Community makes no mistakes with UNESCO bid

     When he first got the e-mail from his bosses at UNESCO with the subject line "Mistaken Point," Dr. Mohn Shafeea Leman thought someone was trying to tell him to correct an error.
     The Malaysian geologist eventually learned he was being asked to come to Newfoundland to inspect some of the world's oldest fossils as part of a bid by community organizers and the provincial government to obtain UNESCO World Heritage Status for the ecological reserve situated on the lonely, fog strewn coast between Portugal Cove South and Cape Race.
     Once he got here, Leman, who said he learned in school that Newfoundland was famous for fishing, liked what he found.
     "It's a pleasure to do this job and to come here," said Leman, who inspected the area with George Green of Parks Canada, and the geologist whose research brought the fossil bed to international attention, Dr. Guy Narbonne of Queen's University.
     All three experts were given an enthusiastic reception September 30 in Portugal Cove South's community hall. On hand to welcome the delegation were Premier Paul Davis, Ferryland MHA and Municipal Affairs Minister Keith Hutchings and Dan Crummell, the minister responsible for Environment and Conservation.
     The evening's events, which included presentations by local writer Pearl Coombs, plays and skits performed by students of Stella Maris Academy and songs performed by musicians Judy Brazil, David Warr, Rachel Coombs and Marsha Kenny, was emceed by Loretta Ryan, the chairperson of Mistaken Point Ambassadors Inc., the local group spearheading the drive for UNESCO status.
     Leman gave the residents some hope that their efforts may be rewarded next fall when UNESCO unveils its latest list of World Heritage Sites during a meeting set for Istanbul, Turkey.
     "It's a very nice place," Leman said. "I've enjoyed myself very much... If you want to do something, just believe in it and maybe in the end you can achieve it."
     Greene thanked the community for the initiative and work that residents have put into preparing the bid and for the reception accorded the guests. "It's very humbling and it actually makes you proud to be a Canadian," he said. "I just want to say thank you very much for opening your homes and your hearts to us... We are of the view that this submission is poised to join a very elite group... We are looking forward to next year with great anticipation and hope that we will have a successful inscription onto the World Heritage list."
     Premier Davis joked that while there was some fog outside Portugal Cove South that evening, there was a bright star shining over the hall itself.
     Davis said he was inspired by the hospitality he received that day and the large crowd on hand for the reception. "I know it's really reflective of your community," he said. "And I want to congratulate you."
     Davis said he was especially touched to see the involvement of the young people in the community in the project. "When you come to a community and you have such high involvement from all ages... and taking a lead and protective role in it, it speaks volumes for the community and the effort that's happened here."
     Hutchings said the night was special for him too. "I was elected in 2007," he said. "One of the first things I did was be part of the opening of the (Mistaken Point) Interpretation centre here, with (MP) Fabian Manning at the time and provincial and federal funding... At some point I went to Mistaken Point with Kit Ward and if you want to talk about ambassadors in the community who drove this and recognized it early on for what it was and what it needed to be, and to protect it, Kit Ward exemplifies all of that and we should recognize her."
     From those early encounters, Hutchings said, he worked with the community and some great volunteers to tackle the challenges along the way, including the state of the gravel road leading to the fossil bed. Over the years, in cooperation with the federal government, improvements to the road were made, including the replacement of bridges.
     "It's been a pleasure for me," Hutchings said. "It's politics, but it's more than that. I fell in love with the whole thing at some point along the way. It could be related to my son Eric. I remember in 2008-2009, he was nine or 10 years old. We came up and went out to the site with Valerie Sullivan. He did a heritage project on Mistaken Point, he won his heritage project and it was special. And it's still very special for me and I just want to say congratulations to everybody along the way."
     Hutchings said he is looking forward to UNESCO's decision next year. "I'd love to be here to be part of that with you," he added.
     As part of the evening's ceremonies, Mayor Clarence Molloy and one of the community's most respected citizens, Mike Coombs, signed a proclamation indicating the town's support for the UNESCO bid. Environment Minister Crummell said the province could not have completed the application without the support of the community. "What you have here is just so special," Crummell said. "I've got a special feeling about this."

Posted on October 7, 2015 .