The CapeRace Story

"...we were struck by the familiar, not unpleasant ‘smell’ of the house..."

Our father, Fred Sooley, was born in Heart’s Delight, Trinity Bay, NL, in 1927 to Edward John Sooley and Elizabeth Jane Sooley. According to folklore, Heart’s Delight and the neighboring communities of Heart’s Desire and Heart’s Content, were named after English fishing vessels carrying those names that fished out of the surrounding harbor during the offshore fishery in the 17th and 18th centuries. The fishing village of Heart’s Delight was actually settled in the late 18th century, with the first recorded birth of a child in the community being that of Elizabeth Wolfrey, daughter to William and Elizabeth Wolfrey, recorded in the Trinity parish records in 1785.

Eddie-John and Lizzie Jane had four children, Emma, William, Vince and Fred. Our father, Fred, was the only one of his siblings to leave Newfoundland and head to Canada in 1948. At that time Newfoundland, which had been a self-governing country of its own before the Word War II, had reverted to a colony of England. Our father required a passport to enter Canada. He settled in Toronto and soon after met our mother, Hazel Skelly, who had moved from Vancouver to find work in Toronto as well. Newfoundland joined Confederation with Canada in 1949.

Our father had strong ties to his family back in Newfoundland and in 1954, after the birth of their first child, Sharon, Fred moved his family back to Heart’s Delight to live with his parents in their 1930’s, three bedroom, fisherman’s cottage. A son, Daniel, was born in 1959, and shortly after the family moved back to Toronto. Toronto afforded a host of opportunities and our father trained as a welder, obtaining employment and establishing his family in Aurora, Ontario, buying their first home in 1961. Two other sons followed, Ken, founder of CapeRace, and several years later, youngest son Brian. Our father took us back to Newfoundland on regular family summer vacations – piling all the kids in the back of the family car, plus luggage, tent, camper stove – and we travelled four days by car and ferry to Heart’s Delight for a two week stay with our grandparents in their home. We all loved it, we had cousins, and aunts and uncles, and in fact, the entire village of Heart’s Delight was full of “Aunts” and “Uncles” to engage with and love (all older people were referred to as aunt or uncle, whether they were related to you or not – there was no “Mr. or Mrs. anybody). The village was home to approximately 500 people.

Well, we all grew up, started relationships, began careers, and were too caught up in our daily lives to travel back to Newfoundland for many years. Our grandparents had been the glue that kept the Newfoundland ties strong. Eddie John died in 1982 and Lizzie Jane died in 1986. My father and mother would vacation periodically and my father’s sister, Emma, would travel every year from Newfoundland to Kamloops and Ontario.

In the early 1990’s my father felt that he no longer wanted the responsibility of looking after his childhood home. Ken and I said we would take it on and so the key was given and a promise made to keep the house in good repair. Only we didn’t have the time to go to Newfoundland or to do anything about the house. In 1996 after a threat by our father to “tear the thing down” and put a trailer on the site, Ken and I made our first trip back to Newfoundland, our first since 1981.

Well...we fell in love with Newfoundland. We had only ever been to Heart’s Delight... the rest of Newfoundland was seen through a car window...our father wasn’t interested in being anywhere other than the fishing village that was his home – that was where his heart was.

We discovered St. John’s, (pubs and all), went to a dinner theatre with an acting troupe called “Hard Tickets and High Society”, we went whale watching and sat silent in a small boat, with rock cliffs hundreds of feet above us, with ten other ‘tourists’ listening to a young man with the last name of O’Brien sing an Irish ballad acapella; we travelled through Brigus, and Cupids, and Ferryland, where we stumbled across an archeological dig. We stayed in B&B’s, when we could find them; we had blueberry pie and hot tea in a seaside home, and, eventually made our way back to Heart’s Delight.

We had been gone a long time – we hadn’t really seen any of our cousins for fifteen years – but we were treated as if we had only been gone a week. Such a warm feeling of family and acceptance was heaped upon us. Our cousin Elizabeth, had married Jerry Burton, and it was our first time meeting him. He was handy with his hands and was willing to take a look at the old house with us, to see how bad it really was and if it could be saved.

