Monday, May 22, 2000

Newfoundland to home

I started writing this section at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, on June 23.

That was our first night in a B&B on this trip.  As with all other Canadian B&Bs we've used, except one, it was an excellent value with good amenities, a breakfast with local specialties (like partridgeberry muffins), and the opportunity to meet interesting guests and the owner.  To show we don't whitewash Canada, our restaurant supper the previous evening was an overpriced disappointment.

We drove twisty narrow roads to little seaside communities with magnificent views that rival those in Maine.  Maine, too, has fog, rocks and sea, but not icebergs.   The bergs are being held up by pack ice off Cartwright, Labrador, where we were 4 nights ago.  In the second and third photos below, note the small remnants of big icebergs that made it past the gauntlet.   You can see the ice if you click on the pictures, to make them full screen size.

Newfoundland has some odd place names.   The top photo above is of Ha Ha Bay.  We are staying 3 nights at an inn in Cow Head.   Saturday we will head towards Nicky's Nose Harbor, Come By Chance,  Leading Tickles, Goobies, and Seldom Come By.   I suppose those are no stranger than Maine place names or street names in Columbia, Maryland.

Where trees are stunted and winters long, spring flowers were beautiful.  These grew in tight clumps each surrounded by lifeless rocks.

We  enjoyed probing the network of little narrow twisty roads that were as complex as the peninsulas and islands off them.   On one that seemed to be the end of the line, on a spit low enough to be awash in a rare high tide, I got out to ask a walker the tidal range.   He referred me to a man at the adjacent house.   I am grateful that I found him, Winston Colbourne, inside his shed.   Like so many other Newfoundlanders we've met, he makes an art of conversation.   He has fascinating insights and stories to offer, but respects and listens to what you have to say.  He is a proud man, a worker who reminded me of the dignity of Longfellow's village blacksmith, but does not "one-up" you, as so many of us are apt to do.   He is not garrulous, but the conversations are such a pleasure and educational that they can be long, and are long remembered.

Some of what I learned from Mr. Colbourne:

*  Tidal range is about 4 feet.   Like so many older Canadians, he thinks in feet, not metric.
*  He is the northenmost resident of Newfoundland.
*  Like most fishermen, he has had narrow escapes in the cold sea.
*  One of his two sons died that way.
*  He is content, happy, on a small income.  Here in Canada he doesn't have to worry about medical bills and care.
*  He has a low opinion of Joey Smallwood, the iconic politician who some think was the George Washington of Newfoundland.
* As a youth he worked for, and became a close friend of, (click:) Helge and Anne Ingstad, the Norwegian archeologists who replaced legend with fact by excavating the Viking presence about 1000 AD at nearby L'Anse aux Meadows.  Mr. Colbourne said he and other locals had always thought the earthen mounds were made by Indians or Eskimos.  Even if you haven't "clicked" before on things in this blog, click on this one: it's fascinating:  Vikings

On our 1999 trip to Newfoundland we took the Northern Ranger from St. Anthony, the city near L'Anse aux Meadows, north to Goose Bay then Nain, the northernmost town on the Labrador coast, whose residents are mostly Inuit ("Eskimos").   The Ranger takes freight to coastal towns that have no road access, and carries a few passengers.  Because the new roads allow goods to be trucked to the towns south of Goose Bay, the Ranger now only goes north from there, not from Newfoundland.   We drove to the dock where the Ranger used to dock, spotted this interesting boat, and spoke with its captain.  Click on: Dagmar Aaen

We did errands June 24 in modern Corner Brook, the biggest city in western Newfoundland, with a big paper mill and the northernmost dairy farm on the island.  We had a tire inflated better at Toyota.  Bought sundries at Walmart.   Picked up our Canadian Visa (card, not a visa !) for which we had applied at our bank in Fredericton.   It can be used in Cuba and places in Europe where a USA Visa is not accepted.   (PS later: we got rid of that after a difficult correction of a $400 fraud on it.)

