my father died.  My mother, up in years, but with her vital spirit strengthened by the magic elixir of this village, continued to summer here until she no longer possessed the strength required to match the vigour of this place.  She died last April, and fittingly, the old bungalow became my brother Alan’s.

Like people, buildings grow old, and Margaret’s house was no longer fit to continue. It took the big yellow excavator less than three hours to reduce it to the pile of rubble that spread out before me. It is said you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. 

Alan is working on the design of a new house for the site - a house that will respect the traditional architecture of Salvage and one that we all hope will please my mother as she looks down on her beloved village. 

We hope that it will also please our neighbours and friends in Salvage as well as the large and growing number of trail hikers who have been passing once again along the path in front of where Margaret’s tiny bungalow stood until last week. 

The trails, a happy by-product of the fire that destroyed the fish plant in 2001 are now, with the scenery they make available, what Salvage is known for. 

The unspoiled beauty of this place was what brought my mother here.  That beauty and the tranquility it creates were the principal joys of the second half of her life. I am sure she is delighted that her son Alan has chosen to rebuild on this magnificent spot so dear to her.