Canada Off Road: Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 9

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Another rolling night takes us to a place just off Cape St Charles. After two days of visiting isolated 21st century communities, we are now back to what was left behind. Only ghosts live in Cape St Charles most of the year. In the summer some past residents return to the remnants of a life they knew or a childhood lost.

Through my porthole I can see that the fog is thick.  I mentally remove a walk to the point from my agenda for my time on shore. Cape St Charles‘ headland is at 55o 37’ 15”W. It is the most easterly point on the North American continent but truly I have to take the fact that it is out there on trust!untitled-7008o9untitled

Ashore, I grab my tripod and wander my way past curtained windowsuntitled-7086o40untitled and latched doors. untitled-4o41untitledPaint is peeling and weathered wood merges with the fog. The horseshoe on one door clearly says the luck ran out for this fishing community.untitled-untitled-o11 There was a time, when the inland fisheries were at their peak, that this isolated community was full of life and defined by hard work on an unforgiving sea.

untitled-7046o25untitledThe history of Newfoundland’s cod fishery dates back to the 15th century. Early on, ships from Spain, Portugal and France fished right on the Grand Banks, salted their catch and went home. Because less salt was available to them, both the English and the Newfoundlanders took to drying their fish on land on flakes and salting them more lightly than the Europeans. Inshore fishermen had to know their fishing grounds. Certain harbours and inlets held more fish. Men went out in small boats from a string of tiny settlements that dotted the coastline. They jigged for then plentiful northern cod.

Through centuries and wars, the areas designated for international fishing changed. Fishing vessels were replaced by trading ships that came to exchange their goods for fish. The development of a mercantile system soon resulted in the development of the protected capital of St John’s.untitled-7037o3untitled

untitled-7054o2untitledFrom what I can see here in Cape St Charles, life looked to be simple and hard. The small  church had well worn pews. Most houses hugged the harbour while a few ambitious and independent souls took to the hills. There is no evidence of a road. Only a footpath, partly overgrown but still noticeable, leads me past berry patches towards the outhouse! A visit must have been an adventure on a rough day!untitled-7072o23untitled

Back on board, I hunker down for a warming lunch and a short voyage along a fog shrouded coast. Eventually I’m told we are at anchor off Battle Island. Could fool me, it’s still grey everywhere. Not easily deterred, I make my way to my cabin to gear up for a landing at Battle Harbour.

Battle Island is just off the SE coast of Labrador. It was once the salt fish capital of Labrador and is now a national Historic District operated by the Battle Harbour Historic Trust.untitled-7170o14untitled

As I walk the dock at the landing, I try to picture this fairly deserted village as a bustling economic and social center. Its houses, stores, and fishery buildings have been restored. Just the people are missing.untitled-7099o33untitled

Back in the early 1770’s, John Slade and Company from Poole, England used the island. By the mid 1800’s there was a population of 350. Dr. Wilfred Grenfell, who provided medical care along the Labrador coast, established the first hospital outside of St John’s here. Opened in 1893, the facility was destroyed by fire in 1930.

The Canadian Marconi Company built two wireless towers at Battle Harbour.  In 1909, Robert Peary, used this facility to wire his controversial claim of reaching the North Pole to the New York Times.

Twice, the island was to change hands, first to Baine Johnston and Co. in 1871 and then to Earle Freighting Services of Carbonear in 1955. By the 1960’s families began to leave Battle Harbour. In the 1970’s others were relocated by the Government as the fishery began to fail even more. The Earle’s continued to operate here until the cod moratorium in 1992.

The moratorium brought to an end a tradition that had shaped the history of eastern Canada for nearly 500 years. The introduction of high–tech trawlers that were capable of fishing larger areas at greater depths reduced stock to the point that it could not replenish itself. The cod stock had fallen to 1% of its former level. The eco–system was disrupted further as non-economic species were caught in the nets. Capelin were caught too and this reduced the cod stocks’ ability to rebuild itself. The most acute impact of the moratorium was felt in Newfoundland. 35,000 fishermen in 400 coastal communities became unemployed.

Displaced fishermen received economic assistance from the Federal government. Retraining was provided. Some men left for the Alberta oil fields in order to support their families.

Walking the paths through the village of Battle Harbour,  past the hoteluntitled-7093o35untitled and oldest Anglican Church in Newfoundland,untitled-7164o16untitled (Built 1857) it’s not hard to fill in the blanks and see children laughing and skipping along the waters edge.untitled-7161o32untitled-ps It’s not hard to imagine the fishermen bringing in the catch or the salt cod being spread on the flakes to dry.untitled-7176o13untitled

I leave the museum buildings to last. The displays help to consolidate my growing understanding of the fishing industry. When the Earle Freighting Service gave the site to the Battle Harbour Historic Trust, artifacts pertaining to the industry were gathered for its collection.untitled-7114o20untitled Block and tackle that hang in a loft, speak to the hard work involved in this type of fishery.untitled-7120o18untitled From the salt storage area in one of the buildings on the wharf, I can see down the narrow and nearly empty harbour.untitled-7117o19untitled I try to imagine it with ninety-two fishing vessels huddled to shelter from the sea. That’s how Bishop Field reportedly saw it in 1851.

By 2006, the cod stocks were beginning to show improvement. By 2010, a 69% recovery since 2007 was reported for Newfoundland waters. As late as 2013 landings of cod are still reported as poor but the fishery has reopened on a limited basis.untitled-untitled-o10

Battle Harbour is a living museum–one that should find itself on Canadian Bucket lists. Today, one can book a holiday and stay at the hotel, learn to bake buns in a traditional manner or wander the hills. One can even book the church for a wedding.

When we headed for shore from the ship the town was shrouded in fog and some stayed over the land all afternoon. Now as we leave, the location of the ship is the mystery until out of the fog looms our “ghostly galleon”.

