Local Journalism Initiative
The Christmas season is marked by a couple of things. Usually, that includes the decorating of homes inside and out with lights, Santas, Christmas trees and other holiday-themed items. Every December, the holiday season unfolds in Tilt Cove the same as it does in St. John’s, Mount Pearl and Labrador City. There might not be any Santa Claus parades (modified because of the COVID-19 pandemic or otherwise) in the tiny Baie Verte Peninsula town, but the people there ensure Christmas arrives all the same. “We still make an effort,” said Tilt Cove Mayor Donald Collins, who presides over the community of four. Yes, four. He and his wife, Margaret — who is also the town’s secretary — decorate the outside of their house with a smattering of lights. Sometimes, they’ll put lights at the pond in the middle of the town. Inside their house it’s merry and bright. The Christmas tree stands in a corner of the living room, dozens of bulbs hanging from its branches, and a star at the top. A small Christmas gnome sits underneath it, while a Santa Claus stands next to it. “The house is covered in decorations,” said Margaret. Tilt Cove holds the distinct title of being Canada’s smallest town. It’s located at the end of a six-kilometre gravel road near the town of La Scie. It’s also widely known as the location of the first mining operation in the province. A copper mine started production there in 1864, and by 1901, more than 1,300 people had flocked to Tilt Cove. Zinc and gold were also mined at the site. Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Margaret and Donald were children during the town’s second boom period. By 1957, the mine had reopened and as many as 1,500 people lived in Tilt Cove. It stayed that way until 1967, when the mine closed and the town started shrinking as people left to look for work. In that period, and perhaps a bit beyond, the winter and the Christmas season was a fine time for people of all ages. “It was a great place for kids to grow up,” said Margaret. The town wraps around Winser Lake, and in the winters when it froze, the mining company cleared off a spot for skating. As it got closer to Christmas, there were always events going on at the school and there were parties at the town’s recreation centre. Children took their turn onstage, where they were given a Christmas gift. “Every kid in school got a gift from the company,” said Donald. In the community, a lot of time was spent making the rounds, going from home to home and celebrating Christmas. This outpouring of the holiday spirit, combined with the lights, brought the harbour to life during the holiday season. It is something Margaret finds herself longing for at times. “You miss when everybody was around,” she said. On Christmas Day, these days, the routine is rather simple. Donald said his sister and brother-in-law — the only other couple in town — will make their way over for dinner. (The latter couple — half the population — declined to be interviewed for this story.) The Collins will then head in the other direction for salads and such for supper. Despite the difference in Christmas in Tilt Cove at the time Margaret and Donald grew up and raised their children, and now, they still do the little things to make it feel like the old days. Christmas Day still starts early for the couple. There is a turkey to tend to and other preparations to be made before they’re joined at their home for the midday meal. Santa Claus arrives bearing gifts for husband and wife and places them under the tree. He even brings gifts for the family dogs. Each year, Margaret gets her Christmas baking done, turning out a fruit cake and homemade cookies. All of its lends familiarity to the holiday, with sweet nostalgia for years gone by. “It is that feeling you get at Christmas,” said Margaret. Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice
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