6.21.2008

cape spear to bonavista

[Thursday, June 19]

We were out very early on Thursday morning, but thanks to some very poorly written directions in a guidebook, we got completely lost (twice) on the way to Cape Spear. And when we finally got there, it was completely fogged in. We could just barely make out the outline of the lighthouse on the cliffs above us. But we hiked out to the point marked "Most Easterly Point in North America".

Despite the fog, I was very glad to be there. On a trip to England in 1985 (a few months before I met Allan), I traveled by myself to Land's End in Penzance, the most westerly point in Europe. As soon as we decided to go to Newfoundland, I wanted to stand on its easterly counterpoint. And even with the fog, it was dramatic, high on the cliffs with the waves crashing on the rocks below. The World War II gun battlement is still there, and some underground rooms from that time.

We hiked around the cliffs for a while, then went up to the lighthouse. We didn't go into the lighthouse because of the fog, and because we knew we'd have other chances later on. But on a tip from a friendly park ranger - a redundancy, I have never met a park ranger who was anything but friendly and helpful - I went into the coast guard building, which now serves as an art gallery.

As I walked in the little building, a uniformed man approached me and said something... but what? What language was he speaking? I blinked at him dumbly; I think I said, "Sorry?" He repeated himself. Still nothing. Round about the fourth or fifth sentence, I realized he was speaking English! This was an accent like nothing I have ever heard. Once I got used to it, I could understand most of what he said. (I don't know what part of Newfoundland he is from, because no one else has sounded like that yet!)

This art gallery was more story than art. Some 25 years ago, a Newfoundland man painted every lighthouse on the island, then donated the paintings to the Coast Guard Alumni Association. The paintings are now used as part of an art program for Canadian school children, who come to the lighthouse to sketch them. There's a competition, and several winners are awarded art kits. (I saw a sample, they're terrific.)

The paintings themselves were not special as art, but I had a lovely time hearing wild anecdotes about them and the people who tended them. (That is, the parts of the stories I could understand.) Beneath each painting was a small plaque showing the outline of Newfoundland, with a star marking the location of that lighthouse, with the lighthouse's stats. It was fun, but the best part was the man's accent.

From there we found the Trans-Canada Highway, and the driving was much faster than we expected. We had heard that it might be slow going on many Newfoundland roads, and perhaps that will be true, but the one big highway that runs east-west across the province is a smooth, fast road. The highway was almost empty, and we breezed along.

The road cuts through rocky outcroppings, sometimes beautiful green hills, but often just rugged, jagged rock. The hills are too steep to be called rolling - you're really climbing and diving - and occasionally you catch a glimpse of lakes, bays or inlets. It's a fierce, rugged beauty. You can see right away why everyone lived on the coast through most of Newfoundland's history, with the interior settled only in modern times. It looks completely inhospitable. You also see why it's called The Rock.

Here are some towns we passed on our way: Come By Chance, Doody Bay, Great Mosquito, Dildo, Goobies. There are hundreds of towns named Something Cove: Tickle Cove, Lady Cove, Lance Cove, Ochre Cove, Pelican Cove, on and on. And about a hundred more named Something Harbour.

At Clarenville we turned off the TCH onto the Bonavista Peninsula, and even this smaller, more rural road was still easy driving. We thought we'd call some bed-and-breakfasts on our way out to Bonavista, but I had no cell phone service.

On the Bonavista Peninsula, we stopped in Trinity, an historic town, and where the movie "The Shipping News" was filmed. The town is postcard beautiful, full of richly painted saltbox houses and churches. To say Trinity is sleepy is understatement: it was comatose. We saw a half-dozen "for sale" signs, and thought it must be very sad, the death of a lovely historic town. We later learned that Trinity mostly exists for tourism only now. People come a few weeks before the start of the season to open the B&Bs, then close up and leave after the tourists go home.

Driving into Bonavista, we found a tourist information booth staffed by a young, friendly, completely unknowledgeable person. But she was able to call our first-choice B&B, which turned out to be right next door, and they had a vacancy. Our host, Ryan Albert (known as "Halpert" in the town dialect) was friendly and talkative, but little did we know he's a town character. The guidebook said the B&B serves a full breakfast and an evening snack, and Albert told us we'd have "lunch" around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. Mark my words.

Pictures of Trinity are here.

4 comments:

Kim_in_TO said...

Canadian English is probably the most uniform of all English dialects across the world. It's almost the same across the country, from the west coast to central Canada, varying more between urban and rural areas than between cities themselves or provinces. Eastern Canada, as you know, is another story. My phonetics professor told of linguists travelling the Atlantic provinces, trying madly to document dialects as they are disappearing. Aside from being envious of your trip, I wish I could be there to hear the language!

It's nice to be able to follow the journey on your blog. Take care!

James said...

Lori loved your Newfie language story. I suspect that that fellow originally came from off the Avalon, where the accent hasn't encountered as much of the outside world. I'd guess, solely on a hunch based on remoteness, that he may be from the south coast, where many towns are only accessible by boat.

L-girl said...

Hey, I'm glad you guys liked the language mention! Kim, thanks for that context, I'd love to know more.

Re the south coast, I've read that there used to be thousands of tiny outports (fishing communities) accessible only by boat, most of them now abandoned. Many of those people were resettled as part of a massive government resettlement program to reduce these isolated, impoverished communities and create larger population centres.

The guide in the Ryan Premises (in the next post) told us her mother-in-law was resettled. There were photographs of her house being floated down a river.

James said...

Lori loves it when mainlanders are baffled by Newfunese. :)