Early in the morning of July 25, 2000, we flew from Toronto to Western
Newfoundland via Halifax . At the Deer Lake Airport we were met by our NOVA coach, with its Nova Scotia driver and Newfoundland tour manager, and were transferred to Corner Brook, where we were scheduled to spend our first night. Newfoundland's second city with a population of 25,000, Corner Brook is the West Coast service centre of the province and boasts what was once the largest integrated pulp and paper mill in the world.
A short bus tour that afternoon included a drive up to Captian Cook's Lookout
to view the entire town spread out along the south shore of the Humber Arm
at the mouth of the great Humber River--with the huge Kruger pulp and paper
operation prominently front and centre.
The lookout honours James Cook, who charted Newfundland in 1763-67, before going on to his more famous exploits in the Pacific. Many of the place names in this area (probably including Corner Brook) are the ones originally bestowed by Captain Cook.
We also stopped to photograph an odd rock formation, the so-called Old Man in the Mountain--where I for one was at loss to see a face--as well as the narrow gauge engine, rolling stock and snowplough at the Humbermouth Historic Train Site.
On July 26 we drove north up the Trans Canada Highway (which, despite all government promises, has never been expanded to four lanes in Newfoundland) back to Deer Lake, where we bought gasoline and snacks at one of the ubiquitous Irving service stations. From there we followed Route 430--otherwise known as the Viking Trail--through Gros Morne National Park to Bonne Bay on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where we had a brief photo stop.
Then we proceeded north along the coast, stopping at the spectacular limestone formations known as The Arches, on our way to lunch at Port au Choix.
At Port au Choix we visited the National Parks Interpretive Centre and nearby archaeological site to learn about the various peoples who have inhabited this area over the past 5,000 years:
Maritime Archaic (3400-1200 B.C.),
Groswater Palaeoeskimo (800 B.C. to A.D. 100),
Dorset Palaeoeskimo (A.D. 0-700),
Recent Indian (A.D. 0-1600), and
European (16th century to present).
Afterwards we continued up the Great Northern Peninsula--not to St. Anthony as scheduled, but to Roddickton (which is on the eastern side of the peninsula, a considerable distance further from our next day's destination of L'Anse aux Meadows), having been "bumped" from the tour's two-night booking at St. Anthony's Vinland Motel. Along the way we passed numerous small roadside vegetable plots, planted by the inhabitants of neighbouring villages to supplement their high protein fish diet. Here on the North-West Coast of the Rock, where arable land is scarce, these plots are a valuable commodity, occasionally bearing
For Sale signs.
On July 27 we headed north over secondary roads via Main Brook to rejoin Route 430 on our way to L'Anse aux Meadows, one of Newfoundland's several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Once there, first we visited the Interpretive Centre and then walked down with a National Parks guide to view the filled-in dig site. On the way, our guide (the son of a local fisherman) recalled how, as a boy of 13, he watched Anne Stine Ingstad and her team unearthing the remains of Leifr Eiriksson's Vinland: the short-lived Greenland colony used for a decade or so around the year A.D. 1000 as a winter base in attempts to exploit the bountiful shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence for desperately-needed timber.
Next we visited the Viking Encampment, a cluster of reconstructed sod-huts near the shore of the cove, peopled by pseudo-Vikings, who explained the details of 11th-century life on this site, using in their demonstrations replicas of some of the artifacts discovered in the course of the dig.
As we were heading away from L'anse aux Meadows, we encountered along the approach road countless rows of school buses, gathered from far and wide to ferry the up to 10,000 visitors expected the next day for the Viking Millennium celebrations from the various distant parking lots, where they would be obliged to leave their vehicles. The logistics involved in accommodating so many people at this tiny fishing village and its fragile adjoining archaeological site boggled the mind--even the sanitary aspect of hosting such a large group was enough to make the stoutest heart quail.
Our last stop for the day was at St. Anthony, whose population of 3,500 makes it the largest town on the Great Northern Peninsula. There we visited several of the Grenfell Mission Buildings, including the Interpretive Centre, the Grenfell House Museum, and the Charles C. Curtis Memorial Hospital (with its interesting ceramic murals by the Spanish-Canadian artist Jordi Bonet).
The Grenfell House Museum was once the home of the energetic British doctor, Wilfred Grenfell (eventually knighted for his services), who came to the area as a young man in 1892 on behalf of the Royal National Mission to the Deep Sea Fishermen and ended up dedicating his entire career to bettering life for the people of the Labrador Coast and North-West Newfoundland. His activity here
in so many spheres, including medical, economic and educational--not to mention his worldwide fund-raising and his books detailing such adventures as the narrow escape from death when, stranded on an ice-pan, he was forced to eat his three beloved sled-dogs-- combined to make him a legend, even a demi-saint, in more than merely local eyes.
On July 28 we drove from Roddickton across the peninsula to catch the 10 a.m. ferry from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon.
Then our bus crossed the nearby border out of Quebec into Labrador, stopping briefly to drop our luggage at our hotel in L'Anse au Clair before travelling north up the coast along the Strait of Belle Isle, where we passed salmon fishers on the Pinware River en route to Red Bay.
