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Geography of Harbour Breton

Harbour Breton is located in Fortune Bay on the South Coast of Newfoundland, the eastern-most province of Canada.

The South Coast of Newfoundland is marked by rugged beauty. Picturesque fishing villages dot the rocky shores. Vast tracts of untamed wilderness lie beyond the magnificent Bays and Fjords. The near confluence of the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream contribute to a unique climate which, combined with post-glacial soils, give rise to interesting and exotic vegetation. Wildlife abound on land, in the air and sea.


Land Forms

The topography of Harbour Breton and the surrounding area is all about glaciers: deep U-shaped valleys, hummocky moraines, small kettle lakes and scenic fjords.

Harbour Breton itself is a glacial landform. The great mass of sand and gravel on which the town is situated was deposited at the margin of a glacier which, during the final retreat of the Newfoundland ice sheet, about 14,000 years ago, stagnated in the northeast arm ("Back Arm"). At that time the sea stood more than 20 m higher and the meltwater from the glacier built a large flat-topped delta and terrace of outwash into the open sea to the south. Modern erosion has exposed the long inclined beds which are typical of a delta structure. Part of the town is nestled on the back side of the delta against which the ice rested (known as "The Arm"). The seaward side of the delta is known locally as Deadman's Cove. 

Just a few kilometers inland from the coastal town, one encounters what is basically a plateau, with a general level of about 1,000 feet. It is a peneplain elevated above sea level in relatively late geological time via isostatic rebound - the tendency of the earth's surface to adjust after removing a great weight (like a glacier). The plateau is bounded by fairly straight steep coastlines and scattered over the plateau surface are many striking peaks or "tolts" rising several hundred feet above general land level. 

Scoured harbours, outwash deltas and upland plateaus are not the only post glacial features you can behold in the area. Gravel barrier beaches are common in the region. Good examples can be found in the Bara sway near Harbour Breton and in Coombs Cove. Also, many of the higher rock knobs in the area have a distinctive mantle of rock rubble on their lower slopes known as a "Talus Apron." This debris was produced by frost splitting of the adjacent cliffs, perhaps during the more rigorous climate of " Little Ice Age" a few centuries ago. A good example of this can be seen around "Tolt", near Belleoram. 



Because the terrain is built up of very ancient rock and the scouring effects of glaciation removed much of the arable soil layer (depositing it on the submerged Grand Banks) the land is largely unsuitable for agriculture under the climatic conditions of Newfoundland. The south coast growing-season length is typically 150 days, and most suitable for the growing of root vegetables, such as potatoes and turnips, which are the most important of the few crops grown in Newfoundland.

With the exception of the barren reaches of higher elevations and the coastal regions, much of the area around Harbour Breton is forested. The principal species are conifers, of which balsam fir and black spruce are the most abundant, some deciduous species such as the paper and yellow birches and a wide variety of hardwood shrubs. The best stands of forest occur in areas of deeper, well-drained soils, while in less-favored areas much of the forest growth is stunted (locally known as tuckamore). On the elevated plateau barrens, peat bogs as well as a great variety of small woody plants can be found.



Moose Cow and Calf

The moose is the most plentiful of the large wild mammals found in the region, outnumbering the herds of woodland caribou. Other species include the black bears, red foxes, beaver, lynx, and the range of small fur-bearing animals common to the northern coniferous forests. Marine mammals including pilot whales, minke whale, finback whale and harbour seals may occasionally be seen in the deep bays and fjords throughout the summer as they feed and disport themselves in coastal waters.


Seabirds, notably murres, Atlantic puffins, northern gannets, petrels, and eider ducks, inhabit the offshore islands and headlands. Several species of gulls and terns are ubiquitous, and substantial breeding populations of black ducks and Canada geese are maintained, together with lesser populations of other ducks. Migratory shore and wading birds frequent the coast seasonally. Upland game birds include ptarmigan, grouse, and snipes, while birds of prey like the osprey and bald eagle are common. 



Temperature - The temperature difference between the warmest and coldest months in Harbour Breton is about 20C. Spring comes rather slowly and is short. Summer is also short and cool however sunny summer days in Harbour Breton are among the most delightful anywhere in Canada. With afternoon highs in the low twenties, they are warm enough to be comfortable and yet cool enough to permit vigorous activity. Because of the moderating effects of the ocean, the average winter temperates are between -2C and -4C.

Harbour Breton in Summer

Sunshine and Sea Smoke - In Harbour Breton, the summer months are the sunniest, with an average of 187 hours of sunshine a month, about 42% of the total possible. In late spring and early summer visitors will likely experience the remarkable fogs known as "sea smoke." Sea smoke develops when warm, humid air from the south strikes the cold, sometimes ice-infested, waters of the Labrador Current. Surprisingly, the fogs are often accompanied by strong winds. Normally, winds can be expected to disperse fog, but here the fog is so dense and widespread that the winds simply push it ashore. Hikers will note a marked increase in temperature and brightness as they make their way inland on the plateau. 

Storms and Cyclones - During the summer and early fall, Newfoundland weather is typically calm. However, in the fall, tropical storms spawned near the equator and developed in the Caribbean may bring windy, wet weather while they pass by the island before dying or redeveloping in the North Atlantic. Storms are most severe and frequent between November and March. Winter cyclones are fast-moving storms (up to 80 km/h) that bring abundant and varied precipitation. Winds often mount to gale and sometimes hurricane force. Hardly a winter goes by without at least three or four East Coast gales. 


Harbour Breton in Winter

Cold Ocean - Surface water temperatures in the bays and inlets around Harbour Breton range from summer highs of 11 to 13C to winter lows of -1 C. The open sea keeps winter air temperatures a little higher and summer temperatures slightly lower on the coast than at places inland. The marine climate means generally more changeable weather, ample precipitation in a variety of forms (sometimes all at once), higher humidity, lower visibility, more cloud, less sunshine, and stronger winds than a continental climate. 


Geography section courtesy of John S. Crant, BA Dip GIS

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