I had planned to repeat my 1999 8-mile round trip hike up Gros Morne, which has a magnificent summit view of the sea and the long lake below, once a fjord.   I found the upper half of the trail was closed until July 1 because of snow and protection of Arctic hares and ptarmigans, an Arctic bird, during their "nesting" seasons.   So I didn't hike, but helped Marge with laundry.

June 26 we drove south on beautiful Route 430, east on the modern boring Transcanada highway, and north to the Riverwood Inn in Springdale.  That was the only accommodation available, ostentatious and expensive, one of the few Canadian overnights we didn't like.   However, the view from our room was beautiful: see below.

On our trip to Newfoundland in 1999 the shock from the end of cod fishing, the basis of the economy for centuries, was evident.   We saw two seaside houses we could have bought for under $4,000 complete with furniture.   Seaside, a community of 183 souls and no stores or fishing boats at the end of a peninsula, showed us how the economy and way of life have changed.   Now wives told us most husbands worked in the prosperous western provinces, coming home every few weeks and sending money home regularly.  They work in prospecting and extraction of metals, diamonds and oil.   We got the same story in other towns.  It's like Mexicans sending home money from their work in the USA, but this is on a higher income level, and between provinces not between countries.

The Bs in our B&B in Grand Falls were excellent, and conversation with fellow travellers, all from Toronto, was delightful.

June 27:   We had intended to only spend a couple of days in semi-western Newfoundland, but found ourselves gradually drawn further east.   We visited beautiful historic Twillingate, where, in our opinion, tourism has spoiled much of its charm, as in Boothbay Harbor (Maine).   However, its sea edge remains spectacular, as in the above photograph.

We figured that the remoteness of similarly beautiful and historic  Fogo Island, might have left it unspoiled, so we sped to the Fogo ferry at Farewell, arriving one minute before the scheduled departure.    Fogo has only 2 B&Bs and a simple one-story hotel.   At friendly Peg's B&B we found only 1 out of 5 rooms was available, and that was upstairs.   Stairs are difficult for Marge now, but the young couple who had just booked the one downstairs room ceded it to Marge and I, without asking.   We were captivated by Fogo, and booked a second night.

Here are some photos I took on a climb to Brimstone Head, one of the four corners of the Earth, according to the (click:)  Flat Earth Society, and higher Fogo Head, and an off-trail hike over rocks and spongy tundra to look down on Brimstone Head.



Among lupines and other wildflowers common to Maine a month earlier were plants native to the Arctic, New England mountains above timberline, and present but uncommon in Maine. Carnivorous pitcher plants are widespread here.  Notice the red flowers and the open traps where bugs are caught.

We drove to the superbly photogenic villages of  Tilting and Joe Batt's Arm.   The small homes were well kept, but we saw few people.

July 1 we ferried back to the mainland and drove around the wild looking almost treeless coast where we were greeted with "G'Day", and through the village of Hare's Bay.   Here I stopped to ask a woman a question, and found another fascinating example of the friendly 
Newfoundland character.   In about 10 minutes we found that she, Leah Wiseman, was 81, had a bad heart since she was 18, and produced and raised 9 children.   Typically, four of them are working in oil extraction in sub-Arctic Fort McMurray.  We got to discussing berries and she said, "Would you like a partridgeberry pie ?"...  We protested, and ended up with an elegant partridgeberry pie, free.  We said, "But that's on a ceramic dish".  "I've got lots of them", she replied.   Returning the dish to Leah is yet another reason to return to The Rock (Newfoundland). 

We were at the Comfort Inn by the St. John's airport the nights of June 30 and July 1, to do a week's laundry, rest, sightsee, and visit Marty..... Forty years earlier, at the Cape Spear lighthouse, the easternmost in the Americas, Marge and I and Marge's son Phil met Marty Heffernan.   He, "the lighthouse keeper's son", showed us his license plate collection, covering most of the walls of an adjacent garage.   The plates were from his "friends", whom he urged us to join.   So we sent him a MARTY vanity plate from Maine, and over the years, plates from several of the countries we have visited, which has led to secondary adventures.  Like the Mexican junkyard, another story...  Marty and Phil were each 14 then.   Now they are 54.   Every October he sends us a scrawled Christmas card, about his country music collection, his manual jobs, his cars and girlfriends.   Once we suggested the annual exchanges end, but he was devastated, so they continue.  The lighthouse keeper died, so Marty lives alone in his childhood home.   He gave us a warm welcome, as in 1999, but maybe we'll not see him again.

We could have used a GPS in navigating St. John's, but tried to rely on a map.  Consequently three times I stopped and asked for directions, and each time we were told, "Follow my car".   The first and most interesting of those helpers were Peter and Bernadette Byrne.   When I asked for directions, they first had me sit between them on the bench, where I was overwhelmed by his fast-paced wit in Irish brogue that could be professional.  

The Byrnes led us to the waterfront.  The docks of that harbor, protected as no other in the world by a narrow entrance between encircling hills, were crowded with ships.  Here's an interesting one.  Click on:
Lyubov_Orlova (actress & ship)

We were booked to leave Newfoundland via the 14-hour ferry from near St. John's to North Sydney, Nova Scotia.   We were quite surprised to receive an email saying that had been cancelled because of mechanical problems, and we had been rescheduled to leave on another ferry from Port aux Basques, the other end of the island, nearly 700 road miles away.

July 2 we drove to Harbour Grace (click), as famous in aviation history as Kitty Hawk, used by famous aviators of the 1930s in crossing the Atlantic.   The airstrip was deserted that evening, until just as we were leaving, a pilot arrived and let us through the gate.  He, Byron Hood, showed us the replica Corbin Super Ace he built, and was about to take for a spin.  His uncle, Bob Bellow, manages Moody's Diner, a Maine icon.  Notice that besides its proximity to Europe, the field has the advantage of sloping downhill from the ledge at the pictured end.

In 1967 the (click, and notice a connection to Old Orchard Beach, Maine:) the S.S. Kyle (click) was holed by an iceberg, knocked from its moorings by a storm, and has been stuck in a Harbour Grace harbor (harbour ?) ever since. Enthusiasts and the government have maintained the Kyle ever since, and mounted an iconic DC-3 on the adjacent shore. 

July 3 we drove to Brigus, because of our perfect day there in July 1999.   Then we went to visit the home, now a fascinating museum, of Bob Bartlett, captain of the ship that carried Admiral Peary (whose son was my co-worker and our friend until his death) on his Arctic expeditions.   Brigus had another connection that interested us: Rockwell Kent had lived there in 1916, until the locals kicked him out as an alleged German spy.   We greatly admire his paintings, and he lived in several places where I or we have lived or visited: Maine, Greenland, Patagonia, Brigus.   At the harbor I had spied on the opposite shore a house which I told Marge was the most beautifully situated I had ever seen, as in Brigadoon.   I wanted to own it, or at least touch it.  A local told us that was the Kent cottage, and its moody present owner sometimes welcomed people, sometimes repulsed them.  We walked a half mile path to the cottage, pausing enroute to eat some of the biggest wild blueberries I had ever seen.   We knocked, and told the American owner,  Bradlee Follensbee, some of what I said above.  He bade us enter.   The visit was pleasant, except when my suggestion that the cottage be protected by the government was vehemently rejected.    There was a knock at the door, and in walked Rockwell Kent and his wife and his mistress, all in 1916 clothing.   Or so it seemed, until reality set in.  They were actors in a play we saw that night, after a delicious Blueberry Festival supper of blueberry wine, blueberry pie, etc. in a splendid B&B.     Returning to 2010, we learned that Mr. Follensbee had died, and his cottage is now a government Heritage Structure.   My knock wasn't answered when I hiked to the cottage this time,.  It was occupied by a visiting American "artiste", of  dubious talents according to the Internet.   The first and third pictures below are of the Kent cottage.  The second shows me on the trail to the cottage, with Brigus in the background.


