The climate around Burnt
Island can be categorized as cool combined with
abundant precipitation. This has caused frequent frost activity
creating the sorted stone
circles (frost polygons) that are
seen on the
barrens areas. During the
winter months much of the island is often devoid of snow owing
to the open, exposed nature of the site and the presence of strong
winds. Snow will accumulate in depressions, ravines and
and can persist throughout much of the spring and early summer.
The constant winds tend to restrict plant growth
and give the appearance that plants and
botantists are hugging the ground, and
flagging of trees are common and further illustrate the effect of wind
on this area.
The rocks that formed Burnt Island are mainly
limestone that was laid down in a past warm shallow ocean. Burnt
Island is composed of limestone that is 98.4% calcium carbonate
and is dated at roughly 480 - 470 million years old (geological
time scale: early to late Ordovician Period). The limestone was
thrust up over the top of the adjacent sandstone and shale and
was then submerged for about 10 thousand years by glaciation.
Burnt Island then re-emerged following the de-glaciation and
On the northwest side of Burnt Island,
about a 15 minute walk south of the main parking lot, is a
large sea cave called the
Whale Cave - locally called the "Big Oven". This is a very large and
impressive sea cave that is composed of dark grey limestone.
This cave may have been formed by a combination of chemical weathering
and wave erosion, as strong west winds are common in most months,
so the west side of the island is impacted by high wave action.
It may well be the largest sea cave in the province, even in
Slightly to the northeast of the main ecological
reserve parking lot is another smaller sea cave called the "
Little Oven". The cliffs over the Little Oven are
limestone. This cave is best viewed when one is visiting the
marine terraces and the cannon holes.
Walking North from the parking area, past the area of the Little Oven, you will notice
marine terraces with sharply defined
grey limestone cliff faces. These terraces are flat areas above present sea level which
indicate that the ocean was once at a much higher elevation.
These were formed when Burnt Island slowly rose from the melting
of glacial ice that departed about 11 thousand years ago. If
there were static periods of time in this rebound then a wave-cut
platform might have been formed. As the land continued to rebound,
the wave-cut platform would then constitute a flat
area above sea level forming a marine terrace. These terraces
may have formed within the last 9 thousand years.
Fossils are also found in the various limestones at the
tip of Burnt Cape. These are mainly gastropods
(with round or conically-spiralled shells), trilobites and cephalopods
(squid-like). Further information on fossils may be found at
To access the lower coastal marine terrace (beach),
follow the northwest path to just beyond
the cliff face and then carefully climb down the rocks onto
the lower marine terrace that forms the flat limestone beach.
cannon holes are located in the vertical cliff wall. They are
just above the present sea level and represent small exhumed
caves that are probably the result of chemical weathering of
the limestone. The cannon holes can be entered,
but one has to cross a large tide pool that can vary in depth
with the tides and then 'scramble' up a usually wet slimy vertical
wall to get into the cannon holes. Caution is advised!
Walking further to the North
along the coast towards the tip of Burnt Cape are areas of
fossils (mainly gastropods and cephalopods) and
marine weathering features. The marine karst includes
strongly pitted rock surfaces probably formed from the action
of chemical weathering, shoreline erosion, and the effects of
abrasion by rocks swirled around in the holes by wave action.
Around the tip Burnt Cape
on the northeast side is
Capelin Cove with
a small beach. Near Capelin Cove is
Capelin Gulch which has a small cave with an
open chimney at the top. Local history
records that this area was once a capelin spawning beach. Continuing
further south the coastline starts to flatten out into
The two highest points are located
on the northern and southern ends of the Island. The high point
at the northern end is represented by a small cairn located near
the highest point of the marine terraces. The southern highest
point is referred to as the "American Man" and is located about
3/4 of the way along the middle of the island. The origin of
"American Man" is a quite interesting folklore. As told by Ross Taylor,
resident of Raleigh, some time in the past a boat went ashore on the back of the
Burnt Island. A man from the boat apparently walked up to the top of the cape and
waved a lantern around to signal the people. As it was an American standing on this
point, it was called the "American Man" (source: Cyril Taylor, resident of Raleigh).
At the southwest side is a boundary (a
former thrust fault) between sandstone/shale and limestone.
This is best seen at
Falaise Point (Fr. falaise = cliff) and
Isthmus Point where it continues into the next
(graptolites) have been recorded from the rocks at this site.
Graptolites are small leaf-like fossil invertebrates that may
be related to other worm-like invertebrates called hemichordates.
The shoreline continuing northwest is mainly rocky
coves sometimes covered with
Burnt cape Guides
While all of the features mentioned
above can be seen in a leisurely walking tour of Burnt Island,
it would be better and less time consuming for the visitor to
sign-up for the guided tour of the Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve.
Experienced local guides provide a detailed walking tour of the
reserve and can easily and quickly show visitors the many features
of the area. If you are there at the right time of the year you
may be able to see
bergy bits, seals (Harp Seal), porpoise
(Harbour Porpoise) and whales (Humpback and Minke), in addition
to the many birds that inhabit or frequent the area. For more
interesting information on ice bergs visit
In 2001 the authors watched a pod
of about 100 killer whales casually swimming along the shore
between Falaise Point and Whale Cove. Be sure to ask the guides
about whale and bird sightings and fossils during your guided
tour of the ecological reserve.
In addition to the Burnt Cape area
there is also a delightful walking trail along the coastal headlands
from Cape Onion to Ha Ha Point. Ha Ha Point overlooks
the Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve. To get to Cape Onion, drive
back from Raleigh to Highway 437, turn left, and then continue
driving to the end of the road at Onion Cove. Walk left along
the beach to the right of Adam's House (bed and breakfast) until
you see the start of the trail going up to the coastal headland
Cape Onion. The first part of the trail is steep, but when you reach
the top the walking is easy and the
views are spectacular. Keep
in mind that this will be a long hike (4.5 km one-way) if you
intend to complete a round trip from Cape Onion to Ha Ha Point.
The hike will be even longer if you go from Ha Ha Point into