Newfoundland Wanderings

August 25 to September 18, 2014

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Ray and I took the ferry from North Sydney NS to Port Aux Basque Newfoundland on August 25 2014 to spend the next 3 weeks staying in excellent Bed & Breakfasts while we explored the island. Some of friends said that wasn’t enough time to see the island and they were right. We packed a lot of the top tourist draws into our trip but we never even made it to St John’s or the Avalon Peninsula. We decided we would be cheating ourselves if we rushed through the east coast. That means a repeat trip is in our future.

 

Gros Morne, on the West Coast, was great for hiking and music. We had our first heavy rainstorm during a guided walk on the Tablelands. Cedric, our excellent Parks Canada guide, led most of a large enthusiastic group back to shelter in the car park but a few of us hardier types continued on. Yes we got soaked, but the sun came out, our quick dry clothing cooperated and we managed another scenic walk in the afternoon above Trout River. From that point on the days were sunny and warm, with just a few intermittent showers. Trout River has initiated a weekly evening of music, called “Pass the Time”, in the community hall, featuring both professional musicians and local amateurs. We caught the last performance of the season. Rocky Harbour has the excellent “Anchors Away” show, almost every night. The performance of music and lots of jokes is deservedly popular.

 

Of course we took the boat ride through the inland fiord of Western Brook Pond and visited L’Anse Aux Meadows, where the Vikings landed and established a colony in 1000AD on the. A great film and reconstructions of Norse buildings gave us a glimpse of life on this windy, bleak northern tip of Newfoundland.

 

We stayed in St Anthony, where we hiked trails above the cliffs and visited Grenfell House. Wilfred Grenfell, British medical missionary, was truly an amazing man. He established medical stations, schools and orphanages on the remote Labrador coast and Newfoundland in the early 20th C. He also established sales outlets highlighting the traditional craft expertise of by the women in many of the small communities.

 

The world is definitely getting smaller. The proverbial six degrees of separation kept recurring on our trip. Who did we recognize in a restaurant in Trout River but Molly McCormick, the sister of Trish Holland, a good friend in Ottawa.  Molly and her friend Bob were even staying at the same B&B as we were. In St Anthony we chatted with two women on an observation platform, similarly taking in the majestic shoreline, and discovered on had attended UNB with Ray’s brother Dick more than 50 years before. Ray struck up a conversation with a woman walking her Newfoundland dog before boarding the ferry at Port Aux Basque back to the mainland. Awaiting permission to return to our cars at the end of the trip, Ray pointed out the lady to me. Imagine my surprise to recognize Gussy Turner, a friend from my University days, now living in the Quebec Eastern Townships (Cantons de L’Est). She and her husband now spend their summers in Newfoundland.

 

Tickle Inn, on Cape Onion, on a small peninsula just east of L’Anse Aux Meadows, was highly recommended by friends. It suited us perfectly. We spent the afternoon hiking alond trails on cliffs above the ocean, enjoyed a delicious dinner and were entertained by our host Dave with tales and songs of Newfoundland.

 

One of the guests at Tickle Inn recommended a side trip to Labrador to see the newest UNESCO site, Red Bay, a whaling station for Basque Sailors in the 16th and 17th century. We took the ferry from St Barbe in Newfoundland to Blanc Sablon, on the border between Quebec and Labrador. We stayed with 81 year old Mary Barney in her B&B in L’Anse au Loup and were charmed by her stories of life on the isolated coast of Labrador and wowed by the delicious meals she cooked for us. We had a great day in Red Bay, visiting the interpretive centers and walking the paths on Saddle Island, where the whalers rendered the blubber to produce the whale oil, then in great demand in Europe.

 

Our first stop on our return to Newfoundland was a visit to the tiny fishing village of Conche. Located at the end of 20 km of dirt road on the eastern coast of the Northern Peninsula, south of St Anthony, Conche is home to the French Shore Tapestry. A French artist, Jean Claude Roy, married to a Newfoundland woman, encouraged the local women to embroider a tapestry in the style of the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which tells the story of the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The Conche tapestry tells the history of Newfoundland, with special emphasis on the fishermen from Normandy and Brittany who came for the cod along this stretch of shoreline from the early 1500s to the early 1900s. The women have produced a work of art using the designs of Roy. It took 3 years of work to complete a 66 m (216 ft) long tapestry, the tapestry was finished in 2010 and now snakes around a room in the community center. Some of the women are continuing to produce new segments telling more of Newfoundland’s history. It was worth the extra effort to see this masterpiece.