Upon arrival, we visited the Red Bay Interpretive Centre to learn about this 16th-century whaling capital of the world, where as many as two thousand Basque whalers thronged each season in search of the riches whale-oil could bring. Behind them they left their cemeteries, the remains of their dwellings and try-works, and even some of their vessels--including the galleon San Juan, sunk in Red Bay in 1565 and identified through contemporary Spanish records.
Travelling south back to L'Anse au Clair, we took a detour out to Point Amour Lighthouse (at 109 ft. the second tallest lighthouse in the country), viewing also nearby the remains of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station.
En route back to the highway we stopped at the L'Anse Amour Maritime Archaic Burial (the earliest burial mound of its type known in North America: 5,500- 6,000 B.C.), containing the remains of an Indian boy about 12 years of age, buried with what were probably his prized possessions--including a bird bone whistle.
At 6 a.m. on July 29, I turned on Newfoundland T.V. expecting to see the news, only to find instead a two-hour replay of the Viking Millennium ceremonies held the previous afternoon at L'Anse aux Meadows, where more than the anticipated 10,000 people had gathered to greet the arrival of the Viking-ship flotilla, headed by the Gaukstad-ship replica., Islendingur. Captained by its builder, a purported descendant of Leifr Eiriksson, this wooden knarr (freight vessel) had just completed the difficult six-week sail from Iceland via Greenland, which I myself had been assiduously following throughout that period via the web-diary of its only female crew member. What a pleasure to be able to watch the helicopter coverage of the Islendingur entering the cove and then the close-up land coverage as captain and crew disembarked--to a much warmer welcome than their ancestors received in the New World a thousand years ago from the aboriginal people to whom, according to the sagas, they gave the name Skraelings!
[The photo below is from the July 29 newspaper.]
When the T.V. replay was over and after an unusually late breakfast, we made the short fog-shrouded drive to Blanc Sablon for an equally foggy ferry-crossing over the Strait of Belle Isle and back to Newfoundland. Then, heading south down Route 430 in steadily increasing sunlight, we stopped briefly at Parson's Pond and also to photograph lobster traps at Sally's Cove en route to Rocky Harbour, where we spent the night.
On July 30 we back-tracked up the coast as far as a parking-lot, from which the 3 km. Western Brook Pond Trail leads in (across bog, punctuated with gravel ridges) to Western Brook Pond: a freshwater inland fiord, where we took a two-and-a-half-hour boat ride.
The boat-trip took us into the geologist's paradise of the Long Range Mountains, where continents once collided--the resultant fault bringing to the surface Precambrian, Cambrian and Ordovician rock: the oldest and normally the deepest rock layers in our world. The scenery was spectacular: almost perpendicular walls rising as high as 700 metres, hanging valleys, breath-taking waterfalls, even the occasional patch of residual snow.
At the head of the fiord we docked at a landing-stage to let off three young male back-packers, who were setting out on a 3-day trek over the North Rim Traverse. We oldsters all hoped that the lads were well supplied with insect repellent--this being a particularly bad summer for blackflies--and regretted how some of us had been reduced to slowly labouring the 3 km. walk in to reach
the Pond and were dreading the walk back out to the highway, where our comfortable coach awaited our return.
From here we drove south to Lobster Head Cove for a picnic by the lighthouse overlooking Rocky Harbour.
Then, after stopping at the Gros Morne National Park Visitor Centre, to learn more about the unique features that have made this park a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we left the West Coast and drove inland to Grand Falls in Central Newfoundland.
On July 31 we toured the Grand Falls Salmonid Interpretation Centre, watching salmon move upstream and learning about the successful efforts to restore their population in the Exploits River.
Then it was on to Boyd's Cove, to visit the Beothuk (pronounced Bay-awe-thuk) Interpretation Centre to learn about these extinct Recent Indian people, the last of whose number died out in the 1820's--like the majority of North American Indian populations, primarily as a result of having no immunity to European diseases.
Afterward we proceeded north along the Road to the Isles to the village of Twillingate, where we went up to the lighthouse at Crow Head to gaze out upon Notre Dame Bay in search of icebergs--alas, too foggy and too late in the season!
At lunch we were entertained by the Twillingate Dinner Theatre; and, as we were leaving, the editor of The Newfoundlander boarded the bus to read us a poem of his own composition dealing with the extinct Beothuks. After that we visited a winery, where we saw wine-making in progress and tasted wines made from local fruits, such as dogberry, bakeapple and partridgeberry.
Next it was on to Gander for the night, with a small detour to the airport, to see whether the Concorde flight from London to New York that had made an emergency landing the previous day was still on the ground--it was not, having departed earlier in the day to return to London for further safety checks.
Departing Gander on August 1, we stopped to pay our respects at The Silent Witness: a memorial to the 256 U.S. 101st Airborne Division personnel who died in a plane crash here on December 12, 1985.
Then we headed east on the Trans Canada Highway, stopping at Joey's Lookout to gaze down at former premier Joseph Smallwood's hometown of Gambo.
After that, we took a detour out onto the Eastport Peninsula, stopping at Eastport Bay for a brief service of thanksgiving led by two ministers in our group.