It was nearing dusk when we unlocked the porch door and walked into the kitchen for the first time, we were struck by the familiar, not unpleasant ‘smell’ of the house – it brought back all the memories of our grandparents and their home – I couldn’t tell you what the scent is. It’s not an old or musty scent – it just is. And it meant home to me. It was cold in the house, we could see our breath, and we walked through all the rooms with Jerry and took stock. The first thing that hit us was the color---can’t really describe it, but had a sense of glossy garish blue/green walls and bright yellow trim throughout the kitchen, pantry, and hallway. The living room was lilac and there was “pink” rec-room type paneling on the middle bedroom walls, which bedroom also had a toilet and sink installed off to one corner (no privacy walls in sight). This was the bathroom of the house as well. There were no closets in two of the bedrooms and our grandparent’s room had a closet which was obviously added afterwards with a slightly crooked iron bar for a closet rod, and there was a great big looming 1970’s furnace off the end of the hallway that separated the bedrooms from the kitchen and living room. Some of the paint was peeling off the wall in the kitchen, near the wood stove. The cushion floor had heaved with moisture and was wavy. The floor of the entire house itself was slanted and you felt you were standing on an incline. We pulled up the cushion floor in the kitchen to see what was underneath – Jerry took his pocket knife and sliced through a huge swath of it. Linoleum floors were underneath (eventually we found 12 layers of flooring throughout the house).

There was a fireplace mantle in the living room – but there had never been a fireplace – this little cottage had had a small black iron coal stove in front of this mantel at one time – it was no longer there. But, all of our grandparent’s original furniture (or most of it) was still in the house.

The porch (in Newfoundland this is a small anteroom before you enter the house proper) was in poor condition. It had been built directly on the ground (the house itself is 30 x 30 feet and has concrete and stone corner pieces to lift it off the ground. The rest of the house is shored up with shale rock. This had not been done with the porch and its floor had rotted over the years – it was in danger of caving in.

We stayed at a B&B just outside Heart’s Delight that night and enjoyed a huge dinner at Elizabeth and Jerry’s house before we said goodnight. In the morning – in the daylight – we went back to see the house for the second time. Ken and I ripped up the top layer of 1970’s cushion floor and threw it out in the backyard. Jerry crawled under the house to see why the house floors were so uneven and found that some of the shale rocks had shifted. He put them back into place and when we went back into the house, the floors were reasonably level again. We took an inventory of the furniture and measured the room sizes – and then we started to plan and left Heart’s Delight with the knowledge that Jerry would be doing the renovation work for us. We were thrilled that the house was in pretty good shape, all considered, and that there was no need to tear it down.

Three years later Ken went back to Newfoundland with a childhood friend and his family – ostensibly to put on a new roof and show his friends around Newfoundland.

We were emailing back and forth at the time and he was telling me about all the great fun they were having together, and didn’t mention anything at all about the roof or the repainting of the bedrooms which we had decided to do. Near the end of his time in NL he emailed me that he had bought a house in St. John’s. I nearly fell of my chair – I had no idea that Ken was looking to buy a house in NL, I thought he was in Heart’s Delight, working on our grandparent’s house.

When Ken got back to Ontario he outlined his plans for a tour company. Three houses, in a circuit, a car, and a self-directed, self-catered trip for tourists. This was all news to me and I was a little in awe at the concept. Ken is an extensive, world traveler. He felt that Newfoundland could compare with any of the spectacular places he had been to and wanted to show Newfoundland to the world. It was pristine, it was undiscovered and unpolluted by the usual tourist trappings, -- no fast food places, except for a McDonald’s in St. John’s, and the people were amazing, warm, friendly, salt of the earth people with a wicked sense of humour. CapeRace Newfoundland Adventures was born in April of 2005. Eleven years later "The EJ Sooley House" and Heart’s Delight circuit continue to be the best selling trip and most popular stop.

Note-- we needed to name the house for marketing purposes. Ken wanted to name it after our Grandfather, Eddie-John House, and Sharon adamantly wanted to name it after our Grandmother, Elizabeth-Jane House. The compromise was easy- EJ Sooley House. Depending on who you ask, it’s named after both of them.