Click French Shore Tapestry to learn more about this work of art.

 

Twillingate was another destination for us to take day hikes. The excellent women’s group, the Split Peas, had finished their performances for the season but the dinner and musical variety show at the Community Center in Crow Head was great fun. We added the Split Peas to our collection of CDs from Anchors Away, and Red Bay Music to accompany our drive around Newfoundland.

 

Fogo Island was more than we expected. It had great hiking trails, scenic shorelines and a museum devoted to a Marconi wireless station that claims to have received the first reports from the doomed Titanic in 1912. Its newest claim to fame if Fogo Island Inn, built by local resident, Zita Cobb, an executive with JDS IT company in Ottawa. After leaving JDS before its collapse, Ms Cobb returned to her home town and established a foundation to enable fellow residents continue their education and revive traditional crafts. Architects were contacted and designs for a new, luxury class hotel took shape on a cliff overlooking the sea. Furnishings were commissioned from the local craftsmen and the first visitors were welcomed in 20??. We couldn’t afford a night in the hotel this year but we did go for tea. We were impressed enough to possible save up our money, or possibly crowd source, to spend a night or two there another year.

 

As part of her foundation, Ms Cobb has built four small cottages in scenic spots on the island and encourages artists to apply for grants to come and use the cottages. We decided to visit each of the cottages, some of which were a short walk from the road and some a bit farther away. The first cottage we visited, ‘The Bridge’, overlooked a pond. As we explored the area around The Bridge we heard the sounds of a violin coming from the cottage. The musician, a man from Belgium, came out to talk to us. He was delighted to be spending five weeks on Fogo, practising for a concert to be held for the community. The other three cottages had artists in residence but they were away at the time we visited.

 

One of our fellow Ottawa bridge players, Iris Krajcarski, is from Trinity. Iris and her husband would be visiting her hometown during the time we would be visiting the area. We arranged to visit and enjoyed an afternoon guided walk with Iris and her husband around the village, which has been given heritage status. The beautiful setting has attracted a selling summer population, with people returning year after to enjoy the area. Iris also suggested we do the Sherwink Trail that circles Sherwink head, near Trinity East and Port Rexton. Our hike a few days later confirmed it rating as “one of the best walks in Newfoundland”, with Cliffside views of the ocean, views of Trinity and especially the blueberry snacking opportunities.  

 

Bonavista was bonny and the Harbourview B&B superb. Recently taken over by the daughter and son-in-law of the original owners, it has been renovated with an eye to comfort and great taste. Besides a great breakfast, we were invited each evening for “a mug up”, an evening snack that included both a savory and a sweet, plus lots of chat and jokes with the owners and fellow guests. A bonus was visits with Colleen’s father, the unofficial berry picker for our treats and his wife, who live just next door. Make sure you put the Harbourview on your list if you plan to visit Bonavista.

 

We took advantage of nearly all of the tourist draws around Bonavista and all are recommended. We visited the lighthouse and its museum, the Devil’s Hole, Puffins in Elliston, a recreation of John Cabot’s ship, ye Matthew, and the Ryan Premises with displays and films of the community involvement in the Salt Cod industry.

 

Not many tourists make it to Salvage, at the end of a peninsula north of Terra Nova Park.  When our friends Claudia and Neil Carver heard of our plans to visit Newfoundland, they recommended we visit Claudia’s sister, Lisa and her husband Peter Pickersgill. Both Peter and Lisa went to Bishop’s University, as I did. Peter graduated a few years after I did met Lisa there. After years of spending the summer in Salvage, the couple now make Salvage their permanent home. We were invited to visit and given a lovely cottage next to their home. It was the perfect way to end our east coast visit. We spent three days walking the trails around the small fishing village and enjoying their company. No, there are no big shopping malls, in fact no stores at all in town and no big tourist draws, but there is peace and quiet, and again, great scenery.

 

Thus ended our highly successful trip to Newfoundland. We drove back to Port Aux Basque, stopping overnight in Deer Lake and took the ferry back to North Sydney. If any of you have been putting off a visit to the Rock, by all means go before the secret really gets out and the province is overrun with tourists.


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