Woody Point and Botwood are reinventing themselves as tourism destinations
WOODY POINT—Charlie Payne has seen Woody Point go from being a booming hub to a place that almost no one visited, and back to a thriving summer tourism destination.
The town was once the access point to the rest of the Northern Peninsula via a ferry service that ran between there and Norris Point.
But things changed when Routh 430, a highway connecting the peninsula with the rest of the province, was paved and the ferry service ended in the 1980s.
Since then Woody Point has reinvented itself as a world-class tourism destination with The Tablelands of Gros Morne National Park in its backyard and events like the Writers At Woody Point literary festival.
The resilience of Woody Point is the focus of an upcoming episode of CBC’s “Still Standing” that is scheduled to air on Nov. 10 at 8:30 p.m. Newfoundland time on CBC and CBC Gem.
It’s the first of two Newfoundland-based episodes in Season 6 — Botwood will be featured in the Dec. 1 episode.
“Still Standing” is hosted by comedian Jonny Harris, who plays Const. George Crabtree in the “Murdoch Mysteries.”
He visited Woody Point last September and Payne was one of the people he spoke with.
Payne, owner of the Woody Point Heritage Theatre, has some idea of what’s helped the town to rebound.
“We’ve rebounded as far as I’m concerned for the most part because of our past,” he said.
And that includes the history of the town, its old buildings, heritage and natural beauty.
A lot of those old buildings, including Payne’s theatre that was once an Orange Lodge, have found “a whole new purpose.”
Payne said seeing buildings like his be reborn inspired others and that can be seen in the restaurants and cafes on the waterfront that were once warehouses and fish stores.
“It’s certainly turned around a fair amount,” said Payne. “I think we’ve some turning to do yet, but we’ve come a long way.”
Payne’s dream is for the community to become sustainable year-round — for tourism to be much busier and to extend beyond the summer season. And for young people to be able to stay and find work.
And he thinks “Still Standing” will help with drawing more people to the town.
“You can’t buy advertising like that,” he said.
“There’s a lot of Canadians who haven’t been to Newfoundland yet and I’m sure by seeing this show this might be one of the places they want to see.”https://players.brightcove.net/1504627604001/default_default/index.html?videoId=6207380685001
The Botwood episode was also shot last September.
Much like Woody Point, the central Newfoundland community was once booming with activity.
Flying boats — large aircraft that landed on the water — used the harbour as a refueling stop on transatlantic flights. It was also a shipping port for paper from the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor and had a strong logging industry.
But after the flying boats stopped coming and later the closure of the mill, things changed.
“It’s certainly a town where there was a lot of industry with a lot of people employed and now those industries have gone or changed significantly,” said Trudy Stuckless, president of the Botwood Mural Arts Society.
The society was formed about 10 years ago with goal of attracting people. Painters from all over the world were invited to come in and paint murals around the town based on the town’s history, and tourists would be enticed to come see them.
“So, we’re sort of using our history to create our future through mural art,” Stuckless said.
Stuckless said the idea is not just about the art, but also the spinoff it can produce for the community.
“We call it a creative economy where the creations of art will draw in the tourism industry,” she said.
The spinoff comes from the accommodations, restaurants and shops that have opened to provide other services for visitors.
The society has even created its own spinoff by creating other items, like jigsaw puzzles and a book based on the murals. Stuckless envisions more things like field trips and guided tours of the murals.
And the murals are not the only piece of Botwood’s history that is helping to put the community on the map as a tourism destination. The town’s Flying Boat Museum is also attracting visitors.
As the town turns itself around, Stuckless said being selected for “Still Standing” was very exciting as it will give them more exposure.
“We certainly think it will bring in a Canadian audience to us,” she said.
And with the power of the Internet she thinks it will also result in some international travellers visiting.
‘Still Standing’ giving host Jonny Harris a lesson in history
Jonny Harris gets to learn a lot of things that he never knew about his home province when CBC’s “Still Standing” profiles communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It’s almost embarrassing,” the comedian and host of the show said of the history he never knew about.
“I was a late bloomer as far as history,” he said while chatting from Toronto where he’s filming “Murdoch Mysteries.”
Things like the flying boats that once landed in the Botwood harbour, or the history of German U-boats on Bell Island and the iron ore freighters that sailed out of Conception Bay.
“I’ve often felt we could do a few seasons of this in Newfoundland alone and we’d never run out of small communities,” he said.
In its sixth season, “Still Standing” will feature two Newfoundland communities — Woody Point on Nov. 10 and Botwood on Dec. 1 — that have shown resiliency in tough times.
“You see the efforts that people make to reinvent their community,” said Harris.
For both communities that’s meant a focus on tourism.
The Tablelands of Gros Morne National Park are right in Woody Point’s backyard and have always been a huge attraction, but for many years people came just to see that and never spent time in Woody Point.
But that’s changing as Woody Point works to create a longer-term tourism industry.
“I’ve often felt we could do a few seasons of this in Newfoundland alone and we’d never run out of small communities.”
“People are sort of trying to double down on accommodations, and restaurants and whatnot, things to attract tourists, so they just don’t come out and see The Tablelands for a day, they spend some time in the community,” Harris said.
Helping do that are places like the Woody Point Heritage Theatre and the Writers at Woody Point literary festival. Both of which have been a success and brought national attention to the town.
Harris said Charlie Payne, the owner of the theatre, went out on a limb personally and financially to rejuvenate the building.
As for Botwood, Harris said he had no idea of the town’s aviation history and how Charles Lindbergh scouted the area for Pan Am Airlines and chose it as a spot for the refueling of Boeing Clippers on transatlantic flights.
Then there’s the town’s connection to the paper industry as the shipping centre for paper coming out of the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.
The Botwood Mural Arts Society is doing its part to build on the tourism opportunities around the town’s history by having world class artists paint murals of that history.
“And it’s incredible and I think it’s working. It’s attracting a lot of people.”