Canada Off Road: Algonquin – Chapter 4: Mist, Moose and Memories

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Algonquin-28OK, anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a morning person except when there is a monumental natural occurrence happening or I have a plane to catch. Today it was a five am start. I am just functional.

I had packed my stuff by flashlight last night and had my camera gear ready along with my “bug” suit. This morning, I fight with my down sleeping bag to get it into a dry bag while wrapped around my tripod. As my tent is not far from the kitchen I hear voices and the sounds of activity in the kitchen. I extricate myself from my tent, possibly the most difficult part of this trip for me, and find my way to a coffee cup. Wakeup gorp and fruit get me ready for coffee and a 5:30 launch as I watch the sun paint the tops of the trees yellow and the clouds over the lake a glorious pinky blue. Algonquin-5-4oThe lake was tranquil, reflections perfect. Of course! As you recall, my tripod is packed! I improvise with a rock and a stump. I have many images with slightly slanted horizon lines as proof of my efforts. But to witness and be in the moment was the most important. I did that and then quietly slipped down the path to the Thunder Box.

Jeff and I are getting coordinated as paddle partners and I am either pulling my weight or he is just being really nice. We now have a silent signal system to allow me to know when he wants me to paddle and when to stay still. At any rate, we are off from the beach by 5:30 am with little fanfare. As we head down the lake the sun is just coming up over the trees. It is both beautiful and slightly blinding. This time I am in full battle gear- head to toe bug suit coated with multiple and supposedly deadly layers of Deet! One paddle stoke at a time, we move towards the swamp to catch the rest of the morning light and moose in the mist.

Now there are always moments in photography that you wish you could relive. You know the ones where in the old days, you forgot to put the film in the camera or you forgot the flash or now,the memory cards are full or the batteries are blinking before their final demise. Today, the mist rises and the moose eventually pose with precision and I get flare…lots of flare. Ok, there is a lot to remember and I am so entranced by the blinding light that I forget it was just that….blinding light!Algonquin-18o

The water droplets of an early mist shine on the shore grasses as a mother and calf splash for dry land. We cautiously approach and see them disappear into a sparkling green fairy land. We carry on bordering the lake, quietly, speechlessly, watching.

Algonquin-17oAgain a hand goes up from the red canoe. A young moose with a sprouting rack stands in the shadows. His brown moulting coat catches the light as he moves his head slowly and looks back over his own shoulder and out at us. Then he saunters in ankle deep waters towards the right.Algonquin-22o He stops and looks back coquettishly as if to pose for the perfect back-lit portrait. Then, head down he continues his breakfast.

 

Aaaah!

 

Resigned to the fact that our time on Craig Lake is drawing to a close, the canoes pull from the shore and head back to camp. The sun is up and winds are freshening. A lone heron flies up from the marsh.

While we were out “The Marks” have made breakfast – melon, french toast, bacon with maple syrup and lots more coffee. We break camp and load the canoes for our paddle out.

The portages in reverse are just as slippery and perhaps more challenging than when we arrived. Remember, I am not a morning person and I have already been up for four hours give or take. Need I say, I am tired.

Having sacrificed my runners to the bog, I now slop in and out of the canoe to the best of my physical ability and as required at each portage. Even without the big packs and the need for me to portage the canoes, I am definitely wearing out. It crosses my mind that if this trip had been four days instead of three, and if I had had a less able paddle partner, I might have to live here! That speaks to the energy I have at sixty something versus my memories of canoe trips when I was twenty something. But the truth is that had I not had outdoor adventures when I was young, when I travelled with my family to experience Algonguin for the first time, and had I not been able to paddle to remote lakes with my husband and then with children from my work, I would have missed a lot.

The truck trundled down the logging roads as we retraced out steps to the landing where the cars and a buffet lunch sat waiting for our return. My shoes squished swamp mud and trust me, three days without a shower cannot be offset by L’eau de Deet. For the last time, Jeff and I lugged our gear to his car and headed home exhausted, but glad for the experience.

As the song goes….”Canada is really really big” and Algonquin, a National Historic Site, is mighty in both its beauty and its impact and it is right here in Ontario. It is accessible in ways that can meet the needs of nearly every type of adventurer. All seasons present opportunities for the young and the young at heart. I’ll be back.

[Special thanks to Jeff and Chris, Rob Stimpson ( http://www.robstimpson.com) and Voyageur Quest (www.voyageurquest.com) for making this adventure a reality.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Off Road: Algonquin – Chapter 3: Oh Yes …Canoeing…I remember!

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The rain came in torrents during the night. Every once in a while it was interrupted by dry spells when the birds sang with great gusto, as it they knew something I didn’t. Then it poured some more. I starred at the ceiling. My bed was comfy and my room petit. Every once in a while a puff of fresh, moist air swooshed over me. I was cozy. A small log acted as a door stop, pegs lined the wall so access to rain gear was easy, and a slice of tree trunk served as a bedside table.

