Fundy National Park: Getting There

Fundy National Park: Getting There

As you might expect, Fundy National Park is on the Bay of Fundy, the southern coast of New Brunswick. The Bay of Fundy separates the province of Nova Scotia from the province of New Brunswick. The Bay is the site of the largest tides in the world, one of the world’s great wonders (more about the mechanics of that in a later post by Carl, the engineer). Both provinces are currently trying to figure out how to harness the power in those cyclical walls of water. So far, the Bay has simply chewed up and spit out any kind of turbine put in her. The Bay of Fundy is a crucible of incredible bio-diversity and adaptivity by flora, fauna and humans.  You will enjoy getting the travel to the Park.

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By Decumanus at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11123462

The good news is that New Brunswick has quite good highway systems now. In the olden days, part of the adventure of getting to the Park was wondering if you would survive the drive. Of prime importance in those days, was choosing a route with the least possibility of crashing into another vehicle while attempting to avoid gargantuan potholes. No more! In the north-eastern parts of New Brunswick we noticed significant buckling and rutting of the asphalt. This is due to heavy truck traffic. However, the southern roads are quite passable for people towing RV’s. In order to get to the Park by wheeled things, you have two possibilities of approach. You can come through the north end of the Park, or you can approach it from the south east.

We have almost always come from Nova Scotia, so we approach the Park from the east. From Moncton, you just need to follow all the signs for Fundy National Park heading southwest on Highway 114. On this route, which follows a coastal trail, there is much to see including mixed Acadian forests and old farmlands. You can often actually observe the movement of the tide while you travel toward the Park. There are many restaurants, outfitters, kayak tour-centres, gift shops and interesting family-run enterprises along the way. Quaint villages are replete with very old buildings that used to house some of Canada’s oldest institutions such as banks and early railway centres. Some houses have long since been abandoned. These have a haunting beauty which I always find strangely compelling. We turned a corner one time to see an ancient house, long abandoned, its shakes faded to almost a white-grey. Faded gingham curtains, bottoms shredded from stark winter winds, blew gently out of an upstairs window. I asked Carl to stop, no mean feat when towing an RV on those narrow roads. Rhubarb and lilacs rebelliously surround the house. I stood in front of the house and was strangely delighted to see an old iron bedstead and night stand just beyond the curtains. Could I see dishes on it? What, I wondered caused the sudden abandonment of such a once-beloved home? You see all kinds of things just waiting to tell you their story on this route.

Along this route you will also encounter the  Hopewell Rocks. This is a much visited, famous attraction and is really quite something to see up close. Book off at least two hours if you want to see the “Flower Pots.” These are heaps of rock sculpted by the relentless tide. If you have a full day to spend, you could also take a kayaking tour, but these have to be timed with the tide.

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By XeresNelro – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65339836

If you come through from the north, chances are you have will have come from Fredericton. If so, to get to the Park, you will need to head east on the TransCanada (number 2) highway, turning south at exit 365 onto Highway 10 to Sussex, which we discovered has a decent hospital, should you unfortunately need one. Then head northwest on Highway 1 turning east on Highway 114 at exit 211 to the Park. Frankly, although New Brunswick is always beautiful, we have not found this approach very, well, interesting.

Whether you come from the north or the east, be sure to stock up on groceries before you enter the Park. There is only a rudimentary grocery store in Alma and you will pay top dollar for supplies there. Also, although New Brunswick is quite good at fencing off the highways so that carsand moose can avoid annihilating each other, there is still some risk of moose-strike. Remember, you may kill the moose with your car/truck which is bad enough, but you will not fare well either. Avoid travelling at night if you can.

Finally, it is also worth noting that New Brunswick is Canada’s only truly bilingual province. As such, you can almost always receive a warm welcome and services in French or English.

