New-found-land

 

Moose sign on Trans Canada Highway

Moose sign on Trans Canada Highway

Newfoundland, coupled with Labrador, is the most easterly of Canada’s 10 provinces. St. John’s, the capital, is closer to Dublin, Ireland than to Houston. The province an island, reachable by ferry from the Canadian mainland. It has long winters and short summers.

We don’t hear much about Canada in mainstream US news. Canadians, who are prone to make jokes about “Newfies”, don’t get much news from the province. The Newfoundlanders don’t get newspapers from Canada since delivery was stopped which, from what I gathered during my trip, is  not a source of worry to these hardy islanders.

The young female immigration officer at St. John’s International Airport seemed surprised at my arrival. “You’re coming here, out of season, on your own?” she asked incredulously. I explained that I liked taking adventures trips, and that I had always wanted to get back to Canada after visiting Montreal Expo (1967). She hooted with laughter and stamped me into Newfoundland.

John Cabot

John Cabot

On 24 June 1794 John Cabot of Bristol made landfall at a headland on Newfoundland’s east coast, today called “Cape Bonavista”. He stayed long enough to take on water then departed.The absence of  permanent settlement denied him recognition as the discoverer of the New World.  In the north of Newfoundland at L’Anse aux Meadows are the remains of a Viking settlement which existed 800 years earlier.

I liked St. John’s, a town of 100,000 residents. It has a naturally protected  harbor, well filled with oilfield supply ships and fishing vessels. From the quays, the streets, lined with brightly painted wooden houses, lead steeply uphill. Downtown, along Water Street, there are some interesting-looking restaurants among the shops and government buildings. A inventive, new museum, The Rooms, overlooks the town and harbor.

I had booked into an Airbnb, my first experience. The apartment was on a leafy street less than 8 minutes walk from downtown. The hosts were a student called Elyssa from Ottawa, doing Social Studies at the Memorial  University of NewFoundland (Canadian $2,000 a year, fees) and her boyfriend, Mark, newly arrived from Brighton, UK who called himself “a server” (waiter).

St. John's Harbor from The Rooms Museum

St. John’s Harbor
from The Rooms Museum

My room was comfortable, clean and well-furnished. My hosts offered to share their evening meal and provided coffee in the morning. They were easy-going and talkative, and told me lots about Newfoundland from their point of view as outsiders. The price was Canadian $50 per night (= US $40), and I enjoyed the experience so much that I booked another night when I came back to St. John’s. Interestingly, both hosts and guests write a report to Airbnb after the guest’s stay.

In a rental car, prepared to camp at parks, I set off along the  Trans Canada Highway,to visit the interior of this large island. The TC Highway runs for 4,860 miles clear across Canada. Almost immediately forests of spruce and fir appeared on each side of the road, with occasional signs warning against accidents due to moose.

For 5 days and 820 miles I drove northwest, as far as Gros Morne National Park, before turning back. I was lucky with the late Spring weather since the rain fell mainly at night. In a sleeping bag in the back of the SUV I slept well, and sometimes in the morning wore a sheepskin coat against the chill.

I visited the lighthouse at Cape Spear, the most easterly point on the north American continent, where icebergs floated by.  I stayed on an off-shore island, Fogo, where the inhabitants all came from Ireland. I observed 15,000 nesting gannets. I attended an Akadian music festival, and ate fisherman’s brewis (salt cod and hard tack). The sea is always a reminder in Newfoundland. There are villages on the south coast which can only be reached by boat.

Lighthouse at Gros Morne

Lighthouse at Gros Morne

At Gros Morne National Park, which is a World Heritage Site, I chatted for a long time with the rangers. They told me that  the park’s geology included a stretch of the earth’s mantle. So the next morning, under low cloud and skirting patches of snow, I followed a trail to where the surface rock started to turn orange – this was the crust of the earth turned upward during a geologic movement eons ago. The parks people gave me a tablet, so I had a  park ranger on the screen explaining the details to me as I walked across the bleak landscape. Later I joined a ranger-led tour along the coast line with a group of visitors. I was the only one from USA.

Earth's Crust

Earth’s Crust

Coastal Boat

Coastal Boat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I liked the Newfoundlanders whom I met, in campsites, restaurants or on the road. They always picked up on my different accent and most seemed surprised that I was visiting. They were all willing to talk about their life, and how Newfoundland was different, and the economy (currently suffering a downturn). They reflected resilience and islander’s pride. Every place seemed local, and even the capital, despite its churches, monuments and museums, felt like a small town. There’s nothing plastic here or hyped, this is the opposite of Disney World.

On a future visit, I would  take the coastal ferry along the coast of Labrador, stopping at Inuit communities. Less than 30,000 people live in Labrador. There’s a new Canadian National Park in the north, The Rongat Mountains National Park.  There are no roads, campgrounds, or signs telling you where to go or what to do. The parks department recommends visitors hire a trained Inuit polar bear guide when hiking.  Now, that sounds like an adventure.

Costal Community

 

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Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change

Comments

  1. Hi Jim – Mark and Elissa here – really enjoyed reading your blog, and it was a pleasure to meet you!

    Enjoy your future travels!

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