After supper, as my roommate packs, again, in the hope of a morning departure, I download my images and stare in disbelief when they appear to have gone to cyber space instead of to a file with the title “Battle Harbour” . Oh well, I’ll think of it tomorrow at Tara! …….Oh!, make that L’Anse aux Meadows. Labrador will be behind me and I will be in Newfoundland.

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References:www.newfoundland.com,www.battlehoarbour.com,www.wikipedia.org,www.cdii/cod/history5/htm,The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 8

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Hurricane Kyle has been kind to us…at least so far. The sea was not bad last night, and sleep was possible. I’m lucky that I am pretty sea worthy and do not succumb to sea- sickness too readily. At 7 am it is overcast but apparently the barometer is rising. The water temperature is 2 degrees centigrade and the air a balmy 6 degrees.

We are anchored off Agvituk or Hopedale—the place of the whales. Originally, Agvituk was an Inuit settlement. Today Hopedale, renamed by the Moravian missionaries who came here in 1782, is the legislative capital of Nunatsiavut. It is a community of about 650. Nearly 90% are protestant.

The Moravians established their community at Hopedale to convert the Inuit to Christianity. Their complex of buildings is the oldest wooden structure east of Quebec City.untitled-6887o2untitledIn large part, these buildings were brought from Europe prefabricated and were reassembled on their present site. Today they have been designated a National Historic Site.untitled-6983o15untitled

As I come ashore, the presentation of the Mission is much the same as it was two hundred years ago. The church is still active. Now the connecting buildings house a museum and interpretative center full of artifacts and documents dating back to the 1700’s. Its white pews and immaculate floors speak of the care that it receives to this day.untitled-6908o6untitled

Hopedale is smaller than Nain but similar, at least to my southern eye. I walk the streets where still more puppies with attitude seem to abound.untitled-6903o4untitled Mounds of poles, untitled-6909o7untitledtraditionally used for the drying of fish, stand waiting. The land and sea melt together in a flurry of fall colours.untitled-6912o25untitled

I head up to the Amos Comenius Memorial School along with the others from the ship. All grades are taught in this one facility. The road is gravel and is one of those that serves the village but doesn’t lead to the outside world. A small airport provides the fastest way to get to Goose Bay. The school is up a hill that offers a good view out over the water if one takes the time to turn around. Locals are moving to the school with us as a program of song and Inuit games will be provided for all of us in the auditorium.

untitled-6963o12untitledIt’s one of the special features of Adventure Canada trips that there are many opportunities for travelers to interact with people who live in remote communities. I find it is one of the best ways to increase my understanding of my country and its multiple dimensions. Connecting with people first hand builds understanding.

In the auditorium, the kids are pumped and get even more so as they interact with us. I show them my camera and with their permission and that of their teachers, they take pictures and I take pictures of them. Maybe they will remember the crazy lady that lay on the floor and took a shot as they huddled in a circle. It was fun!untitled-6928o8untitled

They sang. The group clapped. Some of the older students played Inuit games that are simple but simply hard. I’m thinking that precision, agility and just plain skill are needed to hit a ball with ones foot when the ball is hanging several feet off the floor that you are actually laying on! It’s difficult to describe but trust me, it looks hard!

untitled-6958o11untitledWhen the performance is over, I start down the hill to the harbour area but not before I look uphilluntitled-6962o26untitled in search of the joint US-Canadian airbase that is somewhere in the hills above town. It was abandoned in 1968 and only the non-military communication tower remains. The base was originally built as part of the Mid Canada Line, one of three systems (the others being the Pinetree and DEW Lines) that were intended to protect Canada and America during the cold war through early detection of incoming Soviet bombers. The station in Hopedale was the most easterly in the system. Now that the facility has been deactivated, the cleanup is underway. Here and across the north everything from damage to the tundra through the use of off road vehicles producing melting permafrost, depletion of fish stocks, agitation of caribou because of non-seasonal hunting and a general negative impact on the economy, has been blamed on the building and maintenance of the early warning systems. Cleanup takes years.

A new legislative building is also being built in Hopedale. This new assembly will sit in contrast to the Moravian Mission that dominates the landscape. It will have Labradorite* tiling and seal skin seating.

Back on board, I find I am coughing and blowing my nose like there is no tomorrow. I hear singing in the lounge but I just want my bunk.

My nose and eyes run all night, but, oh well, I was awake anyway as the seas were rougher as we headed in a more or less south easterly direction towards Hamilton Inlet and the town of Rigolet. In the morning, I take a mind over matter approach as I really don’t feel well. I help my roommate carry her luggage to the deck using for disembarking the vessel as she has to fly out from Rigolet. (Later we will lug it back to our cabin as the weather prevents her from leaving for Happy Valley).

untitled-6989o17untitledI dress warmly and stuff my pockets with cough candies and Kleenex before heading for the Zodiac line up. In the rain, I make my way to the community centeruntitled-6995o19untitled to listen to fiddle tunes, songs in Inuktitut, Greenlandic and English. Residents demonstrate basketry and other crafts. Feet fly and there is a sense of fun as the fiddlers lead with a reel. untitled-6996o20untitledCoffee, bakeapple jam and bannock hit the spot before we have to head out in the rain.

Back in 1735, Rigolet was founded by a French Canadian fur trader, Louis Fornel. It remains an isolated community but it is accessible by a snowshoe trail and by water. In addition, there is a 4.4 kilometer board walk that connects it to Burnt Cove. It seems unreasonable that I would have missed this, but I did!

If I had felt better, and if the weather had been more inviting, there were lots of outdoor things to do in Rigolet from fishing and whale watching to berry picking or duck hunting. The Heritage Society has restored the 1876 net loft and a replica of Lord Strathcona’s home has been rebuilt. Strathcona was formerly known as Donald Smith when he came to work for the Hudson’s Bay Co. His home, dubbed “the grandest house in all Newfoundland”** is now a cultural interpretation center.

