Gros Morne National Park: the journey includes a ferry and adventure

The Newfoundland Ferry. I would be lying if I said I ever got used to it. The first time I boarded it was December 31st, 1974. We had been living in Pickering Ontario where my father had worked for a couple of years for Ontario Hydro after leaving the Canadian Air Force. Never one to be content in one place for long, he set his sights eastward, accepting a job with Eastern Provincial Airways in Gander, Newfoundland. The fall of 1974 was full of anxious conversations between my mother and father, in the kitchen, on the phone, in their bedroom, in the basement. My mother was not a happy camper. She did not want to leave her province of birth or her brothers. At 15, I was the oldest of 3. None of us wanted to go either.

We moved a great deal when I was a child. Dad had a strategy. Since he always moved first and we followed several months later, he would under-promise and over-deliver in terms of describing quality of life. In pre-internet days, all we had was Dad’s first-person descriptors. When we arrived we were always so relieved, even joyful, that things were so much better than we imagined. Somehow, pre-move we always forgot he did this. Did Gander have a library? Yes, my father said, but it consists of books sent in cardboard boxes by plane once a month (not true, Gander had a lovely library). My mother’s face blanched at this. She read a book a day. Books were her oxygen. What were the people like? Friendly, but you could hardly understand them. They speak a strange language (a tiny element of truth). Mom’s brow furrowed. That didn’t seem right, everyone in Canada spoke English or French. How do you get there? By boat, but sometimes it takes weeks (only in the rare winter when the weather terrible) . I despaired at this. Always one to get motion sickness at the slightest of rocking motions, I envisioned days with my head in a bucket for days on end. Dad also had a flair for the dramatic. January 1st would be the day we began our new life in Newfoundland he declared. Numbly, we packed up our big red pickup truck and hit the road a few days after Christmas. Most of the furniture went by company moving trucks. We took ourselves, some luggage, my mother’s copious collection of houseplants and the budgie, Bluebird. How that budgie survived that frigid trip is beyond me.

We boarded a small ferry on New Year’s Eve.  We had a cabin with 4 bunks and crammed ourselves into them. All of us were either scared or cranky. The boat was small, unlike the big, comfortable ferries they have nowadays.  The crossing was rough and we envisioned being engulfed in our sleep in dark, salty water. I was pretty convinced I was going to die. No vomiting occurred because my mother very wisely doped us all up with gravol. She was probably more grateful for the sleep-inducing effects than anything else. When we awoke, the sun was just coming up and the ferry was slowly gliding into Port Aux Basque. I peeped out of the window and observed the pinkest sunrise I had ever seen. The tiny town of Port Aux Basque was covered in fresh snow, pink, iridescent, warm, magical. This was a new land unlike anything we had seen or imagined. Snowy rocks perched upon snowy rocks. We climbed downstairs and took our place in the truck. A couple of hundred feet off of the ramp, we saw a man in thick coveralls walking along the road. Dad stopped to ask directions. To our mainlander ears, he did speak a different language. Part Irish, part English, part Lord of the Rings. Directions collected, Dad drove us to the Irving Station where all who have ever endured the ferry land to eat hot stacks of pancakes and gulp down coffee whitened with canned milk for the long Trans-Canada highway trek to Gander.

How did we make out? Gander is famous for its warm, 9-11 hospitality extended without question to stranded travellers. It is immortalized in the Broadway play “Come From Away.” All I will say here is that hospitality is a way of being in coast-bound Newfoundland; the young town of Gander is no exception. After 34 years of living away from Newfoundland, I still consider it my “home.” That tells you something about how we were welcomed and embedded. The warm coals of that early morning welcome still burn.

We go back every year because Carl’s family live in Deer Lake. Every single time we cross on the ferry I am reminded of that first sunrise of ’75. There is a tourist chalet just outside of Port Aux Basques where I need to get out of the vehicle to touch my hand on the land in gratitude, to feel its energy go into me and to breathe the always crisp air. Every single time something in my soul meets the soul of the land. Your soul needs to go there.

Gros Morne Green Point Time

Gros Morne, Green Point Time

If you are travelling by camper or RV to Gros Morne National Park, you will need to take the ferry to Port Aux Basques. Rest assured, they are new, big and less inclined to make you motion sick than in the olden days. There are lovely reclining chairs in rooms where televisions abound with movies playing. There is an area where you can rent special, very comfy reclining chairs for ten dollars. Most people don’t rent them, so there are few people in that lovely room of cool air and wide windows. There is also a cafeteria, a gift shop, and a few food kiosks.  You can rent a cabin if travel overnight, which many do because it means less travel in the dark. This is not just a matter of convenience as MOOSE abound in the night. The chances are pretty good that you will hit one if you travel long enough in the dark. The cardinal rule is, in an argument between a vehicle and a moose, both will come out damaged and someone usually dies. So, travel in the light. Finally, this is REALLY important: you must make your reservations months in advance. Do not expect to just show up and be able to cross.

 

Gros Morne National Park is about a five to six-hour drive from the ferry. Take your time. The people are hospitable, with a penchant for self-deprecating humour. The scenery is astonishing with a Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings kind of epic adventure beauty.

