Thursday, February 28, 2013

"We went because they needed answers"

On February 17, 2013, the fishing boat Miss Ally, with five men aboard, was lost in a storm off the South Shore of Nova Scotia. The hull of the craft was sighted, but searchers chose not to examine it right away. At the request of the families of those on board, a full day before "official" crews examined the hull of the Miss Ally, four divers from Shelburne County had been to the hull to provide answers for those grieving families. Please follow this link to look into the faces of these true heroes of the community. Their heartfelt gift was to help in the only way they could.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Experiencing the Moment

 For a long time, travel was a popular pastime for those who wanted to see the different, the unusual or the exotic; today, for more and more travellers, it's more about experiencing than just seeing.  Many of us now want to engage all five senses; we don't want the same food, climate or activities we'd find at home, we want something new and different and whenever possible, unique to the place we're visiting. We also like the idea that our travels are benefiting local people in their communities, and that we're meeting and interacting with local residents beyond the rudimentary exchanges found in restaurant or hotel service. 

We're the experiential travellers, and we're the face of travel in the future.  Gone are the "Grand Tour" days when tourists sat removed from their surroundings and simply observed. Today's travellers roll up their sleeves and get involved, both physically and intellectually, with what's around them. It's a new and truly engaged way to travel, and it's had a huge and positive impact on people in the areas we travel to. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this shift is that it's making the whole process more interesting -- and memorable -- for the people in those destination areas, too. 

Local experts are now engaging with travellers in a way they weren't able to before: there's more time to get to know visitors, and shared experiences can form the basis of genuine interest and friendship. I'm not talking about visitors and local operators singing an endless chorus of "Kumbaya", but there's far more opportunity for them to interact in such a way that encourages long-term contact if it's what both parties want, especially with the ease of communication through email, social networking and Skype.

Travellers today experience the wonders of their destination: the smell of sun-drenched fir trees along a woodland trail; the crisp, cool touch of the breeze blowing past an iceberg; the taste of fresh bread straight from a brick oven, the sound of a foghorn across the water, or the electrifying experience of looking a humpback whale in the eye.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Scrapper

One fine evening while walking on the beach, I came upon one of life's little dramas.  The outcome was very different from what I expected when I arrived, for what I saw was a common rock crab,
Cancer irroratus, turned belly-up and lying quite still.  I thought it was dead, but much to my surprise when a wave rolled over it, the little crustacean, it righted itself and started to make its
way back to the sea.  I've decided to learn from this little fellow and roll with the punches.  Don't count yourself out until you've had a chance to roll over and start again!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Exploring Gros Morne

Gros Morne National Park is one of Newfoundland and Labrador's scenic treasures. The second largest of Atlantic Canada's national parks, it lies on the province's west coast, at the base of the Great Northern Peninsula. Gros Morne was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 for its remarkable geological significance, which contributed greatly to current knowledge about plate tectonics.The park takes its name from the highest peak within its boundaries (right). Listen to an audio documentary about the park's geology here to learn more about the park's geological features. Most services for the park are located in the communities of Rocky Harbour and Norris Point on the northern side of Bonne Bay, and Woody Point and Trout River on its
south side.  There are restaurants, shops, accommodations including hotels, inns hostels and cottages, filling stations and police and hospital facilities. The park also provides over 225 camping spaces, some of which are open year-round.  Wildlife in the park includes moose, foxes and bear as well as abundant bird life.  Summer activities in the park include hiking, canoeing and kayaking and several organized boat tours are available. There are interpretive programs about wildlife, geology, plants, and the area's human history and culture.  In winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing can be enjoyed by outdoors enthusiasts.  Among the most popular attractions within Gros Morne National Park is the bout tour on Western Brook Pond, accessed by a 40-minute walk to the docking facilities.  The tour operates from June through September, offering a two-hour interpreted trip on this ancient, land-locked fiord, past billion-year-old rocks. Waterfalls pour from the plateau above, and eagles and ravens often soar high overhead.  The human history of the Gros Morne area is explored through park interpretation events held regularly in summer, and also through the Broom Point Interpretation Site, the restored cabin and fish store used by the Mudge family for their summer fishing operation from 1941 until 1975.
Until the construction of the road along the northern side of Bonne Bay, all traffic bound for points north of the present-day park travelled south of the bay, crossing by ferry from Woody Point to Norris Point. The old ferry landings still exist, now used as docking facilities by the boat tours operating on Bonne Bay and the water taxi linking the two communities. To learn more about Gros Morne, visit the Parks Canada website.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Courage and Patience and Grit