As the night wore on, it became abundantly clear that there was no way to get to the loo without the floor boards creaking even louder than the snorer down the hall. The good news was that it was indoors…the loo that is. One by one a parade of nearby roommates began the trek, picking boards carefully but unsuccessfully. I held off as long as I could.

Official wake-up time was 5:45 but nearly everyone was assembled around the long kitchen table before a head count was necessary. A hearty breakfast that included Canadian back bacon, a delicious egg dish and traditional baked beans insured I was fortified for the portages in my future.

Our personal gear was packed into larger portage bags and hauled to the truck that waited outside the cabin. The “two Marks”, our camp staff, pushed and shoved and before long all the accoutrements of a two day canoe trip were loaded into the canoe trailer. The truck lead the way down a winding gravel road, past clear cuts and log piles, towards the landing on Round Lake. Algonquin-5-2oWe parked the cars in the large but almost vacant parking area. Those without their own PFDs and paddles were given company issue.

As it was time to move to our put-in, I climbed onto the truck bed and was overwhelmed by memories of travelling this way many years ago but in a much larger flat bed with a partially canvased roof. My work life had included numerous canoe trips with kids from the Children’s Aid Society. From Cobourg to the French River is a long way in the back of a truck. No seat belts, no comforts. No laws prohibiting the making of such memories. Just fun….. and we all lived to tell the tale. Lounging on packs we had lurched along, bouncing over railroad tracks and huddling into the gear to get the most cushioning possible. Yep, a mess of kids, an old truck and many, many memories all came flooding back as I settled against the back of the cab and watched the trees whiz by.

It was a short run.The trees closed in, the road narrowed. The logging truck that met us seemed pretty imposing. We backed up and squeezed by. At this point, I was not sure whether we were actually in the Park or whether we were still outside its 2755 square mile parameters. Did it matter? Not really. I was just taking in the surroundings, reminiscing and jumping back and forth from the past to the present. It was exhilarating to be outside on another adventure even with overcast skies and millions of not so friendly mosquitoes.

The first portage was pleasant… a path through the mixed forest, wide enough, and smooth enough for a casual walk. It probably seemed that way as I wasn’t heaving a canoe onto my shoulders. I can’t believe I really did that! This trip, my twenty pounds of camera gear, a paddle, a life jacket and me was all that I was required to take to the landing on the other side.Yep, it was a good portage to an unreasonably trying entry into a small unnamed bay/ lake. Here the rubber hit the road or more precisely the hiking boots hit the slippery logs and oozing swamp. The bugs swarmed and all hands lunged for bug spray and netting.

Jeff, my paddle partner, launched first with our videographer. The potential for real action shots was great as the rest of the crew oozed their way across the logs using their paddles as hiking poles. Eventually, all packs were accounted for and the” two Marks” did a stellar job at the heavy lifting.

In parade like fashion, the canoes edged towards the other shore and one by one the gear was unloaded and moved to higher ground making room for yet another boat. Red and Green reflected in the water as we each found our sea legs and the few hold outs gave up the notion of keeping their feet dry.Algonquin-25o Paddles and camera gear lay in piles as their owners moved all they could carry across the second portage. Pink lady slippers huddled in the underbrush watching and listening as soggy, squishy hiking boots moved past.

The paddle to our third portage was through tranquil waters but into a light breeze. The forest was thick and I anticipated the arrival of the first moose at any moment. The stands of deciduous trees still bore the light spring green that made them stand out against the dark pines. Algonquin is on the border between deciduous and coniferous forests and the spring shows this off to full advantage.Algonquin-8o

The portage process is now routine. One more maneuver and we launch into a bay of Craig Lake, our destination. The wind has picked up and by the time we reach the main part of the Lake we have a head wind. Not bad, but enough to remind me who is boss when it comes to nature.

I would say it was about a half hour paddle to the sand cliffs across the lake to our campsite. It had been set up in advance. Such is the benefit of being Group II. Another group had preceded us over the weekend so there was nothing to do but choose a tent and move in. My tent overlooked the lake and as I loaded my gear into it I marvelled at the beauty in front of me. At the same time, I was being thankful for an onshore breeze. If the breeze freshened even more, at least, I would blow inland and not off the cliff.

Down the shore, Jeff was raising his tent (he’d brought his own) as one of a cluster that also had spectacular lake views. Past his piece of the island there was a trail to the Thunder Box. A bag of goodies, TP, Hand sanitizer etc. lay at the beginning of the path. If the bag was laying on the trail, no one was in residence. If it was gone, it was time to sit down and wait your turn. As I observed the narrow space between tents and the nature of the path, I could only imagine a trip in the middle of the night!

A lunch break of chicken and seafood wraps provided time to just breathe in the place. An overturned canoe under a tarp served as a prep table.