 

 

 

 

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

 

Gaspé: you can tell how the living live by how they treat their dead

“Your communities will never really accept you until they see how you treat their dead.” These were the words of Rev. Dr. Shelley Finson. She peered at us over her glasses, pencil stuffed snuggly in her ponytail. She reached for it and tapped the eraser end on the desk beside me whose occupant was sleepily contemplating the ceiling tiles. The class paused for a minute while my fellow student’s eyes quickly engaged hers. She continued. “The people you serve will watch how you wait with them as their loved one dies. They will listen to your words, not for content but for compassion. Then, at the most vulnerable, difficult moments of their lives, they will observe what you do with those words at the funeral when, along with them, you remember the significance of a life. Afterward, the people will wait to see if you stop to take time to mention the person’s name in their presence. Until you take care with these things, you will never be ‘in.’ How you take care of a community’s dead says a lot about who you are. How do you care for the dead?” My peers chimed in with their wisdom.

I remember being somewhat skeptical twenty years ago sitting in the midst of my Pastoral Studies class at the Atlantic School of Theology. Surely, after so many hours spent absorbing history, theology, social analysis, experiential learning and so on, success in a community cannot possibly come down to the death response? When I got out of school and was thrown into the midst of living with people amongst their grief and joy-stoked lives, I learned that Shelley was absolutely correct, as usual.

I would add my own corollary to Shelley’s wisdom. How the living in a community treat their dead says a great deal about how they live. I have observed that unkempt or hazardously managed cemeteries usually indicate a community in some kind of trouble. Either they have lost community capacity for building social structures or there is such dysfunction that they cannot come together to care for their dead. Well-kept cemeteries, particularly if they are volunteer-run, indicate the opposite. It takes a community of some spiritual capacity to come together to figure out and implement a vision as to how the resting place of their loved ones will look and function.

 

When we took the 132 south from Mont Joli you would come around bends or be in the midst of hollows and a small community would just suddenly pop up. Occasionally you would see nicely kept cemeteries. Sayabec is the tiniest of villages and yet it had a lovely community sign surrounded by a robustly gardened area. Its cemetery was stunning. A stone chapel, constructed of local, unique, beautiful stone greets you as you pull into a level parking lot. The most astonishing aspect of the cemetery is the 14 stone cairns enfolding it. On each is a depiction of stations of the cross, (the story of Jesus’ crucifixion). Near the station which depicts, I think, the time a man is voluntold to carry Jesus’ cross, a man’s family took time to erect a small display with his picture and some biographical material next to his grave marker. Not for the first time, I cursed the limits of my primitive high school French. I wondered that a family or community felt a need to highlight this man’s life. In the centre of the graveyard is the corpus (the body of Jesus on the cross) with Mary and another standing vigil.  The unusual volcanic rock of the area supports both of them. The whole has the effect of declaring to the visitor, “This is our impervious, irregular, beautiful faith-rock. It is us. Pain abounds, but resilient love matters most.” I wonder about a community who take such care with their dead.

 

 

Postscript: Dr. Pat De Meo volunteered to translate the words on the plaque. We both agreed they were lovelier than we could have imagined.

(Photo shows a man who has walked to the top of a mountain.)
At the summit of my life, I thank you for having walked with me along the path of love with its joys, its beauty and its obstacles.
Today, my journey continues with you in your hearts.
Be happy and love, for that is the beginning of your path towards love.
I love you, Zita.
I love you, my children, my grand-children, my great-grand-children.
All of you who have walked with me, I love you.
I am watching over you with my gaze of eternity.
Dominique

Forillon National Park of Canada: a variety of ways of getting there

A couple of years ago I presided at a wedding in New Richmond, QC.  (more about that in a later post). We were gobsmacked by the beauty of the land and the spirited hospitality of the peoples. Due to the short travel deadline due to the wedding, we did not have much opportunity to explore the area, so we vowed to return. This summer was the year of return. We dedicated the better part of a week to exploring Forillon National Park.

