Taking the slow road back home

We’ve been on the road for over 100 days and 21,000 kms, and now…it is coming to an end. What an amazing trip it has been – sketchy motels, rained-out campgrounds, run-over skunks, less-than-healthy road food and all. Every single day has been an adventure and travelling through Canada has often felt like being in a foreign country. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Our first stop heading west from Quebec City was Ottawa – to visit our friends Jon and Linda. We met them years ago on Gabriola – at Linda’s summer home. They split their time between homes on Gabriola, Ottawa and Jon’s cottage in the Gatineau Hills. We have now visited them in all three places. It was a gorgeous drive out to the Gatineaus from Ottawa – another area of Quebec we want to return to.

Jon’s newly-acquired raft – exciting playtoy for the grandkids and Stephen. It didn’t stay this calm for long.  In true terrorize-the-kids fashion, Stephen swam up behind the raft to grab little toes – lots of screaming and shrieking ensued.

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Cottage memories in the making.

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Back in Ottawa, we did the obligatory pose beside the poker-faced guards. I asked one of the RCMP officers about the guards – they change every hour ( challenging to stand for longer than that in those hot, heavy uniforms), and no, I would not be able to make them laugh unless I was a family member – their training runs pretty deep.

Below: Stephen, Jon, Linda and me.

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We were only in Ottawa for a day, and like so many other places, we will have to return for a longer period of time and really explore the sights, especially their fantastic museums.

Jon and Linda took us to see the MosaïCanada 150/Gatineau 2017, presented by Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montreal, and built in a park in Gatineau in honour of Canada 150. At first, I was lukewarm about the idea (“some structures made out of flowers and plants”), but this exhibition blew us away. We walked through an old train station (made of plants) to see this:

Canada’s first CPR locomotive to bring travellers right across Canada, #374.

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This exhibition was constructed in Parc Jacques Cartier in Gatineau, and is open until October 15 – entirely free! There are 33 works of art, covering the 10 provinces and three territories, as well as some memorable Canadian moments, like the big goal in 1972.

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Before the exhibition, Parc Jacques-Cartier was simply the usual city park – grass, trees, shrubs and pathways. It is so completely transformed that it’s hard to imagine it hasn’t always looked like this. The work of over 100 horticulturists, including some from Beijing and Shanghai, used 3 million plants (80 different varieties of hardy, seasonally-changing flowers) for their creations.

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The plants were effectively used to create not only the figures, but landscape and sea.

This may be familiar to many Canadians – the sculpture of a killer whale done by Bill Reid in front of the Vancouver Aquarium, called Chief of the Undersea World. Not a bad replica.

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Or this – the image by artist Nathalie Bertin, used on The Royal Canadian Mint’s $10 silver coin. A lone wolf howls against a backdrop of northern lights.

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The puffins, cute as ever, with a mouthful of capelin.

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I loved the effect achieved  on the muskoxen, how the shaggy grasses match their real-life shaggy coats.

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And these extraordinary sculptures, by well-known U.K. artist Heather Jansch are known as “ecological art” – made of driftwood. Jansch carefully selects branches that do not require cutting or altering to fashion her creations – many of them take over 6 months of finish.
The mare Odyssey and her colt Hope.

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Our trip west from Ottawa involved two more visits with friends. We spent a couple of days again with Kris and Gord at their cottage at Farren Lake and this time the weather cooperated. We had beautiful swims, long walks and a trip to nearby Westport, one of the scenic small towns on the Rideau Canal system.

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Our final night on the road was spent in Toronto with Lorne and Anne – a relaxing dinner and gab and possibly a bit too much wine.

Now we’re in Fergus, staying with my parents for a few days until Stephen leaves for a quick overnight in London with his dad and family and then his westward trip begins. He’s driving through the U.S. – the land of cheap gas, well-designed highway rest stops and a whole different landscape to enjoy.

It will be another adventure to look forward to – solo driver, no  ongoing commentary and editorializing to keep him company, and an iPad full of tunes and audio-books.

I’ll be with my folks until September 12th and then fly back to Nanaimo, where we’ll be based until the new year. We’re looking forward to a couple of housesits to get our feet back on the ground and our animal fixes in, and are grateful to be in our old stomping grounds to re-connect with our friends there.

Our plans are to travel through India and Sri Lanka for a few months, beginning in January and we will resume our blog postings then.

Our heartfelt thanks for following along and helping to keep us connected to you all. It has made all the difference to know you’re there.

We may post occasionally before January, as we gather our thoughts about what it means to have no home and how we plan to go forward over the next few years. We’ll share our decision-making strategies, our (rough) financial plan on how we’ve made it all work and lessons from the road.

A final iconic image from our Canada 150 trip.

