Every day in Newfoundland we were met by the smiling, friendly faces of the helpful “natives” – with almost understandable accents. Being called “my darling”, “my love” and even “sweetie pie” by those who waited on us, talked to us in real life or on the phone, was wonderfully endearing. We learned to relax and let things happen slowly and to soak up the hospitality that surrounded us; no one was about to rush just because we were in town. Even if we thought about walking across a village road, cars stopped and awaited our decision.
For good reason is this island called “The Rock”. Stands of black spruce are short, stumpy, branches shaped by the never-ending wind, so there is little to block the view. Swamps and “ponds” of every shape and size appear everywhere, the water held by the layers of rock beneath it. Soil is at a minimum, and peat moss abounds; gardens are small and precious.
We know moose thrive, four having been imported from New Brunswick in 1904. We saw road signs warning us to slow down but not one of the 150,000 which live there now.
That September, cars were pulled up beside roads, whether off the beaten path or near the busy Trans Canada Highway and berry pickers could be seen gathering their winter jam and jelly-making supplies in the low growth. In our rented SUV, stuffed to the gunnels with the luggage and picnic supplies of four travellers, we traversed the province along that TCH, with many diversions, from St. John’s to Port aux Basque. Most of the roads were bumpy with, we opined, construction being carried out where least needed. Signs denoting “Bump” or uneven pavement, we learned to ignore: unlabelled sections were invariably much worse.
Signs showing us where to go were often misleading, so we had fun getting “lost” or going to places we hadn’t exactly expected to see. Finding shops in remote village was an expedition in itself. They were usually down side roads and, despite signs, might no longer exist; or the buildings were so small, ragged, or ancient-looking with no signage to make them recognisable as a place of business. Searching for a doorway had us in stitches before we found a way into some of them. Once inside, we were often gulped – either because of the extensive space, or at the variety contained within one tiny, crowded room.
Newfoundland has suffered, as is well known, since the cod fishery was shut down, and John and I remembered the rather decrepit-looking homes of 12 years ago. Since then, the oil industry in local waters has reversed the situation, and the “vinyl salesmen” have done a fine job of hiding weathered buildings, large and comfortable-looking, beneath white or colourful exteriors. Still, many family members must travel to central and western Canada for work. Two flags flap high and handsome outside homes and businesses – Maple Leaf and Newfie’s own.
Pretty coves were reached by crossing causeways or bridges from one island to another. We chose peninsulas and destinations more or less at random, and only one, a lumbering town, had little to interest us. Even the crystal clear water was uninteresting, with just one tiny sea star within – no fish, no jelly fish, and worse still, no ice cream shop! Elsewhere, bright houses, carefully tended boats of every shape and size in front yards, bobbing in the harbours or pulled up nearby, and numerous lighthouses, caught our attention.
It was all good and we’d go back again in a minute. Besides, we did not see Labrador, the other part of this remarkable province.