Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Coming back to Nain

Nain's brass band
There's a little community in Nunatsiavut that I've loved since the first time I visited -- it's the northernmost inhabited community in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the largest community in Nunatsiavut and its administrative capital. I first visited Nain in 1994 via the M.V. Northern Ranger, as part of a cruise along the coast. In those days, the Ranger operated out of Lewisporte on Newfoundland's northeast coast, and the trip took in all the small ports along the way, including St. Anthony, Red Bay, and Cartwright on the way to Goose Bay - Happy Valley. Today the vessel still runs, but it's now operated by Nunatsiavut Marine and plies the coast only from Goose Bay northward, stopping at Rigolet, Makkovik, Postville, Hopedale, and Nain, with a stop in the Innu community of Natuashish as well.

On the roof!
My most recent visit, though, was from a different vessel: the Ocean Endeavour, operated by Adventure Canada. I was delighted to see that Nain would be one of the stops on their Newfoundland and Wild Labrador cruise in 2015, and was eager to return to the place where there were so many wonderful memories. The icing on the cake was that the stop happened to fall on my birthday, July 11.

Carver John Terriak

In the years since I'd been to Nain, a very important development had taken place: the local brass band, established by the Moravian Church as part of its outreach to the coast, had been resurrected through the efforts of a dedicated group of volunteers and advocates including Dr. Tom Gordon of Memorial University, who was a fellow staffer on the Adventure Canada team.When the Ocean Endeavour arrived, the band was there to greet us -- and after a welcome at the little white church near the public wharf, the band members followed tradition and climbed from the church tower onto the roof to play so the sound would carry better!

The welcome in Nain was as warm as ever, thanks to Tourism Nunatsiavut, and there was time to explore the community, see a demonstration of soapstone carving by noted carver John Terriak, taste some local delicacies like partridge soup and pitsik -- dried char -- and do a bit of shopping for soapstone, sealskin, knitted goods and other keepsakes before a reception with Inuit games at the local school; a buttery-soft sealskin eyeglass case seemed like the perfect birthday present, and by chance, the young man who sold it to me was celebrating his birthday as well -- along with his twin brother! We wished each other a happy birthday, and I was on my way.

The perfect keepsake

It was a delight to return to this little spot after an absence of nearly twenty years; I've promised myself it won't be so long before my next visit. Nain is on the itinerary of Adventure Canada's Greenland and Wild Labrador
cruise for 2016.

Leaving beautiful Nain

Saturday, February 20, 2016

St. Pierre & Miquelon -- a true taste of Europe in North America

St. Pierre

Le Café du Chat Luthier
YJust west of Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula lie the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, France's last outpost in North America. This overseas collectivity of France has a population of a little over 6000, and is principally made up of two islands, St. Pierre -- more heavily populated and the smaller of the two -- and Miquelon-Langlade. A third island, Ile-aux-Marins, is located just off the town of St. Pierre and is no longer occupied. The islands lie a short ferry ride from the port of Fortune, Newfoundland and Labrador, or can be reached by air from Halifax, Montreal and St. John's; travel between St. Pierre and Miquelon can be accomplished by air or by local passenger ferry. The islands are also a popular stop for cruise ships both large and small; a great way to visit is on an expedition cruise like those offered by Adventure Canada; I first found my way here on their Newfoundland Circumnavigation, and will return in 2016 on their Mighty St. Lawrence cruise.

The two islands have distinctly different personalities; St. Pierre has a more cosmopolitan feel despite its small size, with restaurants, hotels and shops ranked along its narrow streets, while Miquelon has a much more rural and relaxed atmosphere. Both islands, though, boast brightly coloured houses and beautiful scenery. Wine shops, patisseries and cafes make for some great culinary experiences -- after all, this is France and the wines and baked goods are legendary. Just like in mainland France, a visit to a small shop will provide plenty of options for a light lunch, including locally produced chevre and fois gras. Remember that even though this is definitely France and locals tend to be very fashionably dressed, a good pair of walking shoes is essential.

Tourism information centres can be found in both towns, and local sightseeing tours by van can be arranged. A water taxi to Ile-aux-Marins makes for an interesting addition; the island is used as a summer home by some local residents, and historic and cultural displays can be found there. The heritage of the islands' residents is varied; on Miquelon there are many descendants of the Acadians, expelled from New France by the British in 1755, and many islanders also trace their ancestry to the Basque region. Local residents are friendly and most speak excellent English; if you speak French this is a great opportunity to put it to use, but don't hesitate to go because of a language barrier -- you'll get along just fine in English.

Lobster on the menu!
St. Pierre boasts several very comfortable hotels in its central district, while Miquelon has bed and breakfast accommodations. Information on transportation to the islands and on local activities and culture can be found here. Currency is the Euro; both St. Pierre and Miquelon have banking machines where cash can be purchased, and credit cards are widely accepted.
See you in St. Pierre and Miquelon!