Newfoundland Ferry website

Marine_atlantic_blue_puttees_august_2011 by Hayden Blackney

“The Blue Puttees” Newfoundland Ferry. Photo by Hayden Blackney

 

Forillon National Park: Acknowledging the territory

A few years ago, I was invited by two congregants to preside at their wedding at  Gespe’gewa’gi First Nation reserve near New Westminster, Québec. One of the brides grew up there. The other bride, Diane who is Anishinaabe, grew up in Newfoundland. The wedding designed by the couple was a weaving of Christian and indigenous spirituality. It took place on community sacred grounds. At the time pictures of the hunters who provide meat for the community had been posted around the circle. I was very moved by the gaze of these elders as the women spoke their words of love and commitment to each another, the gathered community, the earth and God. They were and are a beautiful couple. It was a striking wedding celebrated in the midst of a loving community. I will never forget the gracious welcome we received.  As Carl and I moved through the community I was struck by spiritual, social and commercial vitality. I mentioned this to Diane who told me that the reserve was not as affected by the residential school system as other reserves were. They still had to endure centuries of racist and colonialist policy and colonizing, violent, day schools, but the devastation of the residential school trauma did not reach as deeply here.

For me, this wedding was one of the most deeply spiritual experiences of ministry. The warmth of the community and the beauty of the land made Carl and I determined to come back to explore the Gaspé. And so, we did.

Take time to visit the Micmac Interpretation Site of Gespeg when you camp at Forillon National Park. It is a fascinating education centre.

micmaqgespeg interpretation centre

Micmaqugespeg Interpretation Centre photo:www.micmacgespeg.ca

There are often interactive activities. Their excellent website describes several options for immersive experiential activities (http://www.micmacgespeg.ca). If only we had had more time…. Although the woman who managed the information centre and gift shop had limited English and my French is worse, we managed to communicate enough for me to be able to pick up some printed resources. I was unable to determine whether the territory is ceded or unceded. One of the resources I picked up, A Journey Back in the History of Gaspé (Corporation Berceau du Canada: 2010) states:

The first humans to occupy the territory were the ancestors of the Micmacs (!) more than 8000 years ago. These nomads lived according to the available food resources, fishing in summer and following game in the winter. A seafaring people, the Micmacs knew the territory and its many rivers very well. We owe them for the name ‘Gaspé’, the name which the Europeans adopted on their arrival. “Gespeg” in the Micmac language means ‘the end of the land.’

The St. Lawrence Iroquoians arrived several hundred years later. A nomadic people, they were attracted by the abundant resources. In the 16th centre, these Iroquoians matched their trips to the peninsula with the arrival of the European ships, with whom they regularly traded.

The Park is situated on in un-ceded Mi’qmak land.

Forillon National Park has a shadow side. One of my colleagues who has worked in the Gaspé told me that the land was expropriated from people in order to create the Park, some of whom were indigenous. All were given a pittance in compensation. In 2011, the Government of Canada formally apologized. However, my colleague noted, no money was forthcoming.

Forillon National Park recently received some money from the Federal government which is earmarked to help the Park tell the stories of the Mi’kmaq people with some integrity. We can only hope.

 

 

The tent shelter: a truck camper’s second room. (Carl Yates)

What’s Old is New Again

As we prepared for our trip to Forillon National Park in the Gaspe penninsula of Quebec, we recognized that a dining tent would be in order.  We have used dining tents in the past when tenting and saw the benefits again with a truck camper as it got us outside to fully experience and appreciate nature during meal time. Eating and sitting outside helps us get to know our neighbours, which is a wonderful part of travel. It also, of course, keeps the rain off and the mosquitos out.

I checked out a few models but found them all to be too heavy or too bulky to be carrying around in a truck camper where space is a little more limited than that found in a fifth wheel [our previous RV].  I almost bought one in July when all the tents went on sale but still didn’t see a model that caught my fancy.  Finally, I said to Linda, let’s just use the old one that we stored in the basement as it could fit nicely behind the front seat of the pickup truck and wasn’t too heavy.

After we were settled into the campsite at Petit Gaspe, we decided to put up the dining tent.  As we unpacked it, it did not seem familiar so we took out the instructions to guide our assembly.  Although it was a two person job to assemble, it surprisingly went together well and was quite functional.  We couldn’t however, remember when we put it together last and as we inspected it more closely, realized it was brand new!  After racking our brains, we recalled that we bought the tent just before our son Matthew and wife Sarah got married.  It was bought just in case the weather was bad and we needed a little more space for the rehearsal party (cheaper to buy a tent than rent one!). As it turned out, the weather was good and the tent did not get erected for the celebrations.  The erection in Gaspe was the first time it was put up.  In essence, we won one on account of being picky and having a bad memory!  We now have a brand new tent that will do nicely as we travel about in our truck camper.

Oh you ask, what kind of tent is it?  It is manufactured by Roots and is 12 feet by 12 feet with an entry on all four sides which can be covered with a flap fastened by velcro strips or rolled up and secured.  The entry openings are all equipped with a mesh that keeps the bugs out and the breeze fresh.  The roof has a mesh with an additional fly to put over the top to keep the rain out.  During the few rain showers we had, it performed great.   Interestingly enough, if I went looking for a new tent, I would buy this model as it is very functional with lots of flexibility to adjust it to take wind direction and rain into account.  The only challenge, as mentioned above, is the support frame requires two people to assemble it without cursing.  I suspect one person could manage it as long as you don’t mind that the neighbours could hear a few choice words.

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Or, you could go to the Park shelters and recreate with some new-to-you friends.