Then, it was time to go in search of moose.

Our first beach launch into the wind wasn’t our best, but Jeff and I didn’t capsize so all was well. Past the sand beach we turned so the wind was at our back and paddled past moose meadow after moose meadow with no sitings. The landscape moved by in slow motion. The wind moved the trees rippling their deep green reflections over black waters.

Algonquin-11oAs we approached  a small island, a paddle went down to rest on the gunnels. A hand, with fingers spread, went up behind a head while the other hand pointed towards shore. There in the water, having her lunch was a young moose. She gawked at us. We gawked back. We slowly eased forward. She turned and with a bit of a splash lead her calf out of the water and along the shore before disappearing into the woods.The sound of motor drives stopped.

Algonquin-13oSlowly we turned and headed out into the main channel.Algonquin-3-4o All eyes survey the shore watching for motion in the water or in the bushes. Green, lots of green. Every shade imaginable. But no moose. We paddle on towards the end of the bay edging the grasses, avoiding the deadheads and occasionally touching in the shallows.

Heading into the wind, we paddled hard out of a large tree lined bay. Fifty shades of green does not do justice to the foliage. Monochrome can be dazzling.Algonquin-2-4o

Back at the first bay, where we had seen the calf, we circle a small island. A young male sees us. His ears go back. He waits, watches and then resumes eating. All the rules about how to approach slowly, how to stop paddling quietly when the animal raises its head, and how to move forward when he or she resumes eating, seem to go out the window. The lead canoes move in quickly. Algonquin-4-4oThe animal stares. His ears go back. He hightails it, splashing hard and moving quickly towards the shore. On land, he makes one last turn as if to satisfy his own curiosity or perhaps it was a look of distain. The lead canoes are elated. The others, not so much.

We head slowly back to camp into what was now a fairly strong wind. (Remember, I am a lily dipper.) My mind was beginning to question how many more bends there were before we would face into the main part of Craig Lake and have to go broadside to the waves to negotiate a turn to the beach. Since I no longer leap out of canoes with the speed of a gazell, I am thankful that my paddle partner was skilled at making the turn and running us onto the sand beach right on target.

Back at camp, it’s break time which meant snacks and time to just soak in the scenery and savour the moment. The clouds were moving out but the wind was still fresh. One of “the Marks” was busy making kindling. Coffee was hot, aromatic and refreshing.

A visit to the Thunder box and a fresh application of mosquito repellent and I was ready to head out for another perusal of the shoreline. One of the last boats in before our break had watched as a mother responded to the call of her calf on the far shore and watched as she headed out across the lake right in front of their canoe. Now I would have liked that experience. Darn!

Back on the water, the wilderness surrounds us – the occasional splash or rustle, the swoosh of a butterflies wings, the stillness. Most of the 53 mammals and 272 birds that have been sited in the Park were on holiday. A fair sampling of the 7000 insects showed up. I now know the claustrophobic effect of being encased in a bug jacket.Algonquin-14o

We move slowly and rhythmically towards the swampy areas where we had been fortunate enough to site moose on our first foray. The paddles dip perhaps not with poetic beauty but with a functional thrust that moves us, almost silently, through the water. With high hopes we approach a point and slowly move around to the shaded side. No buck, yearling or calf await us. We move on.

Ahead, a hand goes up with fingers splayed.There, sitting in the water amongst the grasses, munching away, was a single male. He was like a submarine, raising himself on his front legs ,Algonquin-27 rotating his head side to side, and flexing his ears like megaphones.Then he would relax and re-submerge only to rise again with a mouth full of shoots. Our flotilla moves in slowly this time. He gradually lumbers to his feet, and tries to scratch himself with his hind leg as clouds of mosquitoes rise above his head. Then standing on shore, he looks directly into the camera before slowly moving off to the right with an eye to the intruders. Then it was a quick move onto higher ground, a last glance back at us, and he was away into the bush with long streams of his lunch still protruding from his mouth.

Moose2015_6078oWe meander for a while longer down the waterway hoping for the quintessential shot but to no avail. As we head back to camp the wind is lessening and there is only a ripple in the pond of yellow lilies next to the campsite.

Canada Geese rest on the water and squawk their way in for a landing. There is no question in my mind that this is a special place and that I am fortunate to have the opportunity to just “be” here.

Every camp day should end around a camp fire. Thanks to the fact that the fire danger in this part of the park was considered to be low, I was able to perch myself on a log and watch the smoke find me. When it became too dense or I started to cough, I moved on until I had pretty much viewed the fire and the lake from all angles. While the group was out on the second search “the Marks” had pulled together a great supper that started with fish appetizers followed by pork chops cooked on the coals, couscous and stir fried vegetables. Coffee and warm strudel finished it off and although I never found it, I heard there was Bailey’s in one of those packs.

As the sun set, I crawled into my tent to make sense of my belongings before it was totally dark. Once my things were sorted and my thermarest and sleeping bag laid out in the flattest place possible, I crawled out and dragged myself to my feet with the aid of a strategically placed pine tree. With the aid of my head lamp I stumbled, one last time, down the path over the protruding roots while trying to avoid the moose scat as a goodnight visit to the thunder box was a necessity. We were to rise at 5am. Surely, I would not have to face the mosquitoes again until morning.

 

 

Canada Off Road: Algonquin – Chapter 2: Incoming, Outgoing, Everywhere Mosquitoes

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The plan was to spend Saturday night at my friend’s cottage and then the two of us could share the drive to South River where we would meet up with the other participants and our photography coach Rob Stimpson (www.robstimpson.com) for this Moose Safari.

It was a two and a half hour drive from Kennisis Lake to South River which is situated on the western edge of the Park. Traffic was light and although overcast, it was not raining. Jeff drove. We turned off Highway 11 towards downtown South River and headed off into the wilderness following the twisting logging roads. The GPS told us we had arrived at our destination and behold the lodge was before us, enshrouded with trees and abuzz with mosquitoes.

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We were early which was a good thing as we had missed a turn in town that would have led us to the canoe parts store, a required stop on Jeff’s agenda. How we did this in a community with only one stop light shall remain unknown. With new directions in hand we headed back to South River, a twenty five minute trek on yet more, but different, gravel logging roads. A curve here, a twist there. On and on.

We located the factory and then the store, but on a Sunday afternoon, and despite, Jeff’s pre-trip calls, no one knew anything about his order. By the time we retraced our path to the lodge, we were a touch late but there were still sandwiches to be had and time to meet our fellow travellers.

Paddles, life jackets, mozzy defences — hat, spray, netting — and we were off down the narrow pathAlgonquin1o to the small lake behind the lodge for Canoeing 101, an essential run through for oldies and newbies. Racks of paddles and PDFs sat under a shelter near the dock. And I thought, oh good, red canoes….they will be able to see us if we flounder.Algonquin-3o 

 

“Yes, this is paddle, not a splasher….etc”. I could hear the speech my husband used to give the kids we took on canoe trips. Now I was the would be learner. But really, it’s like riding a bike, you don’t really forget how to paddle. That said, when put to the test,  I clearly wasn’t any better than I remember and probably was more of a lily dipper than I had been years before.  Nonetheless, my paddle partner seemed to think he and his camera equipment would survive with me in the bow and so we declared ourselves competent after accomplishing several goes across the lake, a few “wheelies” and the completion of a slalom course amongst the dead heads.

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Back at the lodge, the fire was burning in the two story stone fireplace and the warmth on the second floor was more than adequate. Wonderful aromas were emanating from the kitchen.

I had lugged my assorted yellow dry bags to my room shortly after arriving but somewhere in that heap of essentials was my head lamp. It was time to access the organizational system in my brain and see if I could come up with its location amongst my belongings. Dark would happen and as an x-girl guide, I had to be prepared.

We met for pre-dinner drinks and assorted instructions in the screened porch and I for one, drank Moosehead beer to complement the delicious cheeses and more than ample supply of crackers. It seemed the thing to do. Rob provided instructions on moose watching and emphasized the patience required.

Leather couches, a log table, lamplight, wine with dinner… yes, this was a good start with a nice transition from everyday existence in a busy world to life on a rock. For the most part cell phones had been put away as the only hot spot was in the driveway where the word was out that fresh blood was available and the mosquitoes were congregating in clouds.

A delicious meal around the very long split log table was followed by free time to get to know Rob and my fellow photographers – a teacher, a government employee, a tool and die maker, a videographer, and two retirees, including me. A mixed bag for sure.

Despite the efforts of the Voyageur Quest staff, there wasn’t any interest in the wood fuelled sauna and it was soon time to find our way in the semi-dark to our rooms. No electricity. The lamps on the table and by the fire, threw soft light on the stairs. That is a giant step towards life without amenities.

Canada Off Road: Algonquin – Chapter 1: The Making of a Nature Buff

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The car pulled to the shoulder and the car behind us pulled in too. My grandfather opened the car door and stepped out to greet a stag Algonquin-6othat was calmly standing by the side of the road. He had ignored our sudden arrival and seemed to welcome visitors.

At the time I was eleven. My family, everyone from my younger brother to my maternal grandparents were beginning a vacation. Dad’s new Chevrolet, a pinky-beige, 1958 Biscayne, pulled Grandpa’s boat, and the old Studebaker, pulled the turquoise and white, 20 foot house trailer that my grandfather had built over the winter. It was my first visit to Algonquin Park, an iconic piece of wilderness north of the hustle and bustle of Toronto, the 401 and the Great Lakes. It has come to be the invisible dividing line between the north and the south in the province of Ontario, Canada.