Songwriter Mark Walker was born in Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland, in 1846. A fisherman who also served as the first postmaster in the community of Sweet Bay, Walker penned several of modern-day Newfoundland and Labrador's favourite songs, among them "Fanny's Harbour Bawn", "The Girls of Sweet Bay", "The Antis of Plate Cove" (about the forces that opposed Confederation with Canada), and "Down by Jim Long's Stage", but perhaps his best-known and most-beloved song was "Tickle Cove Pond", a song that tells the tale of an incident that took place in Tickle Cove in the spring of the year.  It was first recorded by Canadian folksinger Allan Mills in 1963. To listen to a recording of the song performed by Jesse Ferguson, click here. The lyrics follow. 

In cuttin' and haulin', in frost and in snow
We're up against troubles that few people know
And it's only by courage and patience and grit
And eatin' plain food that we keep ourselves fit
The hard and the easy we take as it comes
And when ponds freeze over we shorten our runs
To hurry my haulin' with spring coming on
Near lost me a mare out on Tickle Cove Pond
Lay hold William Over, lay hold William White
Lay hold of the cordage and pull all your might
Lay hold of the bowline and pull all you can
And give me a lift with poor Kit on the pond
I knew that the ice became weaker each day
But still took the risk and kept haulin' away
One evening in April bound home with a load
The mare showed some halting against the ice road
She knew more than I did as matters turned out
And lucky for me had I joined her in doubt
She turned round her head, with tears in her eyes
As if she were sayin', "You're riskin' our lives"
All this I ignored with a whip handle blow
For man is too stupid; dumb creatures to know
The very next moment the pond gave a sigh
And down to our necks went poor Kitty and I
For if I had taken wise Kitty's advice
I never would take the shortcut on the ice
Poor creature she's dead; poor creature she's gone
I'll ne'er get my mare out of Tickle Cove Pond
So I raised an alarm you could hear for a mile
And neighbours turned up in a very short while
You can always rely on the Overs* and Whites
To render assistance in all your bad plights
To help a poor neighbour is part of their lives
The same I can say for their children and wives
When a bowline was fastened around the mare's breast
William White for a shanty song made a request
There was no time for thinkin', no time for delay
Straight from his head came this song right away
Chorus Final
Lay hold William Over, lay hold William W
Lay hold of the cordage and pull all your might
Lay hold of the bowline and pull all you can
And with that we brought Kit out of Tickle Cove Pond
*It seems the surname Oldford, often associated with this song, is not one of long standing in Tickle Cove.  The name Over, originally Ovier, was referred to in the song when it was penned by Walker.  Reference.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Days of Sorrow

It's impossible to live in a small, closely-knit coastal community and not feel the effects of harrowing loss. Southwestern Nova Scotia is experiencing such sorrow, with the sudden and tragic loss of the halibut-fishing boat Miss Ally and the five young men on board.  The skipper was Katlin Nickerson of Wood's Harbour, and with him on the voyage were Joel Hopkins, Cole Nickerson, and Tyson Townsend, all of Wood's Harbour as well, and Billy Jack Hatfield from nearby Cape Sable Island.  The five set out in the 14-metre Cape Islander on February 12, 2013 to pursue the winter halibut fishery, which takes place in during the worst of winter's storms and gales. After the boat's emergency beacon was activated on Sunday night, searchers were hampered by sea conditions that included wind, freezing spray and waves of 10 metres or more. Several aircraft, two Coast Guard vessels and various merchant vessels took part in the search, but the search area was broad and the sea conditions far from ideal. The fishing communities of Southwestern Nova Scotia waited, tension thick in the air, while the search continued; nighttime brought a gesture of solidarity throughout the region as homes up and down the shore left a light on through the night to speed the men's safe return. It was all to no avail, though, as the search was called off on Tuesday evening.   In addition to other family members, the captain and crew of the Miss Ally leave behind a total of six children. Hearts are heavy along the shore today.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Place Called Salvage

