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Report 19: Cape Breton NS to St. John's NL and return to Ottawa

Highlights

The first thing we did on The Rock was get lost. More correctly, a bunch of RVs ahead of us failed to make the correct turn into the Codroy campground and we followed like sheep. The roads in rural Newfoundland are narrow and it was dark. Getting turned around was an exercise, but there were no casualties.

The next day we were out at a lighthouse hiking and taking pictures, when Molly was scared nearly to death by a fog horn, which suddenly went off right beside her. She took off like her tail was on fire and did not stop for a mile...poor thing. She still cowers any time she hears a sound of the same pitch.

In spite of the foregoing, we were having fun. For example, in our first campground we were Screeched in (Screech is Jamaica rum) as honorary Newfoundlanders, complete with the kissing of a codfish (ugh!). It's all tourist baloney, of course, but in good fun.

Even though it is not right on the shore, the Codroy area is typical of out port Newfoundland, no shopping centres, small villages and only general stores. We often wondered where the residents go for supplies, food and entertainment.

Gros Morne is a don't miss park; indeed, the whole Northern Peninsula is a don't-miss. There is beautiful scenery everywhere. The walk to Western Brook is particularly enjoyable, as is the boat tour of the “pond” (in Newfoundland everything we would call a slough or a lake is a pond) at the end of the walk. We saw critters, including two moose, waterfalls at the end of the pond and fascinating rock formations. We also explored tiny fishing villages with no permanent population, and saw an old ship wreck that was not on the tourist map.

We were surprised to see along the back slope of the road, in the middle of nowhere, little gardens. We also saw piles of firewood and heaps of fishing supplies in old gravel pits. Later, we learned that the gardens are there because most of the land is so poor that it would not grow even turnips. So, the people go down the highway to find fertile ground turned up by the road construction. Nobody steals from the gardens. Likewise, the piles of firewood and fishing supplies just sit there waiting for their owners. The firewood is usually there because a bunch of people have shared a semi-load. The fishing supplies are just plain bulky and have to be put somewhere. There are even snow machines left at the side of the road; nobody touches them until the owner shows up in the winter, puts in some fresh gas and takes off. In our youth it was like that in our home town; now everything has to be locked up and tied down. Another thing we saw along the road was trailers in old gravel pits. We assumed they were stored there...that would be wrong. It turns out that Newfies love to camp and party in the gravel pits. Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellas, a Newfie band, even wrote a song about it.

At the tip of the peninsula, St. Anthony used to have an Iceberg festival, but it was discontinued as there were no bergs in the past two years. Well, we saw not only big icebergs, but a huge ice flow. It is a great stop, as there are two reconstructed Viking villages, one a national park (so quite authentic) and the other a commercial concern (so the more interesting to the lay person. Both were fascinating. This is the site of the first known European landing in America, a UNESCO site. There is also the Viking Feast, which is a sort of dinner theatre in a quasi-authentic Viking sod lodge; it was touristy but great fun.

From St. Anthony we took an overnight side trip to Labrador. We stayed at the Northern Light Inn, a typical lower to mid-scale motel. We went to Labrador for the “bragging rights”, but had a blast, mostly because our bus driver had been doing this tour for years and knew everyone, knew everywhere to go and was up on all the local lore. We also had an excellent dinner at the Seaview Restaurant in Forteau, one of the best restaurant meal we've had in years.

Gander was an interesting stop mostly because we diverted from the tour to visit the Commonwealth War Cemetery, where we saw the grave of Maurice's maternal uncle Wilton Kyle. Wilton crashed in a B-24 (Liberator, flying boxcar) while returning to Canada in a storm in 1943. Nearby, we toured the North Atlantic Aviation Museum, where Louise-Ann found two photos of the crash and a book listing Wilton and the sixteen others who died in the crash, after the young curator told us he had nothing on that particular crash. It was unexpectedly moving to visit Wilton's grave. As far as we know, we are the only family members to ever visit it.

While in Gander we drove to Twillingate, where we visited several small but good museums and a winery that specialises in producing wine from local berries. At Twillingate we saw a small house that had been floated across the bay, pulled by a small boat, and was then pulled by hand up a small hill to its new foundation. A few days later it was featured on the regional news. Years ago when some of the out ports were shut down this was a routine way to move a house.

There were no organised tours of Bonavista, so we toured the area on our own, with Charlie, the only single person on the trip. This left ample room for Molly, who no doubt was tired of being left behind during our numerous bus tours. The four of us had a great time exploring fishing villages, watching puffins and tramping around the edge of a big sink hole called The Dungeon...man, if you ever fell in you'd have a time climbing out. The scenery at Bonavista is extremely rugged and beautiful.

St. John's was our first big city in some time. So, everyone but us went to Canadian Tire, Costco and WalMart. Signal Hill, where Marconi had a famous radio station, was an interesting part of the organised tour. A few went out to George street to see its fabled night life; but most of us hit the bunks early. The boat tour out of Bay Bulls was a bit lame at times, as the narrators were really into kidding each other and talking Newfanese really quickly. The birds were interesting and we got up close to the puffins. The whales swam amazingly close to the boat, even underneath it, giving us the chance to see them in the clear water and shoot some great photos. It's a pity though that none of them “performed”...we did not even get a tail shot. On the other hand, we did get plenty of whale tail at Cape Spear, so no big deal. The highlight of St. John's for us was visiting our friend Mike and his wife Donna who gave us a great deal of insight into the people and politics in Newfoundland.

The WIT tour did not include a stop at Corner Brook, we stopped there on the way back. It may not have a plethora of activities for tourists, but we found to be a very pretty area. Even the WalMart parking lot has scenic vistas!

Both ferry trips were uneventful, on a vessel called BLUE PUTTEES. The name commemorates the WW-I soldiers of Newfoundland, who did not have uniforms. So, like good Newfoundlanders, they improvised and made their own. However, they did not have the olive drab cloth needed to make the puttees (leggings) and went to war with blue ones. Alas, most were slaughtered. During WW-II, while being reviewed by King George, the regiment apologised for their non-standard uniform. The King opined that he quite liked the blue puttees; the name, official or not, has stuck.

One cannot get away from bagpipes in Nova Scotia. We thought we'd had our fill and cringed a bit to see that our entertainment at Debert was a pipe and drum band sponsored by the local Legion. Well, it was very interesting. The band explained their costumes and instruments and took questions from the audience.

Sometimes things work out for the best. We don't often get lost, but between Debert and Charlottetown we did...big time. After we got our bearings we encountered highway 104, which is the main road, but not the intended route, to Charlottetown. Most of the rest of the caravan took wrong turns too, but managed to get back on track. When we all arrived at the campground everyone swapped horror stories about the narrow, bumpy, twisty and hilly roads that they had to drive on. We, on the other hand, had miles of newly repaved road and were the first to arrive at the campground.

The highlight of the stay in PEI was seeing the play Anne of Green Gables. Despite our many trips to PEI, we'd never seen it, nor had we visited Green Gables, the house that inspired the story. The house tour was rather ho-hum, but the play was excellent. It was recently rewritten, and the actors and music were excellent. Even the most dour attendees had to be smiling and clapping along by the middle of the first act.

Our trip back to Ottawa was mostly and uneventful passage, with overnight stops at four WalMarts along the way. Due to the need to get back to Ottawa for appointments, we missed everyone in Moncton that we intended to visit, except our sailing and RV friends Henry and Gail, and did not take an intended side-trip back through Halifax to visit our friends Dan and Louise. We did have a nice visit with our friends in Fredericton, Duncan and Irene, who have just resettled in Canada after 11 years of circumnavigating in their sail boat.

Route

From North Sydney NS we took the ferry to Port Aux Basques NL. Once in NL there are not many highway choices. We took the TCH east to NL-430, where we turned north to St. Anthony, then retraced our path back to the TCH, where we again turned east. We turned up NL-230 to Bonavista, and again retraced our path back to the TCH to continue our eastward journey into St. John's. At St. John's, the rest of the caravan continued on to Argentia, from where they took the ferry back to Cape Breton; we stayed on in Newfoundland, returning to Port Aux Basques via the TCH. At North Sydney we rejoined the WIT group. From Sydney we took the TCH, NS-104 and NS-2/4 to Debert. From there we were supposed to take a bunch of back roads to Charlottetown, but due to an error in navigation we took the TCH nearly the whole way. From Charlottetown we simply followed the TCH to Ottawa.