Sadly, there was no time nor did I have the will to walk this town and learn more of its story. As I remember it, the zodiac ride back to the ship was wet, cold and rough.

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*Labradorite is a feldspar mineral, which is found near Nain. It is iridescent and has a range of colours form gray-brown to greenish blue.

** http://www.townofRigolet.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 7

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untitled-6880o12untitled-psThe last few days have been pretty much devoid of people, if you don’t count the hundred or so on board the ship. Today we will visit Nain, untitled-6829o9untitledthe most northern, permanent settlement in Newfoundland and Labrador. Established in 1771 by Jans Haven and his missionary brothers, it is now a predominately Inuit community of just over a thousand people including some who were relocated from Hebron when that Mission was closed by the government in 1959.

In the early years, Nain was a trading post, a stopping off place for hunters, trappers and fishermen who used traditional seasonal migration routes. Moravian missionaries ran the store until it was taken over by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Nain is located 1573 miles from Ottawa and 370 k by air from Happy Valley. The sea is the highway. There is no road out or in.

untitled-6843o7untitledToday, we slip through Strathcona Run, a fifty mile journey from the ocean, and weigh anchor on the north side of Unity Bay just off Nain. The climate here is very close to polar due to the impact of the Labrador current. This means lots of rain and lots of snow. Today, low lying clouds cloak the tops of the hills and creep through the valleys. I dig for my rain gear.untitled-6820o11untitled

In 2005, as the result of the ratification of the Inuit Lands Claims Agreement Act, Nain became the administrative capital of the autonomous region of Nunatsiavut.untitled-6851o5untitled This Act, gave limited self-rule to Northern Labrador and northeastern Quebec and granted land title and aboriginal rights. The Labrador Inuit Settlement deals with an area of 72,000 square kilometers. The Inuit do not own this vast expanse but they have special rights related to traditional land use. They do own 15,000 square kilometers.

The Zodiacs leave me standing in a light rain at the landing. The tide is out and the overcast skies and drizzle help to accentuate the colours in the flats.untitled-6832o8untitled

I walk the village. It is small. Houses are of wood.untitled-6837o8untitled Lots of things sit around cluttering the landscape but perhaps they are waiting for their turn to be useful again. One enterprising individual has used tail pipes to fence their yard. Another has the largest collection of license plates one can imagine for a town with no major roads.

I leave a happy band of puppies that have been following me and enter the church. It is immaculate, clearly cared for through the centuries by loving hands.untitled-6828o10untitled I sit on the white wooden pews and think of all that has gone on here. I’m oh so tempted to ring the church bell as I leave.untitled-6878untitled-2

The drizzle continues as our band of modern day want-to-be explorers heads for the school gym to compete with some of the residents in an indoor game of soccer. I wander past the post office and other government offices. To the newcomers eye, fishing and government services appear to be the main occupations.

I wish there was time to follow the paths and learn more about the vegetation. The landscape is rugged but at the same time draws me in. The tamarack outside the school are golden, and saturated by the rain.untitled-6869o3untitled

Inside, curious kids and parents watch the hi-jinks.They smile, giggle and cheer at just the right moments as the game progresses. I forget who won, but I’m thinking we all did.untitled-6856o4

As the game is winding down, I start out in a heavy downpour so I have time to circle past the cemetery on the way back to the shore. Old tombstones similar to those at Hebron dot the fenced graveyard. In the newer part, graves are cared for and decorated with colourful plastic bouquets. Gone but not forgotten. As I read the inscriptions, it is clear that life can be hard here and that too many have been lost too soon.untitled-6875o13untitled-ps

By the time I reach the landing, zodiacs are ferrying folks back to the ship. Efforts to get the mud off my boots before entering the tender are not very effective.untitled-6881o12untitled

Back on board my 5:00 am wakeup to see the non-existent sunrise is beginning to wear on me. I decide to warm up with a shower and a change of clothes before supper. Some time later, after recovering from the fatal error of lying down on my bunk, I make my way to the dining room.

Before folks begin to disperse after a good meal, our expedition leader tells us that it looks like a hurricane is working its way towards Labrador. NOt great news as we head out to the open sea. Before bed, I put the clock ahead an hour and hang the rain gear so it will be ready for Hopedale in the morning. Then I pull the covers up high and will myself to fall asleep before we start to rock and roll.

( References: The Story of Labrador by Bill Romkey; Wikipedia;Thecanadianencyclopedia .ca)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Canada Off Road:The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 6

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This morning we continue in a southerly direction towards Hebron. The light on the landscape takes my breath away. The water is reflected on the underside of the clouds making them very dark. The light is magical and I’m told that in photographic terms there is only one F stop difference between noon and midnight at this time of the year.

untitled-6658o9untitledWe pass the automated Dew Line station at the entrance to Saglek Fiord as Jerry Koblenko, an adventurer, writer, film maker and motivational speaker regales us with stories of kayaking this rugged coastline. My adventure genes are working overtime as I try to take it all in.

One has to attend to things differently here. The currents bring the ice down this coast from the calving fields in Greenland. The bergs travel north from places like Disko Bay and move with the currents across Davis Strait and down its western side before they start a journey along the Labrador Coast that eventually returns them to the sea somewhere towards St John’s or beyond. On shore, rock acts like a heat sink and the plants that flourish there differ from those growing over ancient bones. Here the soil is rich because the nitrogen has been replenished. Would I ever think of that at home? Probably not. Travel heightens my awareness. I attend to the world in a different way. It makes me feel alive.

untitled-6686o8untitledAs we weigh anchor off Hebron, I wonder if the first Moravian missionaries who came here in 1831 were enlivened by their arrival at this shore. They would have endured dangerous crossings from Germany or England and I can only think that they knew little of this new land they were to call home. Although Nain, a town I will visit tomorrow, had been the site of their first settlement in 1770, their goal was to bring Christianity to the Inuit throughout the region. The beliefs of the Inuit were not the same as these German immigrants and the missionaries found it difficult to replace aspects of the aboriginal culture with Moravian Christian values. Drum dancing, traditional singing and practices like polygamy were soon prohibited.