At the northern edge of Terra Nova National Park, Route 310 leads along the Eastport Peninsula to the town of Salvage. This little community is noted for its red-ochre sheds and outbuildings, often reflected in the still waters of its harbour. The name is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable: sal-VAGE. Like the other communities on the peninsula, this village was settled in the late eighteenth century by emigrants from the West Country of England who came here to pursue the Cod fishery.  Icebergs are frequently sighted from here in the spring, and in fact they often ground close inshore when conditions are right. Salvage is an especially picturesque little community, and located on the shores of Doctor's Pond are two typical "saltbox" houses that are among the most-photographed buildings in the province. There's something quintessentially Newfoundland about these houses, and they seem irresistible to almost anyone who arrives with camera in hand. I love the smaller details of Salvage, though, like the simple, utilitarian rope latch on a rough-hewn door
or the stacks of lobster and crab traps on the wharves. There's a fish plant that's a bustling hive of activity during caplin or squid season, and a small museum that recreates the life of a fisherman's family within the context of the community, but apart from a post office, few other services can be found here. No matter: a side trip to Salvage is well worth the drive, and the quiet beauty of its simple architecture clinging tenaciously to the rocky shore will find a way to capture the heart.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Timeless Trinity

If ever there was a delightful place to spend a few hours, or for the really lucky visitor a few days, it's the charming town on Trinity, Trinity Bay.  The redundancy in the name comes from the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador is not divided into counties; if two communities happen to have the same name, they can't be differentiated by county so have to be referred to by the bay on which they lie; hence the distinction between Trinity, Trinity Bay, and Trinity, Bonavista Bay.  While both communities are lovely, it's the Trinity Bay locale that's our focus today.  The town lies roughly an hour north of the Trans-Canada Highway via Route 230.  It lies on the shores of Trinity Bight, a large indentation of Trinity Bay's shoreline that includes a number of small communities.  Its huge
and easily-defended harbour made it an important fishing port in the 1700s, as well as a centre for lumbering, shipbuilding and other trades. In its heyday, Trinity was home to more than 800 people and was a thriving centre for trade and commerce. Today, it has a year-round population of fewer than fifty, but in summer it can still be a bustling place, where restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and museums can be found. Its inviting, tree-lined streets or boat tours beckon, while for the more ambitious the Gun Hill Trail above the town centre overlooks miles of spectacular coastline. Museums include the Cooperage, a restored barrrel-maker's shop (seen above left), the Lester-Garland House, the Trinity Interpretation Centre, Lester-Garland Premises, Hiscock House, the eclectic
Trinity Museum and the Green Family Forge, among others.  There's no shortage of possibilities for sightseeing and learning about the area's fascinating history. Friendly and knowledgeable animators provide information and answer your questions about the various sites, and a wander through the narrow streets of the town is rewarded with photo opportunities at every turn. Dominating the skyline is the imposing St. Paul's Anglican Church. Its neatly fenced graveyard is filled with inscribed stones, each of which has a story to tell, and the interior of the church is softly lit with a number of finely crafted stained-glass windows (below). Across the water lies Fort Point, Trinity's newest restoration, where a trail leads to a number of storyboards surrounded by a stockade fence.  Trinity is also home to the Rising Tide
Theatre, a professional theatre company that stages a season of performances, including comedy, drama, and dinner theatre, that extends well into the fall. The season's anchor event and best-known work is The New Founde Lande Trinity Pageant, an outdoor walkabout performance that takes place in the afternoon. Members of the company portray an array of characters from Trinity's past, and lead their audience to various locations around the town. It's an opportunity to step into history and meet some of the people who played a vital part in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.  There's only one small drawback to visiting this little gem of a town: once you've experienced the lure of Trinity, you'll want to return for another look!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Window on the Ancient Past

