This past summer, we decided it’s worth spending our vacation at home, in Canada. Looking at the map, there were not too many provinces we haven’t been to so far and, by elimination, Newfoundland and Labrador was the only one left on the map. Followed by the Territories. Looking at the very few roads (mostly unpaved) Labrador has, I thought… oh my! But hubby comes saying: let’s do it, it’s adventure time! Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) I didn’t realize until it was too late how wild some parts of Newfoundland (and especially Labrador) really are. As said in an article I can’t recall right now, on a trip you may get wet, cold, hungry, tired or even lost, but when you’re back home safe, you call it adventure!
And truth be told, I came back from this trip incredibly refreshed and fully energized. Memories of places, people, and stories are vivid and they overtake in size and power any idea of a “fun all-inclusive” vacation type. These life experiences are slowly shaping us, as they travel with us towards reaching our own goals. What did we manage to bring back this time? People. Nature. Life. A completely different look at what Canada – as a whole – really is. Shores like nowhere else. Sea food. Vikings village & trails. Boats. Lighthouses and their keepers.What I didn’t really see around that much was… immigrants. Funny enough I didn’t even realize it until after being in the province for over a week. Even if the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Nominee Program (NLPNP) works hard towards providing an alternate and quicker entry into Canada, as it allows Newfoundland and Labrador to nominate applicants, a much quicker immigration process for qualified skilled workers, international graduates, and their families who wish to permanently settle in this beautiful province, we weren’t able to see many around. Just south of L’Anse aux Meadows, when we stopped to fill up on gas and I went inside the convenience store trying to warm up and add an extra layer (it was 8 degrees Celsius on a beautiful August day at noon), I got into a conversation with the store keeper, a lady in her 50s, and her friend, who was keeping her company over a cup of coffee… yep, they do have a funny accent and I really had to pay attention to make sure I understand… But when she asked me what I do for work and I said “I’m an Employment Counsellor” her face showed clear signs of confusion, so I went on, thinking I’m helping her understand, and I said that I work in a program called “Skills Connect for Immigrants”. Nonetheless, this had quite an opposite effect on her and I could see she’s now totally startled… too bad I couldn’t take a picture, yet her funny face is still fresh in my memory. Now, her friend, who was a more traveled person (she actually visited Vancouver, as she proudly told me latter on), jumped in to help her: “you know, they have lots of immigrants in the Vancouver area, and there are big communities with people from all over the world, thousands of them!” Poor store keeper was still looking at me as if I was from a different planet… what a feeling to be looked at this way! Latter on, she confessed she never in her life left the island (Newfoundland).
At this point I’ve started to look around more carefully and realized that not only there were not too many immigrants in the area, but also there were not too many young people, and not too many children, and most likely not enough schools. Unemployment rate in the province is the highest in Canada, as per the latest statistics. So is the lack of literacy. Newfoundland and Labrador are now at a critical crossroad for addressing and advancing literacy skills, yet they need federal help; there are many provincial councils supporting the general effort to help all people reach their full literate potential. It’s different when you only read about it, yet it makes such an impact when you get to see it. People are so friendly. Not a sign of the vancoverite-specific sophistication. I’ve heard many times about the well-know old fashioned Newfie hospitality, but it’s actually much better then all you can imagine. At one of the Bed & Breakfast locations in the Red Bay area (http://www.grenfellbandb.ca), as our hosts knew we were coming on a motorcycle from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and they knew it has been raining pretty much the whole day, with miserable cold winds, and they knew we were supposed to get across about 560 Km of unpaved roads (as part of our Translabrador Hwy Adventure) – so they started a fire in their beautiful backyard gazebo (white and tall, with large windows and glass doors), where we could hang to dry our rain suits, our boots and gloves – all on a long rope, that was fastened across the gazebo’s wooden ceiling. That’s what locals do when they return form a stormy fishing day, it’s standard procedure. Then we were provided with some huge rubber clogs, and walked through the yard’s mushy-wet emerald-green grass, to enter into a beautiful house, a historic building, which back in 1930s used to serve as a Nursing Station. As I stepped in, I suddenly forgot I was covered in wet mud just an hour ago, I forgot we had to use a hose to clean ourselves up at a gas station just before checking in, I forgot all that. I just felt strangely light, like I was 12 years old again, a girl coming back into her grandma’s warm kitchen after a summer storm. A soaking wet redhead with lots of freckles and shiny blue eyes. They offered us hot tea and biscuits. Each room was decorated with amazing quilted covers and white embroideries. Hardwood, warm floors, sparkling clean and just like heaven. I even found mini chocolates on the elegantly wrapped king bed. After a long warm bath, I slept like an angel, woke up in the morning and ran to the window. The ocean was beautiful, but really stormy. Wait, what? Again? It was raining pretty bad. I decided I was going to just ignore the weather. Downstairs, in an elegant dining room, with a long table seating 12, decorated with beautiful china and a gorgeous fruit platter, Peggy was making breakfast. The smell was amazing. I poured myself some hot black coffee and enjoyed looking at the rain outside while chatting with our hostess. Out in the rain, my hubby was upping pressure in the tires, to change firmness as appropriate for the paved road ahead. Our Honda CBF 1000 did pretty well so far. Yay! No more unpaved roads (or at least that’s what I thought at the time). So I said to myself: happy birthday girl, you’re on the other side of the world!
Content and dry, we loaded up after breakfast and went to the Blanc Sablon (Quebec) ferry to cross over to St. Barbe (NL), a quick two hours ride. This is where we were saying “Good bye” to Labrador. A couple of peculiar facts about this ferry: even if Blanc Sablon is practically in Quebec, the ferry operates by Newfoundland Standard Time (NST), plus one must make a reservation no matter what, and the staff is not exactly motorcycle friendly either (those who are used to our local BC Ferries know exactly what I’m talking about). Anyhow, we made it to St. Barbe, it was still raining on the island, still windy, but we had a super nice and dry afternoon in L’Anse aux Meadows, where we checked in at Viking Village Bed and Breakfast and had a rather elegant dinner of authentic Newfoundland sea food, at the Daily Catch to celebrate by birthday. Some more Newfoundland adventures, followed by a long 16 hours crossing to Nova Scotia and a beautiful East coast style ride to Boston, are to follow soon in Part II of this story.