Fall in Gros Morne has many attractions. Swathes of brightly coloured leaves strewn across ragged rocks, lapping grey waves on kelp coated sand, and a special kind of quiet as calm settles after the bustling summer months. You can now confidently add to that list the Gros Morne Fall Fest, this year in its third annual iteration, the Craft Fair upon which it has been built just one year shy of a decade of success.

The proud town of Cow Head – nestled by the sea, deep in the embrace of the park – plays host to this long weekend of crafts, music and culture, immaculately organized by the Cow Head Conservation and Heritage Committee, a dedicated band of mostly volunteers who work hard year round to put together the weekend’s activities.

It’s fascinating to watch this picturesque, sleepy town come to life each emerging fall. It is, in a way, a microcosm of the park itself, for beneath those trees, between those rocks, gently moving about their business like those lapping waves, there are gifted, talented people subtly placed all around. It is as though the massive mountains and salt sea air carry an energy, a vitality of life. Inspiration, it seems, moves by osmosis into the veins and hearts of those who abide here.

Artistically gifted vendors rule the roost at the ninth annual Cow Head Craft Fair.

And out they come, and those around gather too, to share in that energy, that vitality, and no short measure of tradition and history, each year.

The meeting, mixing and merging of old and young is a poignant and important feature of the festival’s charm. Indeed, it’s what kicks things off each year, Intergenerational Day the fitting midweek prelude. This year, senior residents joined students at Long Range Academy for a taste of traditional Newfoundland fare, preparing and enjoying toutons, among other tasty treats.

Thursday, things got officially underway. Craft workshops and demonstrations began – moose tufting, mat hooking – along with bingo and a good old fashioned game of cards. The Official Opening in the evening paid homage to the area’s native roots, the Norpen Aboriginal Women’s Circle drumming home some history, before fiddles, accordians and local dancers led guests along to a kitchen party that continued, as they tend to do, well into the night.

As with any festival worth its salt, Fall Fest features its fair share of musical revelry. Gros Morne is a place where a concert may break out at any given moment, such is the love of verse and rhyme in all who inhabit it, or assemble to soak up its inspirational virtues from many miles around. This is no better evidenced than by the family Payne, father Obediah, son Daniel, sister Stephanie and more members of the extended family so often present when beautiful music is being made.

Daniel Payne provides a lunchtime serenade at Shallow Bay Motel.

Indeed, the multitalented Daniel was a weekend fixture, popping up to serenade diners, pass on fiddle skills, and join his sister and cousin for a scintillating set on the Saturday night. This followed Friday night’s folksy festivities, played out to the tune of Charlie Payne, Mena Lodge and guests at the Shallow Bay Motel. The Ramblin’ Rovers also offered up raucous set of Irish staples, Saturday, following the Paynes’ lead at the Warehouse Theatre.

It’s a feature of this talent-packed island that amateurs and hobbyists also have the opportunity to get in on the musical act. Fall Fest followed this inclusive tradition by opening the stage to open mic, followed by karaoke for those only wanting to let their voices do the talking.

If music provides the heartbeat of the Fall Fest fun, then it is food that gives festivalgoers the fuel to see the weekend through. Shallow Bay Motel didn’t disappoint in the culinary stakes, its friendly service and delectable dishes enjoyed by many the weekend through, culminating in a fine dining experience with Jake Meade on Saturday evening. The Back Cove Café offered a cozy alternative throughout, Jigg’s Dinner and pea soup among the local delicacies particularly enjoyed by those ‘from away’. Even the parish hall got in on the act, St. Mary’s Church the venue for both a moose dinner on Friday evening, organized by the ACW, and a breakfast feed of beans, bologna, toutons and toast on Saturday morning, courtesy of the town’s War Memorial Committee, with proceeds going to this worthy cause.

Jessica Mitton prepares a Partridgeberry Pucker Smoothie at the parish hall

Jessica Mitton prepares a Partridgeberry Pucker Smoothie at the parish hall.

Traditional treats could be found at every turn, but a satisfying twist was provided by final year RHN (Registered Holistic Nutritionist) student, Jessica Mitton, who engaged the crowd with a smoothie demonstration. Jessica used local berries and homemade almond milk as the basis for her Partridgeberry Pucker pick-me-up, which was eagerly sampled by those gathered, many of whom took the recipe home with them. A Cow Head native, Jessica has recently returned to the area and is set to offer nutritional consulting services, beginning early next year.

Bellies full, folks set about being active and getting out into the plentiful great Gros Morne outdoors. For some, this meant a friendly-but-competitive round of ‘best ball’ golf at Gros Morne Golf Course, which drew a mix of proficient swingers and those there for the crisp mountainside air and abundant camaraderie. Others were drawn by nature’s lure, hiking The Head with storytelling and song, or led by Parks Canada along the beach and through forty years of study into the varied species of bird that call the craggy islands just off the coast their sometimes home.

Senior residents spin a yarn at the Dr Henry N Payne Museum.

Away from the stiff breeze and shrill calls, back in the warmth of the town’s proud old buildings, recitations were shared, tales of a bygone age told. Perhaps this attendee’s highlight moment of a weekend that offered so many so magic was to simply sit and listen as two of Cow Head’s most senior residents, Myrtle Hutchings and Gwendolyn Slauson, shared their stories of war times, hard times, and – largely – joyful, memorable times spent in the park’s embrace.

The crafts through which the festival’s foundations were laid came together throughout the weekend, workshops led by those creative of mind and nimble of finger. Knitting, tufting, fabric design, dancing, fiddling, lapidary (rock and mineral polishing); traditional skills passed from old to young, and young to old, new skills learned, fresh hobbies formed.

Kids learn knitting skills at Cow Head Public Library.

Sunday saw the ninth annual Craft Fair take place at Shallow Bay Motel, the floors filled with the wondrous wares of crafty folks from miles around. Finely knitted headwear, hides of alpaca and seal. Handmade soap, handcrafted ornaments and adornments. Samples of the awe-inspiring scenery of this place; moments in time captured for posterity through lens, brush, pencil and no small measure of well honed talent.

It is on these Sunday floors that the Fall Fest comes full circle. The creativity that’s in the air, the inspiration in the water, permeating over the course of time, into people as into rivers and rocks, then expelled in extraordinary fashion in waves of texture and colour. People moving through like migrating birds in their droves, nesting here for a while, basking in its brilliance and taking a little piece of this place away with them, along with a promise to again return.

Gros Morne Fall Fest and Craft Fair is held annually in Cow Head. It is organized by the Cow Head Conservation and Heritage Committee, led by Glenda Reid Bavis. For more information about attending or participating in next year’s event, please contact Glenda at the Dr. Henry N. Payne Community Museum & Craft Shop. Tel: (709) 243-2023.

Gareth Mitton

Gareth Mitton is a professional writer and former agency creative director who now runs his own freelancing business - Whatbox Creative - from beautiful Cow Head, NL, in Gros Morne National Park.