Exploring Canada's easternmost province, the author fell in love with Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador. Part 2 of his travel story continues here.
During a two-week vacation exploring Canada’s easternmost province by car, the author fell in love with Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador. His story of traveling continues here with even more stories of his adventures.
Story and photography by John Sylvester
Defined by the sea
On that first trip, I pitched my tent on a hillside overlooking the idyllic fishing village of New Bonaventure and awoke to the sound of screen doors slapping. I poked my head out of the tent to the sight of fishermen ambling down narrow lanes to their boats. My friend and I scrambled out of our sleeping bags and hurried down to the wharf, where we were immediately invited to join two fishermen as they checked their elaborate fishing nets, called cod traps. We spent a lovely morning on the water watching those hardy men of the sea haul cod from their traps. Bald eagles also kept a careful eye on their progress from atop spruce trees lining the gray oceanside cliffs.
While the cod fishery has fallen on hard times in recent years and coastal towns and villages are shrinking, some are finding new life as destinations for travelers searching for peace, quiet and unspoiled natural beauty. Hollywood even came calling to New Bonaventure: Years after my first visit, the village was chosen as the location for the filming of the 2001 movie The Shipping News, based on Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Little Heart’s Ease
While I seem to discover a new favorite place with each visit to Newfoundland and Labrador, there are a few that I return to again and again. Gros Morne National Park on the island’s west coast is one such place. A hiker’s paradise, it encompasses a large section of the Long Range Mountains, an outer range of the Appalachians. Gros Morne, the mountain for which the park is named, stands alone overlooking Bonne Bay. It is the province’s second-highest peak at 2,644 feet. A hike to the top of Gros Morne is a must for every park visitor.
On one memorable visit, I rose early, donned backpack and headlamp and set out to reach the summit by sunrise, hoping to photograph the view from the mountaintop in the early-morning light. My trek began under starry skies, but by the time I reached the top, it was completely enshrouded in fog. I could barely see the ground beneath my feet, and I feared I’d hiked a long way for nothing.
But just as quickly as it came, the fog lifted, revealing a breathtaking view of the neighboring mountains. And in the valley below, the glittering, blue waters of Ten Mile Pond.
With their typical flair for understatement, Newfoundlanders name their lakes “ponds.” They also named an 800-foot waterfall Rattling Brook!
Place-names in Newfoundland and Labrador are as colorful as the people who live there. Heart’s Delight, Little Heart’s Ease, Billy Butts Pond, Toogood Arm, Joe Batt’s Arm, Vidi (pronounced “kiddy viddy”) and Tickle Cove are just a few. With language that interesting, there’s an entire book, The Dictionary of Newfoundland English, to help you with some of the terms. It defines “tickle” as a “narrow difficult strait” between islands.
One of the main attractions for many visitors, especially photographers, is the parade of icebergs that drifts past each spring. Calved from the Greenland ice cap, these behemoths of 10,000-year-old glacial ice drift south along the coast from April to August. While your chances of seeing icebergs from the shore are very good, I prefer to take a boat tour or hire a fisherman to take me out on the water to photograph the ’bergs up close.
Iceberg Capital of the World
A few years back, during one especially good iceberg season, I traveled to Twillingate, the self-proclaimed “Iceberg Capital of the World.” I asked the proprietor of the bed-and-breakfast where I was staying if she could recommend someone to take me by boat so that I could photograph in the evening light.
“Oh, my daughter’s boyfriend has a boat,” she offered. “I’ll give him a call.” A few hours later, 18-year-old Keith and I were skimming over the calm waters of Notre Dame Bay in his small outboard-powered dory.
It was a lovely evening, and I was delighted to photograph several beautifully sculpted icebergs bathed in warm sunset light. Each time we moved the boat, I asked Keith to cut the engine to reduce vibration while I photographed. He obliged, but had to restart the engine by repeatedly pulling the starter cord, eventually pulling the cord right out of the engine!
“Not to worry,” he said, and started rowing and telling stories. He spoke proudly of his grandfather, who still cut his own firewood with a hand saw, because a chain saw wastes wood.
Later that evening, when I finally arrived back at the bed-and-breakfast, my hosts offered me a traditional Newfoundland nightcap: a glass of rum with iceberg ice in it. The ice popped and fizzed in my drink as 10,000-year-old air bubbles escaped.
Last spring I returned to Notre Dame Bay to photograph icebergs near Fogo Island and the Change Islands. I’d been to Fogo before, but I was visiting Change Islands for the first time.
From the moment I left the dock of the small car ferry that connects the two islands, I had the feeling I was stepping back in time. Saltbox houses perched on cliffs overlooking tidy fish sheds and stages (wooden wharves), where brightly painted wooden boats cast reflections in the water. There’s even a general store without a sign to mark its location. After all, everyone knows where it is!
I booked a room at the island’s only inn, whose owner—a diminutive grandmother in her 70s—warmly greeted me. It was early in the season, so I was the only guest. At breakfast she served her homemade partridgeberry jam, a Newfoundland specialty. It was the best I’d ever tasted, and I told her so.
The next morning a full jar of jam landed on the breakfast table for me to take home. And when I’d finished that jar, my host told me, I was to call her for more. She said her son was a commercial pilot, and she’d send another jar of jam with him when he flew to my province. I never tested her generosity, nor her son’s, but it was another example of the exceptional warmth and hospitality that keeps me coming back to God’s Country.
Click here to return to part 1 of John Sylvester’s profile on Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador.