The Great Canadian road trip has been a dream for many people. I have always dreamed of travel and even as a young teenager thought it would be pretty cool to hit up every province, territory, and capital of my nation. Before this year, I’d never ventured further east than Quebec City, so for me, the Maritime provinces (Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick) are totally new. We won’t be able to make it to the far north of Canada this time—it is an epic journey in and of itself—but we will get to see all 10 provinces, though briefly, and dip our toes in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
It was always the plan to travel east to west, as I am from the west and want to spend more than just a few days in my home town with friends and family. So, after visiting some of those in Ontario, we took a short flight from Toronto to St. John’s, Newfoundland. The “and Labrador” was added to the province’s name in 2001 so it’s still hard for me to remember to say it. The Labrador part of the province is more prominent in terms of land mass and separates itself from the island of Newfoundland, with the Strait of Belle Isle in between the two parts of the province. Newfoundland has the capital of St. John’s (not to be confused with the city Saint John in New Brunswick) and is where we began our journey. It was the 10th province to enter Canadian Confederation which I find strange since the provinces that formed Canada from the beginning are all rather close by. It was settled long ago of course, but in 1497 John Cabot (Italian) settled it, working for the British government. It was a self-governing colony by 1854, and a dominion of the British Empire in 1907. It wasn’t until 1949 that it joined Canada.
We spent a couple of days in the capital enjoying firstly Cape Spear which is the most easterly point of Canada and indeed, all of North America. We couldn’t dip our toes in the water there as there was construction happening that prohibited visitors from reaching the beach safely. All sorts of warning signs told us not to go down to the water. I was a bit disappointed because I like the symbolism of things, but, we did view the lighthouse, gallery, and the original lighthouse and home as well. I found it all fascinating.
We took a trip to Witless Bay and did a boat tour, on the hunt for whales and puffins. We saw a few minke whales but probably 3,600 puffins. They are a lot smaller than you’d think and we learned that they are known around the rock as “PPF” which stands for “piss-poor flyers”. They flap their wings about 400 times per minute. I guess the Newfoundlanders think this is too much effort and therefore evidence of poor ability. Whatever you say, I think they are the cutest bird! Unfortunately it was pouring during the whole entire boat tour and I spent much of it indoors with the captain, trying to understand his accent. Seriously, the people in Newfoundland sound like they’re just putting it on, it’s so funny! But they’re not! They really sound like that!
We also tracked down the Terry Fox memorial statue in St. John’s. It’s in a rather inauspicious spot along Water street, at the far edge of town, where the harbour meets the shore suddenly. There are industrial buildings and fences nearby so it took us a good amount of google-mapping to figure out where the statue stood. We saw it and spent time reading all the plaques and I actually got a bit choked up about it. Terry Fox is one of Canada’s heroes. He was a teenager when he contracted bone cancer and eventually had to have his entire right leg amputated. When he was in hospital recovering, he got the idea to run across all of Canada to raise money for cancer research. He basically ran a marathon every single day while he was doing his Marathon of Hope in 1980. Sadly, he only made it as far as Thunder Bay, Ontario because cancer had entered his lungs. Ten months later, he died of the disease. Since then, Canadians (and others all over the world) have taken up his cause and we have the “Terry Fox Run” every year. I myself went to an elementary school called “Terry Fox” and we did the run every year. It was really special and an honour to stand where he stood at the beginning of his run.
Our next stop on “the rock” was the adorable village of Twillingate, which we raced to get to across pothole-filled highways in time for our 2pm boat tour that we had booked only that morning. We were humming and hawing about whether or not to make the effort to go hunting for some icebergs. We wondered if we should spend more time in Gros Morne National Park. I’m so glad we decided to go to Twillingate because we saw the most amazing icebergs. The icebergs travel 3-5 years from Greenland to this particular coastline of Canada. We thought we’d see maybe three or four piano-sized icebergs, but we saw heaps of bergs, ranging in size from piano to apartment building! It was so exciting and I couldn’t believe that what we were seeing was in Canada—I’m from the rather milder temperatures of the west-coast, so seeing icebergs was as exotic for me as it would be for an Australian. We were there at the exact right time to see them—late June or early July. The town itself is quaint and full of little local-run shops and eateries. A great place to watch the ocean and relax and I was sorry to leave it.
We spent a few days in Gros Morne National Park as well, which is on the western coast of Newfoundland. Along the way we saw a caribou which was exciting, and while doing the Gros Morne mountain hike on Canada Day, we spotted two male moose. Can’t get more Canadian than hiking, moose-spotting, and beer drinking afterward. The hike itself was 16kms of steep uphills covered in very large, very loose, random, precarious rocks on the way up and foot-injury-inducing smaller rocks on the way down. I wanted to do the gentle 8km return rather than the 16km up-hill battle but when Callum gets a notion in his head, there is nothing for it but to go along with it. We experienced several types of weather along the journey, from chillingly foggy, to pleasantly warm, to wind-gustingly freezing. At the top, we shivered while eating our picnic and Canadian maple cookies before beginning our descent. Special mention to the moose-shaped cookie that Callum had the extreme pleasure of icing (while staying with Rachel and Marc in Waterloo) with a Canadian flag pattern and which we saved for this moment. It was not long after that Callum spotted a brown animal in the distance, off the path. We strode towards it as stealthily as we could, not wanting other hikers to notice and make their own beeline for the creature, most likely scaring it away. Callum stalked the moose and discovered a second one with the first. He got some really good photos.
After the long hike, which took us 9 hours because of several rest stops, strategic photo breaks and moose-spotting, we got back to the town of Rocky Harbour and indulged in greasy cheeseburgers and fish and chips with a strawberry milkshake to wash it all down. I had a long hot bath while Callum went out again to do even more exploring. Can’t stop that guy.
After Gros Morne, it was time to head to Nova-Scotia.