A couple of hours south of St. John's, the community of Portugal Cove South is the gateway to two important sites, Cape Race -- the Marconi station where the last signal from the Titanic was received -- and Mistaken Point, where the fossils of the Ediacaran biota, Earth's oldest complex lifeforms, can be found. This site is a true treasure, considered significant enough to be featured in Sir David Attenbrough's presentation, First Life. You'll see his visit to Mistaken Point at minutes 23:25 to 36:00.  All visitors to the fossil site must be accompanied by trained interpreters; a guided visit takes place each day, starting at the Interpretation Centre for the Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve.  The site is reached on foot, by way of a coastal trail that leads to the sloping
sandstone and mudstone layers that house the deposit. Some 560 to 575 million years ago, this area was at the bottom of a deep ocean, far beyond the level to which light could penetrate. The Mistaken Point Assemblage is made up of over 30 soft-bodied species that existed millions of years before animals developed skeletons.  They were preserved by a series of undersea volcanic eruptions that covered them completely in layers of ash, and eventually the seafloor containing those layers was thrust upward to its present position.  While other deposits of a similar age exist, the grouping of lifeforms at Mistaken Point is unique. This rugged and
often fog-shrouded coastline is now on a list of nine potential UNESCO World Heritage Sites within Canada.

Much of our knowledge of Ediacaran fossils at this remarkable site comes from the research of Dr. Guy Narbonne, Professor and Research Chair in the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  Dr. Narbonne is a world-renowned specialist in the origin of animals, whose description of the unusual fractal nature of the Ediacaran physiology was hailed as one of the top 100 science discoveries of 2004.

The fossil beds are located at the edge of the Eastern Hyper-oceanic Barrens ecoregion, noted for its distinctive low-growing vegetation and balsam fir tuckamore.  The walk to the fossil beds is approximately 45 minutes in each direction over rolling and uneven ground, with two stream crossings.  Be prepared for the cool, damp weather that's common to the area.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Where Eagles Soar

There are few feelings quite like looking skyward and catching a glimpse of the broad, straight wings of a bald eagle high overhead(Haliaeetus leucocephalus). These strikingly beautiful and majestic birds of prey are relatively common around the coasts and waterways of Newfoundland and Labrador; they're well suited to life here, since appropriately enough they fish for a living. They can be spotted waiting patiently in trees or on
rocky outcrops, scanning for the flash of a fish moving through the water near the surface, then swooping low, flaring wings and tail to apply the brakes, and striking quickly. The resulting prize may be devoured right away at a favourite spot nearby, or carried back to a huge, unkempt-looking nest to feed recently hatched young.

During the winter months, they tend to congregate where there is open water or another readily available food source; in the
St. John's area, that means Quidi Vidi Lake with its ready selection of ducks and huge aggregation of gulls. Both adults and juveniles can be found here, like these two youngsters scuffling just above the ice of the lake. The return of summer means the birds are more widely spread across the landscape, since food is more readily available in open water. Keep an eye to the sky, and you just might catch sight of one of Newfoundland and Labrador's resident bald eagles.

