Terre Neuve, Part One, the Trip Northeast

In an odd confluence of circumstances, as of early this summer I had visited forty-nine of the fifty US states, and nine of the ten Canadian provinces. I had had every intention of picking off the remaining state, North Dakota, twenty-some years ago while on a cross-country trip with my daughter Jenifer. She really wanted to see Mt. Rushmore, though, and our time was growing short, so we diverted southward, skirting North Dakota altogether. I haven’t had the occasion to be back in that part of the country since. On the Canadian side, I had made the trip from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island on a couple of occasions, which takes in eight of the ten provinces, and I had visited (my) number nine, Nova Scotia, countless times over the years. Newfoundland, however, requires a commitment. It is the easternmost of the provinces, and it is not really on the way to anywhere. It is a destination unto itself, and one that for some reason had not resonated with me until reading The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx’ 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which is set in a small Newfoundland village. The barren water’s edge landscapes depicted in the book (and later in the film of the same name) are a homing beacon to anyone born an islander.

As I said, it takes a bit of dedication to visit Newfoundland. There are basically three ways to get there: by air, and by one of two car ferries. I investigated all three (1: air, hugely expensive, and requiring a rental car at a whopping $140 per day, plus a kilometer charge, and get this, that price is for a mid-size Buick!; 2: ferry to Argentia, on the east coast, fourteen hours each way, also pricey, after which there is a long road trip across the island’s interior), finally settling upon 3: driving from Prince Edward Island to North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and then taking the shorter (five hours, more or less) of the two ferries to Port-aux-Basques, on the southwest coast of Newfoundland. From there I would drive several hundred kilometers north to Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It is said that getting there is half the fun, and nowhere does that ring truer than in the Maritime Provinces. Leaving PEI by ferry on a sunny day is an experience not to be missed. The seventy-five minute-long boat trip to Caribou, Nova Scotia is just long enough to avail oneself of the homemade (well, ship-made) breakfast in the deck-level cafeteria, then to go topside for immense lungfuls (lungsful?) of fresh salt air. Heading eastward through Nova Scotia, you pass through the college town of Antigonish, home of St. Francis Xavier University, and the oldest continuous highland games in North America. Cross the Canso Causeway, and you are on Cape Breton Island, the only place I have found in North America where the road signs are bilingual, in English and Gaelic!

The scenic highway winds its way alongside Lake Bras d’Or, passing through the impossibly charming village of Baddeck, where I had the pleasure of meeting Tucker, the Flying Black Lab. Tucker was capable of repeatedly launching himself from a wooden dock into the chilly waters of Lake Bras d’Or to retrieve a rope toy he had fetched in similar fashion only moments before. (In the background can be seen the uber-spendy yacht belonging to the owner of the Tim Horton donut shop chain, a staple of every town in Canada, and making inroads into the US as well.)

Baddeck is also the home of the Alexander Graham Bell museum; Bell retired nearby at the end of an illustrious career which included not just the invention of the telephone, but also the metal detector, the development of a practical hydrofoil boat, and the aileron (a means of controlling the roll of an airplane, which is still in use in contemporary aircraft).

An hour or so northeast of Baddeck is the port city of North Sydney, where we would wait (and wait and wait and wait) for the ferry, a very common occurrence, as I would come to find out. But first we would pass through someplace that no red-blooded man should miss; I believe the sign just about says it all:

Note: as is often the case, thanks to Saki-chan for the great pix; any blurry ones are undoubtedly mine, and the good ones are hers!

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