Newfoundland and Labrador

 

Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park

          A man enters a church in Vancouver, British Columbia and sees a sign saying, “Talk to God, $10,000”.   Somewhat puzzled, he visits a church in Calgary, Alberta and reads the same sign.   As the man continues his way east and visits churches throughout Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, he sees the same sign in each church.   Finally, he goes to Newfoundland and in a church he sees a sign that reads “Talk to God, 10 cents”.   He asks the pastor, “Why does this sign read different from all the rest?”   The pastor responds,” Because here in Newfoundland it is a local call”.

          That in a sense tells it like it is.  However, many people ask not only why would we go to Newfoundland, but even more incredulously, they ask why we would ever go to Newfoundland again.  Maybe it is hard for those people to understand ….but it is easy to say that this story explains why!   Newfoundland is special because the people are special…because of the natural rugged beauty that is all around you all the time. The people are warm, friendly, willing to help at every turn in every way.   Life here does not have the intensity of the life that most of us live with everyday of our lives.    

            Living in Newfoundland is like it was maybe forty or fifty years ago in my world and probably in your world as well.   Yes, they have internet access and they can watch CNN news along with many other cable programs.  But they do not have the stress, the crowds, the competition and the rush to experience every possible facet of life …there is no sense to satisfy the urge of immediate gratification.   They are not a wealthy community, but they are an understanding people…easy to accept others and to share with others.   The friendliness and warmth of the people is as startling as it is real.  Life is simple here…pressures from most every aspect of life just does not exist. 

            But I hasten to point out that a transition from the life we know would not be easy…we would have to settle for less choices, adapt to a more social interaction with the people in the villages, communities or towns and even learn to cook, since prepared foods have not been invented in the smaller villages and towns....as yet.   

Our trip to Newfoundland and Labrador started in a rather simple manner and without tension …well, at least for the first two hours.   We flew from Washington, D.C. to Montreal, Canada to catch our connecting flight to Deer Lake, Newfoundland.   But then everything fell apart as we faced one delay after another....it was in fact a brush with hell

The Inn, on the Humber river, in which we had planned to spend our first night was a most wonderful sight when we finally arrived.   We were then able to begin this journey to Newfoundland and Labrador at three o’clock in the morning.  The commutation portion of any trip is a continuing nightmare and traveling through Montréal, Canada is a most frightful tension building process.   Avoid it if you can at all costs. 

 

Humber River

St-Barbe - Blanc Sablon Ferry

Itinerary 

            As I mentioned above, we arrived at the Deer Lake airport in the Western Region of Newfoundland, which includes the second largest city, Corner Brook and then drove north along the Gulf of St. Lawrence to board a ferry from St Barbe, Newfoundland to Blanc Sablon in Quebec.  A short drive over the hill and we arrived at our destination ….L’Anse Au Clair, which is in the Labrador Region of the province.  

Returning to the Western Region of the province again via the ferry, we continued north to St. Anthony for a few days of sightseeing and hiking.  Remaining in the Western Region we then drove south to Gros Morne National Park, and nearby Rocky Harbor

            From Rocky Harbor, we drove to Twillingate, the iceberg capital of the world, in the Central Region of the province.   From Twillingate we drove to Gander, the home of the air base that the U.S. Air Force had used for many years and is currently an air control point for flights between Europe and North America.   

Leaving Gander we drove to Trinity and Trinity East/Port Rexton, which is located in the Eastern Region of the Province.  Finally, our travels took us to the Avalon Region, where we stayed at Mount Carmel, at St. Mary’s Bay.   Our final destination was the city of St. John’s, also in the Avalon Region and is the provincial capital and Newfoundland’s largest city. 

During this trip we drove just under twenty-five hundred kilometers or about 1,500 miles.  Driving over generally rural two-lane roads, most of the roads were fairly well signed and of average condition with our speeds being held to about 80 kilometers per hour or just under fifty miles per hour. Fuel was more expensive, and we passed less than ten traffic lights during the entire trip and saw little traffic.    

Now let me tell you about our accommodations and arrangements for our trip.  

 

Accommodations and Arrangements

            We arranged our trip in consultation with Maxxim Vacations, who also helped us make the plans for our trip to the Maritime Provinces last year.   They are specialists in Atlantic Canada and I would not travel to this region without coordinating our travel arrangements with them.   Flights, car rental and accommodations were part of the package …they know the best places to stay and the sights to be seen.   Car rentals normally have limited mileage, but through Maxxim Vacations, we had unlimited mileage on our rental car.   Read about the accommodations for the inns and B&B’s in which we stayed.

   

The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador

            The loss of the fishing industry in Newfoundland/Labrador has truly been a devastating and life changing situation for this province.  Long a way of life, fishing is what kept men earning their daily living, held families together, sustained villages and provided a future for the young to live and work and to raise families.   Five hundred years ago, the explorer John Cabot returned from the waters around what is now Newfoundland and reported that codfish ran so thick you could catch them by hanging wicker baskets over a ship's side. 

            Fishing was the life breath of this remote island (a landmass of about 40,000 square miles) and most of the people were heavily engaged in its everyday routine.  The people on the island of Newfoundland or in Labrador either fished or worked in the fish processing plants for companies that supplied the plants, or for the shipyard that built the offshore trawlers that fed the hungry assembly lines with massive quantities of ocean fish. 

            And then, the impossible happened. The last great schools of northern cod had been scooped up in colossal trawler nets and the government closed the world's greatest fishery for lack of fish--a ridiculous example of closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. In 1996, the Burin Peninsula in the south of Newfoundland recorded the highest unemployment rate in Canada for several months in a row. An estimated 30 percent of the workforce were jobless. "Fishin's all there was," said an area fisherman. "Everybody got too greedy for them fish, 'en then there wasn't anything a'tall." 

            Today, the severely scaled back fishing industry has left its mark on the people of Newfoundland.   Older men and women in the villages are not working and the young people are leaving the island for places that promise a life with better opportunities.  They are not leaving willingly, but out of desperation for jobs.   And what that means, is that the population of Newfoundland is getting older and smaller.  For example, in a local school district, we were told that only three children would be entering the kindergarten class this year.    

            It is difficult to bring new industries or businesses to Newfoundland as the cost of transportation of goods out and raw materials in through ferries and airplanes is just too expensive.   The harsh winters also do not encourage those who might otherwise come to live here if jobs were available...but the jobs are not here anyway.   On the other hand, the people who remain continue to enjoy a good life.  These people who were once under the control of England until they accepted confederation with Canada in 1949 are fiercely nationalistic about their homeland. 

            Tourism is growing slowly but it will never employ many of those who were once fisherman.   Newfoundland is getting discovered first by Canadians ...by many who live in the province of Ontario and come to visit here.   Slowly others are coming ...buying up the cheap real estate and then spending the summer months in this idyllic venue.   There is even a development of hundreds of expensive homes near Deer Lake which is being built for the very wealthy ...they are trophy homes and the people who buy in this new development will never become part of the Newfoundland culture and they probably would never contribute or be a part of the way of life here.

 

L'Anse Au Clair, Labrador

Pt. Amour Lighthouse, Labrador

Labrador Region

The trip to Labrador was via the ferry from St. Barbe, Newfoundland to Blanc Sablon, Quebec and then a short five kilometer (3+ miles) drive over the provincial border into L’Anse Au Clair, Labrador.   For the combined communities (representing less than 3,500 people) along this part of the Quebec and Labrador provinces that is across the Gulf of St. Lawrence from Newfoundland, there is just one paved road, about one hundred miles long, but the ferry was packed. 

There is about 83 kilometers (fifty miles) of paved road from L‘Anse Au Clair to Red Bay in Labrador where the paved road then gives way to an unpaved road that continues for maybe another two or three hundred miles before it ends in Cartwright.   In Cartwright you could get a ferry that would then take you to Goose Bay, Labrador and some other small villages along the coast of Labrador.   

Labrador and Newfoundland together is a province of Canada with a combined population of about 500,000 people.   And, most all of these people live on the island of Newfoundland, leaving less than 30,000 people living in all of Labrador.   With such a small population living in this area of Quebec and Labrador it was quite surprising to see the number of people who were taking the ferry to Labrador …and there was even a waiting list for many potential riders just hoping for the chance to board the ferry.  The ferry was crowded with locals and tourists.  There were also many trucks bringing in supplies. 

Food is available to the locals only through two small convenience stores and a limited selection of other small businesses that serve the consumer needs of those living along this coastal portion of Quebec and Labrador.   Certainly, shopping is not a pastime for the people living in this community.   Life is simpler here and it takes on a very social basis with outdoor activities being very popular.  In the winter, the ferry stops running from Newfoundland as the ice starts to freeze up and icebergs floes come down from the Arctic Circle thereby explaining the name given to this part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence…Iceberg Alley.  

Seems like everyone living in Labrador and Newfoundland regularly hunt for moose, caribou, birds and rabbits.  They fish, bake and prepare food for the long winter thereby requiring only limited additional food items for their meals.   Some items are flown in, but only on a limited basis during the long winter months since normally almost all supplies are generally brought in via trucks that use the ferries.   We who live in the more populated areas tend to purchase prepared foods for our evening meals.   Life is definitely different in this part of the world.   But, the people in these villages would never ever consider a change in their life that would require that they live in a densely populated area consumed with traffic and the other stresses of city life.

 

St. Anthony Harbor

St. Anthony Lighthouse

Western Region of Newfoundland

            This is our second visit to the western region of Newfoundland…a huge portion of the island that stretches from Port Au Basque in the south to St. Anthony in the north, a distance of over 800 kilometers (or 500 miles).  It also includes the magnificent Gros Morne National Park near the village of Rocky Harbor, which I wrote about in an article of our trip to the Maritime Provinces last year.   

            We once again hiked into the park to take the boat trip on the Western Brook Pond into one of the most beautiful fiords.   Actually, it is no longer a fiord as the pond is cut off from the ocean and is now only fed by fresh waters from the melting snow and streams.   In any event, it is a most beautiful place to visit and is reached via a three kilometer hike (1.8 miles) each way from the road.  There are also a number of other trails that are available of varying lengths and difficulties. 

In Rocky Harbor, we went back to visit some of our favorite restaurants and the Lobster Cove lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor.    Rocky Harbor is a quaint fishing village that is close to Gros Morne National Park and offers some very pleasing tourist amenities. 

            In St. Anthony, we also visited the local lighthouse at the end of the road at Iceberg Alley and hiked some of the local trails around the cliffside before rain drove us back to the car for cover.   In May and June of each year, the icebergs I mentioned earlier break off from the Arctic ice mass and float south toward Newfoundland.   Unfortunately by August they are usually all gone and only the stories remain.    

While in St. Anthony, we visited the Grenfell Interpretation Center that marks the achievements of Sir Wilfred T. Grenfell, who came to Newfoundland and Labrador in the early 1900s as a doctor and magistrate.   There is a museum, his home and a trail to the top of the hill where his ashes have been placed to rest.   

              During our last trip to Gunners Cove near St. Anthony we drove to the road’s end.   It seemed like we had arrived at the end of the world.  As we stopped near a house that was just a few feet from the edge of the Gulf of St Lawrence, an old man came out and our first thought was that he would object to our being there and even maybe chase us away.  But that was before we learned about these people… he only wanted to talk with us and tell us about his life.   

We had a fond memory of someone who seemed like a friend in this far away place.  With his ruddy complexion and weathered face he was the picture of a life-long fisherman…his name was Jobe.   On this trip, when we arrived in Gunners Cove, we again went to the end of the road and sure enough Jobe came out to meet us and again talked about his life.

 

Western Brook Pond Fiord Rocky Harbor

Central Region

            Leaving Rocky Harbor, we were going to visit regions of Newfoundland that we had not visited during our earlier trip.   A four and one-half hour drive took us to the village of Twillingate, which I had earlier identified as the purported iceberg capital of the world.   In the spring, as I indicated previously the icebergs breakaway for the arctic mass and float south to many different parts of the island, but Twillingate seems to receive many more icebergs in their harbor.   

            Twillingate is a typical fishing village that is suffering from the loss of an industry.   The rugged waterfront area has a lighthouse marking a harbor that is directly accessible from the Atlantic Ocean.   The winding road along the harbor has restaurants, homes and buildings used by the locals of the village.  It is an idyllic and picture book place…the home of people who are adjusting to a changing economy.   They look to the future where tourism will serve some of their economic needs. 

            In so many of the villages that we visited and those where we did not, there are many people who have come to visit Newfoundland and then purchase a home in the hopes of seeking the peace and tranquility that escapes us in our normally busy lives.   Real estate prices are presently cheap, but they are slowly increasing and will also serve as another source of economic empowerment to the people of this land. 

            Leaving Twillingate, we drove to Gander which has an aviation history and is the site of the Gander airport which became closely linked to both Canadian and Untied States Air Force operations and training during World War II.   It is also the site for an air traffic control center overseeing commercial aircraft flights traveling the great circle route between Europe and North America.   While no longer a popular airport, it is the site for aircraft traveling overseas that require refueling enroute. 

            Gander is not a city with much character…it is a relatively new city and serves the needs of an air industry community that reside there.  On December 12, 1985, a chartered airplane carrying military personnel traveling from Europe crashed on takeoff after refueling in Gander.  It crashed just off the runway in a heavily tree lined field and all 256 military personnel on board were killed.  Today, there is a memorial located on the site to commemorate the great loss of life.  New trees were planted…one for each person...the memorial is called the Silent Witnesses in tribute to this tragedy. 

            Gander is also known for opening its heart and homes to the people in the hundreds of aircraft that were forced to land there after 9/11.   Planes coming from Europe could not enter American airspace and had to land in Gander.  Without sufficient hotels and other accommodations, the people were taken into private homes and cared for until they could fly once more.   

            While in Gander we hiked around Cobbs Pond Park….an easy three kilometer trail.  We also visited the air museum located in Gander…which has a very limited collection of aircraft.   We enjoyed being in Gander, but I would not plan to visit there again. 

 

Twillingate Lighthouse U.S. Military Crash Memorial in Gander

Eastern Region

            After Gander, we headed to Trinity on the east cost of Newfoundland.   It is among the most beautiful regions of the island…with huge rugged, rock-lined cliffs that follow along the serpentine coastline. The town of Trinity has a similar background to many of the other villages…it was a prosperous fishing village in the late 1800s.  Merchants served the needs of the fishermen, while the fisherman worked the dangerous waters of this section of the coastline.   

            But not all was that easy…merchants held the fishermen in arrears, as the fishermen had a hard time trying to catch enough fish to pay off their bills.   Evidently, they lived at the mercy of the merchants and many would lose everything if the merchants would not advance the money needed to begin each new fishing season.   There was an abundance of some very hard times for many who lived in and around Trinity just as it existed for people living in the other villages.   

            While we were visiting Trinity we had the good luck to participate in a pageant that portrayed life as it was during one of the most difficult times during a period of this region so many years ago.   Actors dressed in period costumes escorted us through the village and played out life as it once was, making each of us a part of this experience.    Traveling through time we saw life through these actors as they sang, prayed, worked and lived.   It was a fantastic learning event as well as an opportunity to become familiar once more with the remarkable people of Newfoundland. 

            The other small villages in this area do not have many amenities for the tourist... the locals just live in these villages now, but one day when more people understand and want to share in the natural beauty and the warmth of the people in this part of the world, tourism will grow and the amenities will follow.  But for today, visitors will need to understand that they will live here just as the locals do and not as they live back home…but that is what makes Newfoundland so perfect. 

            One morning while in Trinity, after a wonderful home cooked breakfast at the inn in which we were staying, we headed out to hike the Skerwink Trail…a six kilometer trail that took us along the tops and edges of the cliffs that line the harbors of the villages of Trinity and Trinity East.  The views were simply breathtaking and the walk took us through some very significant rises and falls in the trail as we proceeded along narrow paths lined with trees and other fauna.    The trail provides an excellent opportunity to see whales, icebergs, foxes, eagles and seabirds....but we saw only an eagle...not too bad. 

 

The Village of Trinity Coastline as seen from the Skerwink Trail

Avalon Region

            When we left Trinity to drive southeast to the Avalon region, we traveled the Cape Trail south to Cape St. Marys Bay.   There we visited a seabird sanctuary on the southern tip of the western peninsular….Cape St. Marys Ecological Reserve.  We hiked out a trail for about one mile; sharing the place with many sheep….we did have to be very careful of our footing to stay out of some deep doodoo.    

            A dense fog shrouded the magnificent cliffs that served as home for the seventy thousand birds that nest there.  But at the end of the trail we did get the opportunity to see Northern Gannets, but there were also Murre seabirds that nest lower down on the cliffs.   The birds remain here because of the superb supply of food that is available in the waters below.  When the birds want food they fly straight down to the water and then dive as much as 600 feet below the water’s surface to catch their food. 

            Also at Cape St. Marys Bay was the oldest working lighthouse in North America…..we walked to the lighthouse in the fog following the sounds from the horn that warns fisherman of the massive and unforgiving cliffs that lie ahead.   The fog made it extremely difficult to actually see the lighthouse until we were very close …one can only imagine how important that lighthouse is to the sailors at sea.   

            We also drove the Irish loop …the trip around the eastern peninsular in the Avalon region.   The Irish settled much of this region many years ago, so there is a definite Irish influence in the region.   This loop took us though many villages and around a number of ecological reserves in the area.   We also visited an archeological dig in Ferryland where the remains of an ancient city is now being excavated. 

            Finally, we arrived at our final destination, but our adventure continued with our arrival in St. John’s, Newfoundland.   With our first walk around the city of St. John’s, we realized that we were back in a setting that was like the life we know and are familiar with.  It is a small, quaint city with many ethnic restaurants, stores and all different types of tourist facilities.   In the scores of villages that we had visited throughout Newfoundland…it was a village primarily for the people that lived there, not for those who visited or were passing through.   

            On our first night we attended a dinner theatre…”Patty McGinty’s Wake”.   It was an excellent and humorous musical dealing with local Newfoundland lore and customs.   While there we met a couple who came to St. John’s to visit with a family member, but could not wait to leave the city and return to the world that they are familiar and comfortable with.   In the villages, the people are content with their world and would not even feel like venturing into the “big” city of St. John’s. 

            St. John’s is an easy city to walk…even though it is built on the side of a big hill and walking away from the harbor requires the expense of some big time energy.   We hiked from our B&B in downtown St. John’s, to the top of Signal Hill, which is where Guglielmo Marconi received the first wireless message …the letter “S” which was transmitted from England in 1901….certainly an amazing feat at the time.   But, it was also an amazing feat for Lila and I as well…we hiked up to the top of “mountain” or so it seemed to us…at a roundtrip distance of maybe five miles. 

            We visited the newly opened Geo Center, a museum dedicated to the amazing geological features of the earth in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as around the rest of the planet.   We saw a terrific multi-media presentation, along with first-rate exhibits and interactive educational tools.  There was also a film re-enactment provided by NASA, of the Mars rover landings that took place in January 2004.   Also of interest was an historical exhibit of the sinking of the Titanic, which occurred a few hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland.  I strongly recommend a visit to the Geo Center for all who visit the area.    

Just outside St. John’s is Cape Spear…the eastern most point of land in North America.   Sitting directly on the Atlantic Ocean one can see the narrows, the entry way into St. John’s harbor and the beautiful rocky coast that extends along this part of the island.   We visited the gun batteries that were built during World War II in the event of an attack by Germany, but they were never used.   At Cape Spear, there is also the oldest lighthouse on the northern hemisphere, but it has now been replaced by a newer automatic lighthouse that is in operation today.  

 

Cape St. Marys Ecological Reserve Cabot Tower on Signal Hill

Going Home

            Well, it is time to pack our bags, say our goodbyes to some of the people that we have met here and return home.  This has been a wonderful peaceful trip.  We had many opportunities to get outside and hike some of the great trails in Newfoundland and once again to have been able to live and play among some of the most fantastic people who walk the earth.   I know that many people will not understand why anyone would visit Newfoundland, but they are missing an opportunity to see nature at its best and people who are glad you came to visit.

 

Cape Spear Lighthouse Colorful Homes in St. John's