Entire Brigus seems like Brigadoon now, with narrow streets, no problems, and beautiful cottages whose prices have quintupled since 1999, we were told.

July 4: We drove from there to the Comfort Inn at Corner Brook. Enroute we visited Gander air base, known for its role in WWII and the hospitality of area residents when 6595 people were stranded the day of the 9/11 disaster.  Even if you haven't clicked on any of the above links,
please click on this one:         click here

and perhaps this one:                "This was their finest hour" (Churchill) 
These wonderful people were that way before that, and still are.    Meeting them changed us.

July 5:  We drove to the Port aux Basque ferry.   Enroute, small mountains were a  pretty change from the 400 flat miles of the day before.  We visited Stephenville, with 48 of its streets named after USA states, because it was an American base in WWII.   Here's a nearby beautiful beach too cold and rough for swimming:

 July 4:  We boarded the ferry to Nova Scotia about 10 PM, and retreated to adjacent dormitory bunks, since staterooms are sold out well in advance.  We were surprised to find our boat was the Smallwood, the boat whose "mechanical problems" caused the cancellation of our booking on it from the east end of the island.  We had been sent 600 miles to this west end of the island to board another ferry.  However, during our drive the Smallwood had been fixed, made a round trip to Nova Scotia from the east end then transferred to the west end run.   There are many Canadian comments on the Internet saying that this kind of confusion is chronic, because Marine Atlantic is a government company.  They refunded our $480 payment and gave us free passage.

July 5:  After little sleep and a breakfast on board, we disembarked and headed west on the Trans-Canada highway.   We hoped to visit Farley Mowat (click) at his summer home near River Bourgeois, discovered that wasn't the right route, and diverted via the $5 Little Narrows ferry and the Grand Narrows bridge to River Bourgeois.  The shunpiking was serendipitous, with splendid scenery, as in these photographs.  The multi-span bridge once carried trains.


Although famous, Mr. Mowat sometimes welcomes contact with his readers/admirers.  He lived for years in Newfoundland, decried the slaughter of seals and whales by its fishermen but admired their strength and friendliness, as do we.  When a local phoned Mr. Mowat for us, his wife Claire said he was painting their house, so no visitors.

Later I kicked myself for days that I hadn't offered to paint, which might have been accepted, because it was a hot day and he like me was an octogenarian....  Fretting over the road not taken is pointless, but... "With rue my heart is laden, for many a rose-lipt maiden.." and "Why did I turn left in front of that truck?".

We stayed that night in a small suite at the Residence Inn in Moncton, one of the most elegant accommodations we've ever used.   It and supper and breakfast were "free" because of a voucher we'd "earned".

Final observations:
CANADA:  We had a great time and learned a lot.  We'd like to return to all parts of Canada that we've visited, most of all friendly beautiful Newfoundland, least of all Labrador (because of its roads).  In 1999 Canada was inexpensive for us, but now it seems about 15% more expensive than the USA.   We paid $3.50 to $4.50 equivalent per gallon for gasoline.  13% tax is applied to stamps and newspapers and almost everything but food.  Room tax is no longer refunded to tourists.  We were surprised how modern Moncton and St. John's have become, compared to our memories of 1999.

CAR:  We drove 5500 miles.  Looking at the underside of our Prius on the lift afterwards, I was surprised that the mechanic and I could see no rock dings or damage.  I hadn't realized the oil pan and other vital parts are well protected above the frame.  We had the car aligned, but it needed very little adjustment.   Due to my careful avoidance of rocks flying from trucks on gravel roads, there were no windshield dings. 

BOOKS:  We have many, old and new, most not in the local libraries, which we can lend to local friends who want to read more about places we went, and the people and history there

You can see accounts of some of our other trip blogs by clicking on these:            part is about Canada                part is about Canada       nothing about Canada          nothing about Canada

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