Earlier that morning we had headed east on Highway 60, the main road that runs more or less, east-west through the Park. As I sat in the back seat, I saw the pristine lakes, campers with red canoes and friendly grazing deer as we whisked by. At Lake of Two Rivers we found our assigned campsite, set up the tent, positioned the trailer and hung an old green tarp over the picnic table. There was no signing up on line months in advance. My Dad just asked at the gate and was given a site number.

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Mom and my grandmother put together supper while, the rest of us headed off to find wood for the camp fire. The fire wood was free. We found it stacked across the highway from the campground to the right of the ice house. I remember the sawdust covered blocks of ice that seemed to be returning to the earth as I stood there. It was July. It was hot. A half hour later, we tromped towards our fire pit with arm loads of kindling and one rather large Jack Pine log carried by Dad and my brother, Terry. Grandpa’s theory was to get the blaze going and then just keep shoving the log into the pit. It seemed easier somehow.

I have no idea what we had for supper that night, but I am sure it was belly warming and came with two desserts. This latter feature was a standard at my grandparents’ house. It seems it was a throwback to the days when Grandpa worked the farm on the 13th in Brock Township and the thrashers had to be fed hearty meals. Whatever the reason, I can’t say that I ever objected. Besides, the mosquitoes and blackflys seemed to be getting their fare share.

After supper, we donned long pants and found our sweaters before slathering on another layer of bug spray. On mass we headed over to the amphitheatre where the Park Rangers regaled us with stories of the wild and we watched ” Black Spruce Bog” and the story of the “ Yellow Bellied Sapsucker” on the outdoor screen. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the numbers flash on the screen as the film counted down to the main attraction. It all made a lasting impression.

All of this happened upwards of sixty years ago. I can’t say for sure, but I believe that this early introduction to the Canadian wilderness along with other family camping experiences were the foundation for many of my life journeys. The sound of the Whippoorwill, the sight of loons, the slap of a beaver tail, I stood in awe of those things then and still do.

The sirens of the wild called my name once again, a few weeks back. A good friend from my photography club was planning on joining a three day paddle and moose shoot in early June in Algonquin. Would I be interested? While the notion percolated in my head, I scrounged around in the bottom of my clothes closet for my camping gear. How can something the size of a backpack or a sleeping bag fail to be obvious? I persevered eventually surfacing with the essentials, including school bus yellow dry bags and my trusty thermarest. I unrolled it, waited and laid down. Humm…..not really a feather bed. This camping thing was all coming back.

Before the week was over, I had signed on with Voyageur Quest  (www.voyageurquest.com) for an adventure into Craig Lake on the northwestern side of Algonquin Provincial Park. It seemed like a good opportunity to get the quintessential photo of a moose that I had been yearning for. You know the one … a moose with a full rack strung with a bunch of dripping lily pads that hang down to its knees as it stands at the edge of a pond slurping some tender morsel out of the swamp waters.

There were several weeks between signing up and going and I had packed and unpacked for days. My spare bedroom was a wreck. One would think I was going to be away in the wilderness for weeks, maybe even months. In the end, I convinced myself that I needed it all. It might be hot. It might be cold. It could rain. It might be hot enough to swim. Who knew? And of course there was appropriate supplies of pain relievers, sunscreens, mosquito repellents, and prescription medications not to mention my creature comforts like a polar sleeping bag and and small pillow. As I starred at the pile, it seemed a lot larger than ones I recalled from my earlier canoe trips. Maybe I have just lost the knack of packing? Or maybe it was just that I didn’t need, extra glasses, batteries for hearing aids etc, etc., back then. This was also my first canoe trip with all my SLR camera gear so tack on another twenty pounds of essential stuff.

Departure day arrived. It was a Saturday afternoon. I put the last of my bags in the back of the car and prayed that a canoe could bear the weight of all my gear. It crossed my mind that I would have to ask for a freighter canoe, like the ones used by the fur traders. You can find a picture of one in any Canadian history book. They were the secret to how the west was won in Canada….but I digress.

I closed the trunk, locked the door of the house and headed north.

 