Here at Hebron a school was established to teach reading, writing and arithmetic as well as providing religious education. Instruction was in Inuktitut. Gradually trading furs with the Inuit, placed religion in competition with commerce and placed the missionaries in competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

untitled-6739o3untitled-psUp until 1905, new missions continued to spring up along the coast. The final one was at Killinek, in northern Labrador. According to Bill Romkey in his book The Story of Labrador, Saglek and Nachvak had been chosen too, but the HBC got there first.

After lunch I board a zodiac for the short trip to shore. It is windy, sunny and exceptional as I wander the land, passing the Hudson Bay Company buildings and the large residential structure that also contained the school. All the buildings on this site are in a sad state of repair.untitled-6749o2untitled The main building is undergoing renovations to protect it from further decay but time is winning at this point. Funding to protect and maintain this part of my heritage is only procured a year at a time from the Federal Government. At least for this year, hammers ring out and things are on the move.untitled-6766o13untitled

I follow a path through yellow willow and low-lying blueberry bushes to a small creek that is fed by the melt from the hills. I cross using the boards that have been laid to form a bridge and climb towards the old cemetery.

untitled-6729o6untitledAs if life in this remote place would not have been hard enough, in 1918, Hebron was hit by a severe influenza epidemic. A hundred and fifty of the two hundred and twenty citizens died. As I stand by the dilapidated picket fence, amidst tombstones marked by time, I cannot help but think that this astounding place is not a bad one in which to spend eternity.untitled-6733o4untitled

Turning back towards the landing, I feel my obligation to fill my plastic bag with blueberries. Instructions were given as we left the ship. “If you want blueberry pancakes or muffins, you had better bring back your share.” I do my duty in the spirit of the life of the missionaries and Inuit. Sharing was a necessity, not just a courtesy.untitled-6709untitled

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 5

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A 6 am start, to shower and fluff my hair, was pretty much a waste of time. Once I was out on deck, the gale force winds sweeping down from the mountains made quick work of my efforts, but I didn’t care. Travelling along this coast, taking in the cold, beautiful, pristine nature of the earth as it was unfolding in the early morning light, had my full attention. 57ountitled-6300untitled69ountitled-untitled-6

The channel we were in was flanked by 631 million year old rock that had been twisted and shoved by plate tectonics into voluptuous folds.59ountitled-1untitled

I felt very small and very young!

Overnight we had travelled in a more or less southerly direction into the territory of Canada’s Torngat National Park. Its 9700 acres stretch from Cape Chidley at the northern extremity of Labrador to Saglek Fjord in the south. The name comes from the Inuktitut “ torngait” or “ place of spirits”. As  we cautiously made are way up Nachvak Fjord in search of a landing, three polar bears meandered along the shore. The agenda changed. We now moved slowly through shallow waters in search of a polar bear free landing!

This rugged terrain was once the home of Inuit families who lived off the land and traded with the Hudson Bay Company.

In due time, the ship anchored and we disembarked by means of the zodiacs and landed on a narrow spit exposed by the low tide.51ountitled-6370untitled I couldn’t help gawking around as I walked towards the shore. I found my own place high on the cliff side, surrounded by ground willow and masses of blueberries. There I sat, in a sea of browns and golds, twisted branches and tiny autumn leaves.53ountitled-6360untitled

54ountitled-6352untitledThe more able in the group climbed high enough to see the distant mountains.

55ountitled-6351untitled I was content to lean against ancient stone and gaze back at the water below and our ship in the distance. The light was constantly changing. The wind danced on the fjord.

52ountitled-6368untitled-psToo soon, I made my way back down to the shore and out to the ship where lunch awaited. As I ate, the ship repositioned to facilitate a second landing. There, a short hike up a rocky incline opened into an expansive valley.

62ountitled-6450untitled-ps64ountitled-6475untitledOur polar bear spotter, Eli, positioned himself on a ridge and I reminded myself to be mindful of his whereabouts at all times.63ountitled-6456untitled-ps

I wandered and photographed. I gazed at the tent circles by the shore and wondered what it was like to live here. I imagined children playing.

Torngat National Park is beautiful beyond description. It is impossible to stand in this place and not feel the power of the land.67ountitled-untitled-2-2

A lone caribou, with an injured leg, entered the landscape and moved on. “This is his land”, I thought. I am the interloper.

Too soon the time to wander was past and the evacuation of humans to the ship began again.  66ountitled-6493untitled-ps A stream of yellow and red jackets headed down the slope to the landing.

The aroma of Labrador Tea hung in the air.

Soon only the sound of the wind remained.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 4

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I wake up to the call that there is an iceberg visible out our cabin window.Lab28ountitled-6210untitled My great roommate has the window cleaned of the night’s sea spray so I don’t even have to take on the 40k winds to get my one and only picture of these amazing monsters that calf in the high arctic and follow the currents south to prowl Canada’s eastern seaboard.

When I do step out on deck into the brisk one-degree air, I’m quick to realize that I am not yet acclimatized. Winds from the southeast bring sleet. The world is a uniform grey.

As we head south across Hudson Strait various staff begin an orientation to the north and life at sea.

Safety is first and after an abandon ship drill we learn the intricacies of safe entry and exit from zodiacs, the inflatable rubber boats made famous by Jacque Cousteau. Every foray from the ship is made using these boats.  We practice the sailors’ grip and learn that “One hand for the ship” at all times, is another good rule of thumb regardless of the size of the seas.

Ajau Peters, dressed in an amauti, a traditional hooded garment worn by Inuit women, lights a soapstone lamp and welcomes us in Inuktituk.*Lab30ountitled-4175 These lamps were used for heat, light and cooking. Arctic cotton and willow are mixed with moss and used as a wick, a combination that is easily lit using a flint. As the flame moves across the stone it begins to look like little mountains on the horizon. I’m quickly learning that traditional life in the north was about being in tune with the land.

We pass Button Island and Cape Chidley and head for our first anchorage in preparation of a landing on Killiniq Island. The cliffs rise from the sea and the need to touch the land grows within me. How can stone be so beautiful and so inviting. This is where the Torngat Mountains begin.

Lab28ountitled-6216untitledI climb out the zodiac onto slippery rocks and trade my rubber boots for my hiking shoes.Lab25ountitled-6256untitled The terrain, is rough. The first traces of autumn color paint the land as low lying plants hug the ground to conserve energy to produce seeds not trunks. Flowers grow in cushions that absorb the heat and collect dust that builds the soil. Snow already fills the crevices. From a height, I look back at the sea and wonder at the miniature that is the Orlova.Lab24ountitled-6257untitled

This is polar bear country and fresh prints remind me of the need for vigilance.Lab22ountitled-6266untitled Staff carry rifles and perhaps give me a false sense of security.

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At the end of the day, as always, I am amazed by the fact that Canada is so diverse and really, really big!

* Note: Photo of lighting of soapstone lamp from Pond Inlet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 3

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I’m just not a morning person. It’s only under unusual circumstances such as this, that I can pull myself together and get to the right place on time. The alarm sounded at 5:30 am and I hit the shower, which I must say had incredible pressure for a building constructed in 1912 for the Grand Truck Railway. The city’s train station used to be right across the road…but I digress.

The throng is congregating in the Lobby but the details of frenzied air travel are put aside. There is no great attention to weight restrictions, no surcharges, no arriving early. We will be on a charter from Ottawa to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. I wave goodbye to my luggage in the hotel and miraculously, with no lugging required, it will appear in my cabin in the Orlova. I am left with rain gear, another layer and a ton of camera equipment.

After watching Senator Bill Rompkey from Labrador, sling my bag under the bus….all Adventure Canada staff have multiple roles and while not being a resource person, the good senator attends to other tasks…I climb aboard the coach.  I must admit, it was a bit weird to see him, while on holiday, taking on this role. “Senators” either play hockey in this country or they sit as part of a chamber of sober second thought that, despite its notoriety on occasion, supports our democratic system.

The short drive to the airport is uneventful and we pull onto the runway and disembark the bus for our 2.5 hour flight on First Air. I hunker down with my complimentary Globe and Mail and enjoy the fact the flight is not full. A mechanic, wearing a tool belt that suggests he means business, enters and in short order retreats. I’m not sure what that was about but at least the delay was minimal and we were soon airborne from Avatar, the private terminal, at the MacDonald-Cartier Airport.

I browse the paper that is filled with reports of the hideous murders at a high school in Finland, the possibility that Lucy Maude Montgomery committed suicide and criticisms of the US bail out of the NY Stock Exchange. It is not hard to leave this stuff behind as I turn my mind to issues I can deal with….like… “Where is breakfast?”

It arrives as kind of a brunch. My own personal buffet includes steak and eggs, fried potatoes and sausage, fruit, yogurt, lox, rye bread and cream cheese. Air Canada, eat your heart out. First Air wins!

The flight passes quickly at 31,000 feet. We are told we can anticipate a temperature of zero degrees centigrade, a light breeze and snow on the ground upon arrival.  Shortly after 11 am we start our descent into Iqaluit. The distinctive yellow airport calls us home.

With no luggage to manhandle, there is time for a short buzz around town before we  board the ship. A yellow school bus halls us to the top of a hill where we get a good view of the town of 7000. We pass a street signed “The road to no where”. Interesting!

Labo19-6137untitledThe air is fresh. It’s sunny, cool and clear, a great day to meet the north. The terrain, even around town, is rugged and unforgiving. The surrounding hills are lightly snow covered, a forewarning of the month’s ahead. It is only September!

Labo17-6167untitledThere is time to visit the Legislature before lunch.  The assembly is decorated with gifts from the provinces given in celebration of the birth of Nunavut in 1999.Labo16-6177untitled It is Canada’s third Territory. The seats, as in Newfoundland’s Assembly in St John’s, are sealskin. This  acknowledges the cultural importance of this animal to the people of the north.

Lunch has been prepared for us in at the church.  Delicacies include caribou stew and beluga. Following a welcome by local dignitaries, I head for the grocery store that has an impressive collection of northern books and flour that costs $29.95 for a ten pound bag.

Labo19-6149untitledWith a half hour to spend before the zodiacs will be ready to take us to the Orlova, I walk the beach past an old Hudson’s Bay Company shed that is plastered with political Labo18-6164untitledposters for the local Liberal candidate. It strikes me as an interesting juxtaposition of the old as the context for the new way of life of the north.

I roll into a zodiac in the prescribed fashion as it is bow to the beach.  Swinging my legs over the side I get my balance and make my way back towards the stern. The bay is calm and the wind feels good as we head across the bay. I spot my friend Janis on the top deck of the ship waving like fury. We are to be cabin mates for the trip down the coast.

Photo Credit: Janis Parker

Photo Credit: Janis Parker

There is just time to stow my gear and do a once around of the ship before the anchor is hauled and we are underway out of Frobisher Bay. The dusted hills and cool breeze speaks to more layers tomorrow!Labo15-6202untitled

After a glass of wine, and with a fiddle tune running in my head thanks to Daniel Payne, I listen to an overview by the staff about how the journey may unfold, follow the crowd into dinner and shortly thereafter head for bed.