Then we proceeded to the fishing village of Salvage--where we finally glimpsed a small iceberg, trapped by a jutting spur of rock.
Then we drove on through the lush forests of Terra Nova National Park and out onto the Bonavista Peninsula along the Discovery Trail, heading for the beautifully-preserved former mercantile centre of Trinity, overlooking what was once considered the safest habour in the New World, there on the south side of the peninsula facing Trinity Bay. We strolled about among the 17th-19th century buildings and visited the excellent Interpretive Centre, housed in a elegant blue clapboard home. And finally we made our way back to the Trans Canada Highway for our overnight stop at Clarenville.
On August 2 we continued south down the Trans Canada Highway, passing Come by Chance as well as the oil refinery and the Bull Arm oil-platform construction area. Then we detoured east to follow the Baccalieu Trail up the Bay de Verde Peninsula. En route we stopped to photograph a good example of a front door opening onto a steep drop (the so-called Mother-in-Law's Door), which is seen less frequently now that the formerly-permanent tax exemption for a house that does not yet have a safely-usable front door has been reduced to only 18 months.
Soon afterward we stopped again to photograph the Whiteway sea-stacks.
Then we proceeded through the fishing communitiesof Heart's Delight and Heart's Desire to the Heart's Content Cable Station, built on the site where the first successful transatlantic cable was landed in 1866--soon to be used to send the first transatlantic telegraph message (between Queen Victoria and President James Buchanan).
After that, we crossed the Bay de Verde Peninsula from its western (Trinity Bay) side to its eastern (Conception Bay) side for lunch at Carbonear, followed by a stop at neighbouring Harbour Grace--site of many pioneer attempts to fly the Atlantic, including the succeesful 1932 solo flight by Amelia Earhart.
Then we returned to the Trans Canada Highway to enter the Avalon region on our way to our final destination, the provincial capital of St. John's, into whose sheltered harbour legend has it that John Cabot (alias Giovanni Caboto) sailed on the evening of the Feast of St. John the Baptist in A.D. 1497.
The following morning, August 3, we made a bus tour of this city of 200,000.
First we drove up Signal Hill to see Cabot Tower, near which Marconi, flying a kite, received the first successful transatlantic message.
Despite the morning fog, we had a good view of the capital spread out along the harbour, as well as of Quidi Vidi Lake just back of the city--site the preceeding day of the St. John's Regatta, held annually since the 1820's.
Afterward we visited both the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist and the St. John the Baptist Anglican Cathedral, as well as passing by various interesting buildings and monuments--including the four houses on Temperance Street, built for his four daughters by the Cabot Tower stonemason out of "leftover" materials from the tower construction, reputedly in a (successful) effort to attract husbands for them despite their ugliness.
We also drove out to Quidi Vidi Village, to see the boats and to visit Mallard Cottage (billed as "the oldest cottage in the oldest city in North America").
During the subsequent free afternoon, I dropped into the Newfoundland Museum on Duckworth Street, particularly in order to see the artifacts and exhibits featuring the prehistoric Maritime Archaic people and the later Beothuk indians. Afterward, I took a taxi out to the St. John's Arts and Cultural Centre (located near the St. John's campus of Memorial University) to tour the special millennial exhibit entitled "First Contact-Full Circle". This excellent exhibit describes how different groups of humans migrated from our ancestral homeland in Africa:
- some turning right into Asia, eventually crossing the Bering Landbridge
and traversing the entire width of the North American continent, ultimately
to arrive at the East Coast;
- others turning left into Europe, eventually (from Norway) island-hopping across the North Atlantic via Iceland and Greenland, ultimately to arrive at Labrador
and Newfoundland--there, about the year A.D. 1000, to re-encounter their
On August 4 we journeyed 30 km. south along the coast to Bay Bulls, from which we took a boat excursion to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, whose islands are sanctuaries for the continent's largest puffin colony and the world's second largest petrel colony, as well as for large populations of kittiwake gulls, razorbilled auks and common murres.
After bird-watching, we tried some whale-watching and eventually were fortunate enough to find ourselves in the midst of a pod of humpbacks (plus a few minkes). Among them was a young male, who somehow had managed to get a rope fastened round his middle. The locals are trying hard to devise a means of releasing the rope, before it squeezes him to death as he grows in girth.
After lunch at Bay Bulls, which included one of the Newfoundlanders' favourite desserts: figgy duff, we proceeded north to Cape Spear--the easternmost point in North America and now a National Historic Park--to see the 1840 lighthouse and the World War II battery. The seafog rolled in while we were there, lending an eerie quality to the scene.
That evening at our farewell dinner we were entertained by an accordianist,
a folksinger-composer, and an Irish step-dancer (a la Michael Flaherty).
Even those of us who chose a non-alcoholic alternative to screech (rum),
were nonetheless enrolled in the Royal Order of Screechers--perhaps because
we at least consented to kiss a (fortunately dead) cod.
The following morning, on August 5--our active and interesting tour over too soon--we were transferred to St. John's Airport and took a direct flight home.
by Maureen Patricia Halsall
Note: Appended is a photograph of our tour group, with me in grey in the centre.
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