We travelled through Campbellton and made our way along the eastern shore of the Gaspe (Québec Coté Mer) on the 132 East. With the ocean to the right of us and lovely, distinctive Québecois houses, farms and fishing villages to the left of us, we thoroughly enjoyed the travel. However, it was slow. The highway moves right through working communities that are filled with tourists at this time of year. Children, dogs and the like dash onto the road and the camper does not stop very quickly. We had to creep at times. There were some impressive rock formations such as Percé Rock, a mini-Gibraltar that kind of rises out of the ocean with a colour and

 

textural distinction all of its own (see image). It is one of the world’s largest naturally occurring arches in water. The touristy nature of that particular area meant that the entire length of coast-line with the best view of the giant outcrop was taken up with cottages, hotels, restaurants, food stands, tourist shops and so on. It was difficult to meditate upon the wonder of this remarkable geological formation while trying not to run over the pedestrians staring at their phones as they meandered the road. It was also problematic to stop to view the magnificent hunk of limestone, as parking was at a premium.

We expected as we moved northward that the houses and settlements would become less frequent. We were wrong. The area is well populated. Do we sound cranky? We were not. The view, the drive and the people watching all had their inspirational moments. It is a well-known fishing area so you might want to stop to pick up some seafood. Lobsters are usually reasonably priced if you can get them in season. Stores sometimes carry delicacies like pickled fiddlehead ferns, pickled clams, whelks and cohaugs. Of course, anywhere in Québec you may come across a Fromagerie (cheese store). Do stop if you like cheese. The fresh curds are to die for. At the risk of annoying my own home province of Nova Scotia I must declare that no one makes cheese like Québec cheese-makers. As I am addicted to cheese, I am not to be trusted in one of these stores.

If you exclusively speak English, don’t worry about the language differential. At all of our stops we struggled to use our high school French, but were usually rescued from our butchery of that beautiful language by anyone we spoke to as they took mercy upon us and replied to us in English.  There was a fairly hilarious incident at a Canadian Tire which I will blog about later. In essence, an entire line-up of French speaking people at the cash register got together to help the sales clerk understand what I wanted.

We took the 132 West when we left the Park this year to go to Montréal. It was surprising how different the geology is. The tail end of the Appalachian Mountain Range creates craggy shorelines. You would be forgiven if you thought some giant race of tricksters had taken colossal buckets of white paint and just sloshed it randomly all over the various sizes of beach rocks. He-who-knows-geological-things says these are quartz veins. There were many tiny communities to be driven through who had seen better tourist days, shuttered motels and so on. Most of these small communities had a welcoming sign and a picnic area. Take a hoodie though, the temperature is often quite cool with prevailing winds a little brisk. We noticed that no one swam on the beaches due to both the chill and the lofty waves. We had real worries about some of the people venturing out in small, seemingly- perilously bobbing tourist boats. The volunteer medical responder in me found it difficult to look away!

gaspe mathieu dupuis

photo by Mathieu Dupuis (tourisme-gaspesie.com)

We were determined to see the valley area of Gaspé Peninsula so on our way back from Montreal we turned south at Mont-Joli and took the 132 South. (I guess this could be called our 132 trip). We had driven quickly through this area in our previous trip and wanted to really take our time to let the exquisiteness of the area sink in. The area is part of the Appalachian mountain range. Following mountain ascents there were sometimes descents into verdant, green valleys sculpted, with some struggle no doubt, into farmland. We felt there was something around virtually every corner to admire. Close to the Campbellton area the mountain vegetation begins to change with the steepness and the road follows a rocky-bottomed river that is frequented by salmon fisherman. Carl, a skilled salmon fisherman himself, was driving and would slow to count them and to see if anyone had caught anything. My nerves. I should have driven through that part. If you are coming from Montreal to go to Forillon you might want to take this route and then take the 132 East at Campbellton. It is well worth the effort and time if you like mountains, valleys, rivers and quaint towns. Toward Campbellton there are several fishing and outback kinds of tour possibilities.

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Enjoy some of the world’s best lobster. So good you should, in the words of his people (Newfoundland) “Get your face and hands into it!”

 

Québec has an excellent website outlining all of the possible ways you can explore the Gaspé Peninsula www.quebecmaritime.ca Check it out before you go to Forillon Park.

 

Next post: Forillon National Park – The Park