Wow – I am in the Canadian North again!

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 2

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Parliament Hill , Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Parliament Hill , Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

As expected, it’s a bit of a struggle to disembark the train upon arrival in Ottawa. On the platform I reorganize and make a note to myself that next time I will bring less and I will find wheels for my camera equipment. I really have to stop poking people’s eyes out with my tripod!

I make my way to the curb outside the terminal and flag a taxi. The cabbie wasn’t exactly thrilled when he saw my luggage but he was diplomatic and helped me stow the un-breakables in the trunk. It was thirteen something to get me from the Ottawa train station to the Chateau Laurier but clearly the driver was expecting at least fifteen as he had a five-dollar bill ready as change for an imagined twenty. While I fruitlessly explored my pockets for at least a tooney, the bellman at the Chateau effortlessly unloaded my luggage and offered to extricate my camera bag from the back seat of the cab. My mind and my hand waved goodbye to the cabbie’s five dollar bill.

I go through the motions of checking in. It always seems kind of dream like that I am checking into the Chateau. I feel like I have been beamed down or something?(Probably or something!) Anyway, before the feeling goes to my head, I dump the luggage in my palatial room, grab my camera and take to the streets.

I cannot come to Ottawa without being overcome with patriotism. I live in a good country with a great Capital. It is a safe place with good values. Don’t get me wrong, we have issues and bad things happen but Canadians are collectively, peace loving, caring people and this place relays that message loud and clear.

Lobby of the Chateau Laurier

Lobby of the Chateau Laurier

I head out the revolving doors of the Chateau, cross the Rideau Canal and walk to Parliament Hill. It’s sunny and getting increasingly warmer. I think I have prepared for the north too soon. I shed layers.

Step locks on the Rideau Canal leading down to the Ottawa River

Step locks on the Rideau Canal leading down to the Ottawa River

The architecture in Canada’s capital is breathtaking. The setting on the Ottawa River remarkable. The stench and logs of the Eddy Match Company used to dominate the river but now

The Museum of Civilizatioin, Hull, Quebec

The Museum of Civilizatioin, Hull, Quebec

the view from behind the Parliamentary Library is towards the Museum of Civilization in Hull. As I look out over the river,  in my mind’s eye, I can see coureur de bois in their large canoes plying west on the mighty Ottawa, in search of furs!

Sir John A MacDonald, Canada's First Prime MInister

Sir John A MacDonald, Canada’s First Prime MInister

I wander past Sir John A MacDonald and wish him a good day as pigeons fly from his head. Nellie McClung and her bronze tea party of fellow feminists, who fought for the recognition of women as persons, is bathed in sunshine. Lab7o-6093untitled I stop at the Police Memorial and ponder the loss of so many good men. And then, from the vantage point of the Centennial Flame at the foot of the sidewalk leading up to the Peace Tower, I marvel at the continuity of the flame itself with its variability and many facets. It so reflects this country.

Lab5o-6100untitled I take a few more shots of the architecture of the Houses of Parliament including the “A mari usque ad mare”, Canada’s national motto, sculpted above the main entrance to the centre block.

From Sea to Sea

From Sea to Sea

My feet take me to the parks that lead to the bridge to Hull, Quebec and the Gatineau and after a quick dodging of the afternoon rush hour traffic, I climb to the amphitheatre that is beside the statue of Champlain.  As Captain Cook is to the world, Champlain is to Canada…he seems to have been everywhere! At one point in time, this height of land with its grand view of the river must have been a look out. Now it seems to be a place for texting teens and dog walkers.

Samuel Champlain, Explorer

Samuel Champlain, Explorer

It’s time to circle back towards the hotel so I head towards the National Gallery. A 30 foot bronze called “Maman”, the work of world renowned artist Louise Bourgeois sits in the plaza in front of this modern building. Interesting, but really, I can only think this permanent structure was probably approved by the same committee that purchased “The Stripe” back in the late 80’s early ‘90s.

Lab2o-6121untitled

Maman

Maman

At that time, a lot of taxpayers were not impressed by its price tag! Today, I am not sure what the cost is for a national spider!

As the Prime Minister did not invite me to dinner, I head past the entrance to his official residence on Sussex Drive and go back to the Laurier. Salad at Zoey’s, is my choice for supper. Zoey was Wilfred Laurier’s wife. Wilfred Laurier was Canada’s 7th Prime Minister.

It’s not that late but I think it’s time for bed. At $195 a night, including taxes, I can only hope that I will sleep well.

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 1

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C1titleo-6120untitled-ps

Chapter 1 : On the Road Again.

The train is pulling out of the station as I man handle my luggage onto the main rack. It looks like a post office sorting room at Christmas in there! Bags are all helter-skelter but mine, for the moment, is in the prized position… on top! The train wobbles over the Division St. trestle headed west out of Cobourg, Ontario as I arrive at an empty seat. Unfortunately, it is facing where I have been and not where I am going.

I’m headed for Ottawa and the Chateau Laurier… not cheap, but a great hotel in the heart of the city. It really is the place to start a Canadian adventure. Huddled on the bank of the Rideau Canal, a stone throw from the mighty Ottawa River and Parliament Hill, it is iconic. The room next to the lobby of this castle like structure is decorated with Karsh portraits of Stephen Leacock, Winston Churchill and others. Off this reading room, a gallery displays Inuit art, mostly soapstone carvings. Well, what can I say, the place is just very Canadian!

Tomorrow an early start will see me boarding a bus for the airport and a charter flight to Iqaluit on Baffin Island. From there, a short Zodiac trip to the Orlova and I will be headed to the Ghost Coast of Labrador and the fabled Torngat Mountains.

