As Grand Manan is to the mainland, Whitehead Island is to Grand Manan. That is to say, when one views Grand Manan from Whitehead, one thinks of it as the mainland. Kinda’ like Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear, with Whitehead as the baby. An island’s island, not much goes on on Whitehead and that’s its allure.
If arrival on Grand Manan is slow, arrival on Whitehead is glacial. Pushing our Bromptons up the ramp after the 20-minute free ferry ride from Grand Manan the place seemed empty. Not a ghost town, just very quiet. A few houses bordered the one paved road running up and down the island’s west side and a single small general store stood open without any patrons. An older gentleman wearing a New England Patriots ball cap pointed out the sign showing the return ferry schedule as if to ensure our timely exit from his domain. Friendly enough, he advised that his family had owned property on the island for generations and he was still glad he lived here.
With nothing more obvious to do, we mounted our rides and started pedaling. We had heard that nature trails looped the north and south ends of the island from each end of the road. We intended to find out, hoping to visit the island’s sole lighthouse if possible.
Reaching the north end of the paved road, no trailhead was apparent. A few steps took us to a gravel beach where someone had laid out seaweed to dry in the sun. We locked our bikes to a telephone pole and set off on foot up a rough gravel road, not sure where it would lead.
Soon we saw a No Trespassing sign, which spooked us a bit but the road forked just before the sign so we continued on. Fork by fork, the road turned rougher and rougher, eventually becoming a jeep trail leading we knew not where. We almost gave up but then caught a glimpse of the lighthouse through the trees from a high spot and pressed on. The route led along a picturesque rocky shore before crossing sandy flats exposed by low tide and ending at Long Point and the lighthouse. Several pictures later and our mission had been accomplished.
Our quest had consumed several hours and suddenly it was time catch the return ferry. Retracing our steps, the trip back went quickly. Not much appeared to be going on anywhere on the island.
Despite the inactivity, I suppose you could say Whitehead had its heyday. In the 1880’s, Whiteheaders had all they could handle in herring. The tiny island produced more than 300,000 boxes of smoked herring caught in weirs in Cow and Cheney Passages near the island. The catches were so prodigious more than 100 laborers had to be brought in from Maine and Nova Scotia to process the fish.
The herring are now gone, but fishing continues to be a big part of how Whiteheaders make their way. As we waited for the return ferry, Mike noticed a fishing boat across the harbor with several guys shucking scallops on the rear deck. He pedaled over and spoke with them, learning that they had just returned from several days of harvesting before the season’s final day, which was today. Mike asked if they would sell him some of their catch and $20 was exchanged for a pound and a half of scallops. Baked later in a marinade of olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, and a dash of Old Bay spice, they proved to be the most delicious scallops I have ever eaten.
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