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 13

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untitled-7526ountitled-ps After the last night at sea, I am up at 6:30. Despite the many early starts on this journey, I still confirm that I just don’t do mornings! It has to be something pretty compelling to get me out of my bed/bunk. This morning it is the pending arrival of the ship in St John’s, Newfoundland. The sun is peaking over the horizon as the pilot boat comes along side and the pilot swings aboard.untitled-7436ountitleduntitled-7441ountitled Cape Spear is visible in the distant south as we make our turn into the Narrows, the entrance to St John’s harbour. Signal Hill is off the starboard bow. Cabot Tower, the citadel on its crest, stands proud as we slip past into the sanctuary of the harbour. untitled-7461ountitledThe colourful city buildings rise up around us and all manner of boats are coming and going. It’s a busy place.untitled-7482ountitled As I stand on deck and watch, my mind wanders as I remember visiting Signal Hill with my husband Doug. We stood and saw thick fog banks roll off the sea. They were so thick, I could see nothing. Nothing. And yet it was still breathtaking. Doug, on the other hand, saw in his mind’s eye, the North Atlantic convoys of which he was a part. His memories were as clear as the days during World War II when he left this coast as a young man. He was in the Canadian Merchant Service. One of his ships sank beneath him and he spent days in a life boat. Yes, he had a different vision as the wind moved the fog and a chill spread through us.untitled-7534ountitled Today, thunder clouds have dissipated and  the air is clear as the Orlova comes along side and disembarkation begins.untitled-7522ountitled As I step off the companionway onto the pier, I realize with some sadness that my journey along the Labrador and Newfoundland coasts is pretty much over. Those of us not heading directly for the airport board a bus that circles to the quaint seaside village of Quidi Vidi and passes the US military barracks before breaking down in the parking lot of a local but controversial grocery store. It appears  there was some debate among city  fathers when the “Memorial” arena became a Dominion Store!untitled-7560ountitledA bus trip to Petty Harbour, as pretty as it was, just didn’t cut it after the remote and rugged beauty of the Torngats and the hospitality of the province’s remote villages. Our breakdown meant that time was a bit short on this tour, so once we arrived at Cape Spear, the most easterly point on the North American continent, our driver suggested we walk to the sea. Once the group had reached the path, I headed for the lighthouse.untitled-7577ountitled-ps I wanted to experience the view from the top of the hill. Instead of asking for permission, I figured I would just ask for forgiveness, if necessary. Before long, we were all back on the bus and on our back to St John’s and the hotel. Mission accomplished. After a quick supper in the hotel restaurant, I find myself ensconced in my harbour-side room. I spread out my gear and my assorted gifts and try to condense it into the space available. Tripods and rubber boots take up a lot of room! Outside, the lights of the harbour make it a fairyland of sorts.untitled-7607ountitledBefore turning in, I check my email for the first time in a couple of weeks. Many of my shipboard friends are already home. Another friend is spending the day moving into his new house. Obviously, life marches on for adventurers  as well as non-adventurers. I have tomorrow morning to explore St John’s before catching my flight to Toronto and this city and its environs never disappoints.untitled-7672ountitled It is my favourite Canadian city, a walking place, full of history, color and music and an example of much that is good about my country. It’s all here to experience but it helps if one is half mountain goat. I have no idea how these streets are managed in the winter.untitled-7652ountitled In the spirit of wanting to hear this place as it awakens, I am up at 6:00 and hit the hilly streets.The sun is rising over Signal Hill. The light is constantly changing. Beautiful pinks and oranges mix with thundercloud grey. untitled-7626ountitled It’s quiet. I start downhill, making my way to the nearest Tim Horton’s. My boots click on the rough pavement. An occasional gull moves through my field of vision sqwaking as he flies past. Few folks are out and about. There is little traffic. Occasionally, but not often, I come across a street person asking for coffee money. There is not time to walk the boardwalk to Signal Hill, something that I want to do sometime, but I wander past the historic and colourful homesuntitled-7662ountitled-ps that paint the hillside and swoop down towards the harbour where private yachts and fishing vessels sit end to end. I ponder the stories they could tell.untitled-7678ountitled After a couple of hours, I head back to the Marriott. I sit on my suitcase and let out a sigh of success when I am able to pull the zipper all the way around.  I roll my gear to the lobby where the concierge hails a cab for me. The driver hoists the “two-ton” case into the trunk and smiles. I think to myself that he must have been a stevedore in another life! At the airport, the Air Canada folks are not so smiley and obliging so to avoid a surcharge I unload my rubber boots and reload lighter items into my checked luggage to avoid a $100 fee. I’m thinking that it is better that that money go in the travel fund rather than Air Canada’s coffers. Three hours and ten minutes later I am in Toronto. Seat 19D was just fine. As the plane lands the sun sets on an amazing adventure in Canada. This is a great country full of beauty and opportunity. As a Canadian, I want to learn about and see as much of it as possible. The more I travel, the more I understand its vastness and diversity and the more I understand, how collectively, a land and its people make a great nation. ~ Note: The content of this journey will soon be available in book format, an addition to my “Adventures in Canada” Series published through BLURB.com. For further information on travelling the Ghost Coast, contact ADVENTURE CANADA at 1-800-363-7566 or goto http://www.AdventureCanada.com.

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 12

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untitled-739ountitled-psAt 7am, it is already 12 degrees centigrade. I am a little worse for wear today as I slept on my “Good Night” chocolate. Trust me, this is not a good thing to do. It isn’t pretty. I guess my cold was getting the better of me last night and I forgot to put the chocolate in the dresser drawer with all the ones from previous nights. I slept on it instead! Just think about that.

