St. Mary's Bay residents out to develop 'uncommon potential' of Holyrood Pond

     The dream of local business and municipal leaders on the Route 90 side of St. Mary's Bay to develop the tourism potential of Holyrood Pond is being rejuvenated again, this time with an emphasis on encouraging private businesses to play a part by offering a network of services to potential visitors.
     The work is being spearheaded by a non-profit group called Holyrood Pond Development Inc. It was down to four members when Patrick Monsigneur, who operates the Claddagh Inn in St. Mary’s with his wife Carol, and some others, including Sylvester Yetman, decided to give the idea another push. The group is now up to 10 members and eager for representation from throughout the region. Monsigneur was elected president. The group is even developing a feasibility study.
     Monsigneur and his group sees Holyrood Pond as becoming part of a larger network of attractions on the Southern Avalon peninsula. He points out the 21 kilometre long pond and the possible attractions that could grow from it are "bookended" on one side by the Colony of Avalon Foundation in Ferryland and Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve, and on the other side by the Salmonier Nature Park and the Cape St. Mary's Bird Sanctuary.
     Monsigneur envisions the attractions of the southern Avalon as serving as a playground for the growing population of the Northeast Avalon in much the same way that the Muskokas serve Toronto and Mount Tremblant attracts Montrealers seeking outdoor fun.
     "Tourism is developing everywhere else, why shouldn't it happen here?" Monsigneur said. "It's got uncommon potential. That's what I've been telling everybody. Right in the middle of it all is this amazing recreational opportunity. And St. John's isn't getting any smaller. It's growing and growing."
     At the centre of the dream is Holyrood Pond itself. As Monsigneur has pointed out in a planning document, the mostly land-locked fiord offers a unique ecosystem of salt and fresh water with some 33 species of fish. The potential for angling is tremendous, he said. There is already a commercial eel fishery at the pond, but where the pond opens to the sea periodically, there is also a mix of brown trout, sea trout, salmon and even sharks in the extreme southern end. "We've heard of halibut being pulled out of there," Monsigneur added. "Of course there's caplin and cod down at the bottom... There's all kinds of species of fish in there waiting to be angled."
     Another key to the puzzle is the former provincial park at Holyrood Pond. Monsigneur noted it's a huge park, over 250 hectares, with a waterfall, a now unused swimming pool, and potential for recreational camping vehicles, campsites and cottages. Money from the park's operation could help sustain the visitor centre in St. Vincent’s, which HPDI uses as a base, courtesy of the local town council. But HPDI is also open to a private person developing the park as a small business. Monsigneur is expecting the provincial government to soon call for proposals from people interested in acquiring the park.
     "We'd like to get into that and develop it, or see somebody develop it," Monsigneur said. "Holyrood Pond Development Inc., as a non-profit group, is studying the possibility of putting our own proposal in. But we are willing and eager to work with any private enterprise that wants to do something down there. It doesn't matter who gets it as long as somebody gets it and develops it, that's the key."
     Monsigneur said he has heard there are a number of people interested in the park, but he has not seen any proposals.
     There's also plenty of recreational potential along the banks and inland from the pond, Monsigneur said, referring to old trails, including the "crossing place” bridge, that leads to some cottages owned by lcoals, and an old mail route that took a course inland from the Salmonier Line to St. Shotts and Trepassey. There are other potential attractions too, such as the sites of old saw mills that were used years ago to cut the lumber that was harvested inland and floated down the pond. There are still buildings in St. Mary's that were built with that lumber, Monsigneur said.
     "It's the best opportunity for development in this region," Monsigneur ventured of the tourism industry. "I don't think anybody is going to come down and reopen a fish plant and nobody is going to bring a brewery or anything like that down here soon, so tourism is the key for this region."
     Monsigneur said HPDI supports other groups in the area hoping to benefit from the pond, including one led by Kevin Christopher, that is trying to raise money to build a slipway at Path End for recreational boat users, and other groups that are trying to develop some of the traditional trails and paths.
     "But it's going to take some private investment, that's all there is to it," Monsigneur said of the grander plan. "Those kind of ventures are expensive. We're seeing if we can put together our own investment program, but we'd be willing to work with anybody who's got a good program that would benefit the region."
     Meanwhile, the group is grateful for any and all support and encouragement it is getting, including from the St. Vincent’s-St. Stephen’s-Peter’s River council, which allows it to use its interpretation centre on the pond as a home base. It has a gift-shop, tearoom, and a boat-slip with floating docks close to St. Vincent's beach where the whales can be seen, in season, chasing caplin. Monsigneur's group of volunteer board members operate it on their own without any government help. The centre is used by many groups for a range of activities - everything from baby showers to exercise programs. The well went bad this summer and the centre had to close early, but fortunately, Monsigneur said, the Department of Municipal Affairs has agreed to help solve that situation.
     "I've spoken to people from Path End to Riverhead down to Peter's River and just about every point in between over the period of a year to see what they thought of development at Holyrood Pond," Monsigneur said. "It's right at the beginning of grand possibilities."

Posted on November 9, 2015 .