Friday, February 08, 2013

In an Echo of Winter, a Sign of Spring

Spring comes slowly to Newfoundland and Labrador; that's simply a fact of its geography and climate. When it arrives, though, it brings with it a spectacle that most of North America doesn't have the opportunity to witness: the remarkable phenomenon of sea ice. The ice is almost like a living thing. It drifts in on the combined forces of current, tide and wind, transforming the landscape overnight with its strange and varied shapes. It cloaks the ocean in an undulating mat of
white. Drifting along with the ice are the season's first icebergs, frozen giants calved from the glaciers of Greenland, making their way south after having wintered over on their journey. They sail past regally far at sea, or sometimes venture closer and ground themselves in the shallows like the two seen here at Quidi Vidi in the spring of 2012, when a spectacular sunrise complete with a sun pillar formed a dramatic backdrop. Small coastal communities like Twillingate (top) see their harbours
blocked with ice, often delaying the passage of fishing boats; calm, sunny days, though, bring out an array of reflections that transform the harbour into a place of wonder. The ice might stay overnight, for a week, or even for a month or more; it will depart as quickly as it arrived, drifting back to the sea and leaving nothing but a memory of its passing.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

A Different Season

Although summer is the season that draws the most visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador, each region of the province has its own intriguing options for every season of the year; for winter sports like skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling, central and western Newfoundland as well as Labrador, with its annual Winter Games are perfect destination areas. The maritime climate of theSt. John's in winter shows a different face from the one it displays in summer, but it's equally beautiful and there are plenty of interesting things to see and do. It's true that St. John's gets some
wintry weather, but it seems as though there's a sapphire blue sky for every steely grey one. This is the time of year when cultural events abound. Folk Night, produced by the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society, is a weekly event that brings the best of the province's traditional music to the stage of the Ship Pub in central St. John's. The artists shown here are noted musicians Fergus O'Byrne and Fergus Brown-O'Byrne..

The Arts and Culture Centre
, located on the campus of Memorial University, features a wide range
of performances from theatre to dance to symphony, with pop, country and folk acts thrown in for good measure. With a total capacity of just over a thousand, it's a formal yet relatively intimate venue and there's literally not a bad seat in the house. Closer to the center of St. John's are the Holy Heart Theatre with a fine and varied roster of acts, and the Resource Centre for the Arts, a well-appointed and truly intimate performance venue located in the historic Longshoremen’s Protective Union (or LSPU) Hall.

Be sure your stay includes a Friday night, the busiest night in the vibrant music scene that keeps St. John`s hopping. There`s music of almost every style at George Street pubs like the Fat Cat, O`Reilly`s, Sundance, Trapper John`s and more, but one of the outstanding venues is Erin`s Pub, located on Water Street just a couple of blocks from the busy George Street strip, where a traditional instrumental session rocks the house in the early evening -- it makes a great starting point for a downtown pub crawl, but be warned: you just might find yourself wanting to extend your stay in St. John`s!

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Lure of Labrador

I love the island of Newfoundland and the opportunity to share it with visitors, but Labrador holds a special place in my heart. It's a wild and rugged and raw-boned region, the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and its lure is simply irresistible. Accessed by ferry from Newfoundland, by air, or by land via the province of Quebec, Labrador's imposing landscape greets the traveller with sweeping, wide-open vistas. Sparkling rivers like the famous Pinware, a rich salmon stream, flow headlong to the sea, while sharply-defined mountains dominate Labrador's northern reaches. In 2005, this northern region officially became known as Nunatsiavut, (Inuktitut for "Our Beautiful Land") a new territory born out of the Labrador Land Claims Agreement. It is a self-governing Inuit region within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the first of its kind, taking in the communities of Nain, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik and Rigolet. Farther to the south lies the area known as NunatuKavut ("Our Ancient Land"), the territory of the southern Inuit. There are also two Innu communities in Labrador, Sheshatshiu (Sheshatshiu First Nation) and
Natuashish (Mushuau First Nation), making up the area known as Nitassinan, the Innu Land. Many communities in Labrador, particularly those of the south coast, have non-native (or "Settler") populations as well.

Many sights and experiences await the visitor to Labrador, from the restored fishing station at Battle Harbour to Red Bay, site of a large-scale whaling station established by the Basques in the mid-1500s, to
the breathtaking beauty of Torngat Mountains National Park. This region isn't tame or gentle or shy; it demands attention and defies understatement, but if you're willing to meet it head-on and prepared to take in its huge scope and its equally huge appeal, it can be an incredibly rewarding and even life-altering place to explore.