At breakfast it sounded like the ship had been taken over by a company of seals. Germs seem to be taking over the place. I am no longer the only one coughing.

The Ghost Coast of Labrador is technically behind us and has been for several days, but as we continue south (more or less) our next destination is the Change Islands. Located between Notre Dame Bay and the Labrador Sea, this group of three islands is the home to about 300 and was at one time, a main port for fishing schooners sailing to Labrador. Two of the islands are populated. The middle and most southern are separated by the “main tickle”, a narrow strait. The most northerly is most difficult to reach while the southern ones are more populated, boggy and treed.The town, itself, straddles the tickle. Back in the 1700s it was first populated by Europeans as part of the seasonal fishery.

A stiff breeze carries the spray from the zodiacs as they return to the ship to ferry the next group of us back to the main dock in town.untitled-7339ountitled Daniel Payne, from the ship, as well as other musicians from the islands, fill the air with fiddle tunes. The locals are out in full force to greet us and  so begins another amazing show of Newfoundland hospitality. untitled-7340ountitled Cars line the road leading to the pier so that any who wish can just pile in and be driven to the school, on a short tour, or to the beginning of the Squid Jiggin’ Trail. untitled-7364ountitledNo one here is worried about seat belts or over crowding. Always up for a challenge, I lug my tripod and hop into a car to be let off with others at the beginning of the trail. untitled-7366ountitledThe view is breathtaking. The climb just takes what is left away. untitled-7369ountitledThe other hikers begin to diminish in size as they scramble over the rocks more efficiently than I do. The trail is narrow and rocky. Parts have been provided with handrails and safety lines. The tide is out as we work our way around the bay and exit the trail near the white  church clad with wooden siding. It was built in 1896.untitled-7383ountitledI am part of a group of stragglers that wanders downhill past the post office. The tickle is lined with salt box houses, nicely kept and in most cases painted the same immaculate white as the church. The stages are painted up in traditional red ochre.untitled-7353ountitled One by one, people stop to converse with the ponies that watch us closely as we pass. Descended from those brought to the island by early settlers, they have adapted over the centuries to the harsh realities of life in this out-port.untitled-7405ountitled They developed thick manes, heavy winter coats and close-set legs that helped in walking the narrow paths. They are reported to have been hard workers with good temperament. In addition they were able to survive on little food. According to Rare Breeds Canada, and despite their strengths, these ponies have now been declared to be in danger of extinction. Over the last twenty or so years, the population has diminished from 12-13,000 to 88 that are now registered. Most live in the Change Island Newfoundland Pony Refuge. A few are located elsewhere in Canada and the United States. Their demise is attributed to the establishment of ant-roaming laws in the 1960’s and the advent of snowmobiles and ATV’s that usurped their work.untitled-7407ountitled In the A. R. Scammell School auditorium, the locals and the visitors mingle to the benefit of all. (Scammell was the native son who wrote the Squid Jiggin” Song.) More fiddle music sets the stage as tray after tray of home made goodies replenish the buffet setup in the middle of the gym. Gallons of coffee are consumed. There is much laughter and the buzz of constant conversation fills the air. Being social is a good part of outport life and today I am again the beneficiary of this endearing hospitality. untitled-7388ountitled   References: http://www.changeislands.ca

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast Of Labrador – Chapter 11

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A Story of a People and the Sea

Once we are all back on board, the afternoon is spent at sea heading in a southerly direction. It was time to walk the deck and breathe in the salt air while watching whales  blow and crash there huge pectoral fins onto the ocean’s surface.

Inside, Senator Bill Romkey and Jerry Kobalenko fill folks in on the history of Labrador and the incredible experience of kayaking its coastal waters. Thanks to Bill, I think, I’ve finally got the structure of this province correct. Nunatsiavut is a provincial territory, part of Labrador and within the province of Newfoundland & Labrador. Nunavut is a federal territory that stretches across the far north. Both have a form of self-government. You would think this would not be hard but I seem to stumble every time I try to get our evolving federal and provincial structures straight!

By late afternoon we have cruised our way to the town of Conche that is on the north eastern tip of the island of Newfoundland. It is a predominately Irish Catholic community. Some of the residents came here from the Grey Islands as part of the government’s resettlement of folks from remote fishing communities.

untitled-7286ountitled-2As the zodiacs bring us ashore, we are greeted by tons of friendly people ready to point us in the right direction or give us a lift to the hall where we will share a meal and some island music. untitled-7296ountitled-2But before supper there is time to walk the gravel roads, past peeling paint and idle fishing boats.untitled-7291ountitled-2 Eventually I arrive at the community hall where the French Shore Tapestry is under construction.untitled-7295ountitled-2

untitled-7297ountitled-2Inspired by the eleventh century Bayeau Tapestry, it was designed by artist Jean Claude Roy and his wife Christina who developed a partnership with local stitchers, Joan Simmonds and Colleen McLean. Roy researched the history of the French Shore and produced a 222 foot template.untitled-7301ountitled-2 It includes colourful characters important in the history of the area as well as legends about life in Conche stretching from creation to 2006.