As I settle in, I note my failure to condense the amount of camera equipment that I need for this trip into my smaller backpack. It is all I can do to sling my larger waterproof bag over my shoulder. I hope I don’t have to walk far.  Really, I have to consider getting a lighter hobby. Even if I were not a camera fanatic, northern travel does not equate to light travel even without a tripod, a computer and a multiplicity of lens. There are essentials like wellies, long underwear, hats, mitts, and rain gear in various amounts depending on the time of the year. Be warm, be comfortable and don’t worry about being fashionable. That’s my mantra for northern travel.

Trees and telephone poles stream by backwards as we head towards Belleville. This is a double train. At Brockville, half continues on to Montreal while the other section heads to the Nation’s capital.  I hope I am on the right half.

People begin to nod off as the motion of the train mimics a cradle. Periodically, the clickety-click of metal against metal is interrupted by the ring of a cell phone.  I find this not too hard to ignore and nod off myself. Train travel is very civilized and the convenience of a 10:43 am start cannot be underestimated. My tolerance for, or interest in, early morning jack rabbit starts to make it to an airport in time to sit for three hours, is getting smaller and smaller.

As the countryside whishes by, the blur is tinged with gold and greens with a splash of orange here and there. The leaves are just beginning to turn and fields are still full of corn and soybeans, waiting to be harvested.

It strikes me as we pass through Brighton, Trenton and Belleville that I am receding from my present and journeying towards my past that has many links to these small Ontario towns. I guess I should turn around and face the future square on. Maybe someone will move or leave at the next stop and an opportunity will present itself.

As we pull into Belleville, the nice lady from Ireland who chatted with me before boarding in Cobourg, prepares to disembark. I smile nicely and wish her well and then make a dive for her forward facing seat. Truthfully, it is still warm.

We pull out, passing graffiti stained tanker cars and the clackety – clack once again becomes a low rumble.

A white haired lady has ensconced herself in the seat across from me. She wears a pin from Newfoundland and I wonder whether she is coming or going. She seems confused and is looking back and forth searching for a steward. Turns out she is in the wrong section of the car, and is obliged to collect her assorted belongings and her self esteem, disembark at Cornwall and go to another section of the train…There but for the love of God, go I!

We continue east through golden fields. This has to be the breadbasket for this half of the country. Long white plastic “worms” slither through the fields where once stoops and bales reigned. I can’t help but think that this harvest method is missing the esthetics of the past.

Ten minutes out of Kingston, we move through the swampland and pass over the Rideau River/Canal before feeling the train veer slowly towards the north. Jones Falls comes into view and it’s a blast from the past, as I remember my husband Doug, Winston the wonder dog, and the good ship Haida making their way towards Ottawa at the beginning of a year long adventure down the inter-coastal waterway.

The landscape changes. The great Canadian shield punctuates the scene with its rocky outcroppings. As the countryside pans by, a forest of miniature cedars, fields with violet hue, rocky ponds and sky blue reflections are turned to ribbons of maroon and gold.

We slow as we pass through small towns, whose names escape me.  It’s clear that , Monday morning is still laundry day despite what Ontario Hydro tells us about high rate periods versus low ones. Clotheslines tell the tale of how energy conservation is being carried out in this part of the province.

There is a flash of silver as a westbound spins by revealing grassy laneways twisted and grooved, leading to old homesteads. Meandering paths of new mown hay stretch to the distant fence lines. Fields sport buzz cuts. A second westbound train passes with such speed that it leaves my eyes trying to refocus. It’s a world of silver, yellow, black, red, and brown all superimposed with trees and shrubs.

It’s 12:44 when everything goes still. There are no sounds from the air conditioner or the wheels connecting with the tracks. We are stopped west of Brockville. Then the staccato clangs and bangs of decoupling fill the air. The front engine and cars are headed for Ottawa. The second is bound for Montreal.

I sip my coffee as yardmen walk the track ears to phones. Bright orange safety vests with fluorescent X’s on the back make them hard to miss. The tracks paralleling ours are rusted. The spikes are long worn. But a ribbon of silver marks where the wheels of countless trains have travelled this route wearing the track itself. Gord Lightfoot’s “Railroad Trilogy” runs non-stop in my head.

Graffiti marked car 405181 sits on a siding. I wonder what it would say if it could talk. Why is it over there in its own space? Why isn’t it beside the cars marked ”caustic acid”? Has a train ever been stopped by the turned up rails that mark the end of the line? Who cares? I will my head to stop asking these things.

We pull into Brockville. The Kiss and Drive folks take to the parking lot. A person standing on the station platform, digs for her car keys. An airedale-come-boxer, several small children and a bicycle cart come aboard the train. We move out leaving the station looking like an abandoned farmhouse.  Graffiti on a billboard says goodbye.

We move past neat back yards, free standing garages, swimming pools behind small white houses and more clothes drying on lines in the noonday sun. Youth at the local high school fill the football field. Up the aisle of the train totters a two year old who spots the luggage compartment and just knows it is really a big playpen with a personal entrance through the netting right at his level. No one seems to be watching him. I’m watching him. (Once a Children’s Aid worker, always a Children’s Aid worker.)

The woods fly by and my mind goes back in time to my first trip to Ottawa to participate in an Adventure Canada trip to the Canadian north. It was my first journey on my own. My body was still unstable from a serious car accident and my soul even more wobbly. Now, I am more confident, more resigned, more hopeful, sad, happy, a mixture.

A heron glides over the marsh parallel to my window and then gracefully rests. It knows when to stop. Will I?

It’s after one o’clock when I feel the train slowing to pass over the Rideau at Smith Falls. The river is all oranges and golds as its waters reflect the overhanging trees. My eye catches the façade of the “Derailed”, a pub across the street from the track.