Local stitchery artists were taught how to transfer the design to linen canvas. It was stretched on a specially made frame and by the time it is complete over 20,000 hours of work will have gone into the telling of the story. Pride, precision, craftsmanship and dedication have made this a remarkable community project.

One by one, our motley crew weaves its way to the top of the hill where supper awaits. It’s like a church supper but more rambunctious. Music fills the air and those who are able, dance their dinner away.untitled-7305ountitled-2

As the moon comes up, the parade past the churchyard winds its way back to the harbour where we load the zodiacs and head back to the ship. The town’s deep harbour runs the length of the community and in spring folks can be marooned by ice. For a long time getting around was best done by dog sled but in the 1970’s the town was connected by road to the rest of the province. Overnight ,we will travel to the Change Islands the traditional way….by water.untitled-7307ountitled-2

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Reference – wikipedia.org,www.frenchshore.com;frenchshoretapestry.com;Adventure Canada Notes, Personal Journal

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 10

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A “rolly” night crossing the Strait of Belle Isle is behind me.  Our expedition leader says it’s a balmy 9 degrees outside, with a sea temperature of 30C. The wind is 35k.

The day starts with my cabin mate departing for Toronto, via Goose Bay and Halifax. The ceiling is high enough to allow for her flights so I spread out my collection of camera equipment and multiple layers on her bunk. What a luxury! I also find time before preparing for our landing, to find my errant images that are hold up in a file called “stories”. My computer mice are clearly at work again. Who even created this file?

The ship is hovering in Noddy Bay, rather than being at anchor. A little before nine the first zodiacs leave the ship destined for a “wet landing”(…..read …. rubber boots are required. )The hills surrounding the bay are home to a small community that is only minutes by road from L’Anse Aux Meadows. A short bus ride acts as a time machine and before you know it I am in Viking Country.

untitled-7204o11untitledFor centuries, the rolling landscape that surrounds the bay held secrets–secrets that were unearthed by Helge and Anne Stine in 1960. Helge was an explorer and his wife Anne an archeologist. A local farmer, named George Decker, lead Helge to what was known locally as the old Indian camp. Excavation of the undulating mounds, between 1960 and 1968, resulted in the uncovering of a Norse presence in Newfoundland dating from the eleventh century. This is the oldest known European settlement in the New World. For some, L’Anse Aux Meadows is the site of the fabled Vineland, for others it is part of a larger configuration of land that was called Vineland, a country and not a place.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site includes dwellings and workshops for smithies, carpenters and those who repaired ships. Tools found in the bog–nails and rivets– led to these conclusions. As is required by places seeking inclusion as a World Heritage Site, areas of the shore that were of archeological interest were covered with sand and a layer of fresh turf in order to protect possible artifacts.untitled-7200o12untitled

During the eight years the Stine’s were studying the site, an international team excavated eight Norse buildings. untitled-7225o5untitledThey had walls and roofs of soduntitled-7227o4untitled that were supported on wooden frames similar to the construction methods used in Iceland and Greenland. In the buildings thought to be used as residences, a long narrow fireplace used for cooking as well as heat and light was situated in the middle of the floor.

untitled-7220o21untitledSignificant to the dating of the site was the discovery of a bronze cloak clasp. Other artifacts included a stone oil lamp, a spindle and a bone needle similar to those used in knitting. In addition, slag from smelting iron boat nails lead to the belief that this was indeed a Norse site inhabited by both men and woman.untitled-7231o3untitled

Work from 1973-1976 focused on the peat bog below the building terrace.

As I walked the wooden path from the interpretive centre towards the reconstructed Norse buildings, I passed current excavation sites, carefully covered to prevent environmental damage. untitled-7248o1untitledGroups lead by interpreters huddled together to hear the story of this ancient place. I walk alone and just try to imagine.

untitled-7212o10untitledI have been here before and it is a privilege to revisit this site and think about the time when Norse children played on the hills and along the shore. My mind floods with memories of that first trip to Newfoundland in 1993. I see in my minds eye, Doug and I holding hands as we walked the dirt path towards the sea. The boardwalk was incomplete. It was sunny and warm that day. A happy time.

untitled-7237o20untitledToday, I follow the fence line towards the shore. The wind is strong but I am bundled appropriately. I’m thinking that Gortex wins out over hand woven vestments held by ancient clasps. And I remember, that today the wind that blows my hair into a frenzy is an October breeze, and not a arctic blast from the Labrador Sea in mid-January!

 

Canada Off Road: The 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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