We advance slowly, with the effect of a jaunty swagger. The Via train from Ottawa is on the siding. We pass and head out of town past dilapidated row housing that heard the shouts and laughter of children at some point but that is now nothing but boarded up warehousing. As the train accelerates, we enter the land of the old- fashioned square hay bale; sheep stand in fields; and rail fences are interspersed by stunted cedars.

The train picks up speed for the run into Ottawa. Coffee cups slip–slide away on a left hand curve. “Junior” has returned to the luggage compartment. There is little traffic on the country roads that are punctuated by level crossings, safety bars and flashing red lights as we pass. Fields of pumpkins stretch out to the far fence-lines.

The first signs of the city are monster homes in rural subdivisions. Fallowfield,  a recent subdivision, rates its own new station and commuter parking lot. I’m lost in my own province. I feel the need for a map.

From somewhere, the essence of an orange fills the coach. We slow and pass scrap yards and township sheds. The train slides into the Ottawa station right on time.

Life Is: Dare to be Different

untitledO-9531Back when I was small, I was taught that things should match. It was one of many lessons learned during my well-nurtured childhood.

It was years before I realized that buying into this philosophy is very limiting. It says that life needs rules and common practices and that one needs to be able to predict and expect certain behaviours from family and friends. Of course this makes life comfortable and provides a feeling of safety when it happens, but I came to realize that it was also like having blinders on. These blinders prevented me from seeing and seizing opportunities that were outside the predictable. I had gained a lot through consistency, but I was also missing a lot.

One day, I sort of gave up on perfection and became quite happy just knowing there were other options. But of course that wasn’t enough and before long I began to experiment with the concept. I began to stray from straight and ordinary. I wanted to be different than I was and the best that I could be. I wanted to be an “original” but I thought I looked pretty ordinary.

Different— what did that mean? How different? A little, a lot? Did anyone care if I became intentionally different than I had been all along simply by making non-mainstream choices?  Would I be a happier, healthier person than I had been by taking hold of my life and not going so much with the flow, and the expectations ingrained by my family? Why was being “outside the box”, looking so inviting, anyway?

As life unraveled, options I never dreamed of began to appear before me. I found that I only had to allow myself to grab hold and enjoy the ride.  “Say yes, not no”, became my motto.

It wasn’t that my life up until that point had been unfulfilling. I could not have been supported or loved in any greater way. In fact the sense of security my parents had given me allowed me to grow wings.  And I needed wings because there was that “something” restless in me. My curiosity was all wrapped up in  a very conservative being who was willing to risk in order to experience new things and new ways of being. Where others got stuck on why, I problem solved and like RFK I began to ask “why not?” and then I got on with it!

This attitude has taken me to the ends of the earth and around the globe. I found myself obtaining a doctoral degree from a prestigious university. I ran a 10 km race.  I learned to live again following a horrific accident. I walked into Stromness in Shackleton’s footsteps and paddled my kayak into Vernasky Research Station in Antarctica. I was welcomed by a real penguin who stood under a sign that told me I had arrived at my destination.untitledO-untitled-15

O2I could have fallen off the mountain in South Georgia. I could have been attacked by a leopard seal untitledO-7030untitledwhile kayaking. I could have just stayed on the boat and not had either of these amazing adventures. Many folks chose not to explore the land that we were visiting in my ways. Many chose the familiar and less risky, and appeared to be quite content with their decisions.

But my choices make me, me; and your choices make you, you! Those decisions that I actively make now, drive my life, just as having been brought up in a military family and as a middle kid, did when I was younger. I like my life, I continually dare to be me and usually that is at least slightly “different”.

But if you are finding that life is dull and boring, regimented and repetitive, how can you get out of the mould that makes you feel like you are being held prisoner and that prevents you from living as fully as you can?

Change is not easy, but everyone who chooses to change has to start somewhere. Somewhere easy. Somewhere where a disclosure of intent can kind of creep out and into a person’s normal world reinventing it almost silently and in a most magical way. Well, over this last year while reflecting on many things, I have decided that socks are the answer. Yep, socks!

As a very young person, my mother taught me to knit. Such was my productivity that I warned my husband that I could fill whole rooms with my hand made items. He thought I was kidding. I was not.

But that is not the point. The point is that I discovered that my knitting skill and my creativity, collectively offer a way out of “ boring” and into “ unique” and “exciting”. But wait, I am not suggesting that you take up knitting! I’m suggesting you look at your feet or your hands on a cold winters day!

Each mitten or sock develops on my needles in its own unique way. Sometimes, right hands and feet would not readily recognize their counterparts nor could one predict what the other might turn into. If one heel is red, the other is blue. sockphotoOIf one hand is striped the other is plaid. But not to worry, one can always tell these two have the same underlying personality and that they belong together even though they are apparently hearing different drummers. The right and the left have the same colour scheme, more or less, but they are singing a slightly or greatly different tune. As I build each one, I am responding to the options I have before me in a totally spontaneous manner.  I am using my best creative self and I am innovating as my needles click away.

I have come to the conclusion that whoever thought that socks should match has done people in the western world a disservice. Now that I know that life has endless possibilities, I also know that each of us has to design our lives on the go as we reach out and realize our goals.

If a life is to be exceptional, one cannot be timid. If you have not done so, try to imagine what you would see while swimming upstream instead of floating with the current.

So, if you seem to be going nowhere, look down. Your socks will tell you the story of your way of dealing with life. It ís never too late to thrown your old socks out and dare to be different!photoO2-2

(Note that “ Dare to be Different” Socks and Mitts can be purchased by emailing the author via http://www.brendanutter.com .  I really do make these! All socks are hand knit from handspun fibre. Most are 100% wool. Each is unique. No patterns are repeated exactly. Profits are contributed to Children’s charities.)

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