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The Bonavista Social Club

With just three days left in Newfoundland, we had two choices – go to Bonavista Peninsula or go to Twillingate and Fogo Island. Since the latter choice involved a longer drive and two ferries, we followed the advice of our friend Ingrid and went to Bonavista. It has been an excellent choice, helped greatly by superb weather and numerous wildlife sightings.
The Bonavista Social Club is the restaurant that everyone said couldn’t work – a custom-built wood-fired oven that serves up pizzas and artisan bread; salads plucked from their large garden and $20 moose burgers.

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Well, in the five years since they opened, the word is out and so are the lineups. Come early or come later, but be prepared for a wait. We were happy to sit and admire the view:
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The food was fantastic, the service polished and the concept brilliant – do something right and you can call your own shots – open six days a week, eight hours a day and just May to October.

Bonavista Peninsula (the next one west of the Avalon Peninsula) is so packed with coves, fishing villages and outports that you could spend several days just driving around and coming across strange sights like this one – horses grazing by the ocean, seemingly miles away from a farm or pasture.

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Or a turn in the road will bring this – an iceberg trapped in a bay.

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Or a sky so beautiful it looks Photoshopped:

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The hiking is scenic and varied – many hikes are between one-three km., so it’s possible to fit in a few in a day. This is a hike near King’s Cove. The church was built by committee in 1884 – every week, the priest of St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church would call 10 names and those folks would be responsible for the labour that week. In two years, the church was built.

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Like most of Newfoundland, there is something for everyone here – history, culture, scenery, geology, wildlife and birds.

Puffins are a huge draw, and they can be found by boat tour or on foot. We drove out to Elliston, where there is a nesting site and walked over this path to get to the main viewing area. They nest in the nooks of the cliffs, to protect their eggs from predators. They will be here until mid-late August, when they take off for the winter, so we felt quite thrilled to see them. There was a sign at the entry office “No drones, no dogs”. Seriously, who would bring their dog to a bird sanctuary? And who would think a drone would not have a negative impact on the experience of others?

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We got to the top of the cliff and saw about fifteen puffins right on the edge. There were hundreds more on another cliff, but a little too far to watch closely without binoculars.  Puffins would fly in and land and take off right in front of us, so we had quite a show. They were completely unfazed by us, but we were all quiet and were a good distance away – about  15-20 feet. It was an unforgettable sight.

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They are so adorable, you can hardly stand it. They’re about 10 inches tall, so smaller than most of us might imagine. They’re very social – we watched them for about 45 minutes and they seemed to be having conversations.

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They mate for life and co-parent, so possibly they also have disagreements from time to time.

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Then, as if that wasn’t enough, we saw whales. Dozens of whales, mainly humpbacks, some minkes, but over the past two and a half days, they’ve been out in full force. We’ve seen a couple of tails and a few roll-overs, but mainly spouting and diving – all of this close to shore. This photo won’t impress you, but I thought I’d add it anyway – there’s also an iceberg in the background – the Newfoundland and Labrador trifecta – whales, icebergs and puffins.

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We were watching whales at the Cape Bonavista lighthouse, when this little creature appeared. Tame, inquisitive – he began to walk towards us and we backed away. A fox, unafraid of humans – is he rabid? Nope – when we asked the Parks staffer, we were told he is used to being fed by humans, in spite of all posted signs to the contrary. Hopefully, we won’t be his undoing.

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We’re staying in the town of Bonavista – toward the top of the peninsula. We booked into an Airbnb – a former parish hall with five guest bedrooms and a warm-hearted and garrulous host.  This is all part of the road trip – the characters we meet along the way.

Bonavista is where John Cabot first landed in 1497 and a replica of his ship The Matthew is on display here. There are a number of historic homes and sites in Bonavista, including The Ryan Premises – a National Historic site that is an example of a large-scale merchant during the cod fishing heyday in the late 1900’s.

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A few scenes from this town:

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The sun setting over the harbour:

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Newfoundlanders have to be optimistic to survive, but in the absence of bidding wars in Bonavista, we wonder how long the owner might wait for a bite on this beauty.

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Trinity was one of our favourite places in the peninsula. An historic town established in the late 1700’s, Trinity has taken advantage of its natural beauty and well-preserved buildings to showcase some of the most notable spots.  We were too late to take the tour, but had plenty of time to wander through the town on our own. It is a gem that should not be missed by anyone visiting Bonavista Peninsula.

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The work is never done – painting, gardening, building new docks.

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Nearby Elliston is billed as “The Root Cellar Capital of the World”, but many Newfoundland properties have these indispensable features – cellars dug into the earth to keep food fresh over the winter. If you look behind the house in this photo, you’ll see a root cellar, ready for this summer and fall’s harvest.

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We stopped to watch the meticulous stone work on this house – the old root cellar was being given a facelift.

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A reminder that life here has often been hard and frequently tragic – the Sealer’s Memorial and Sealers Interpretation Centre in Elliston. This excellent interpretive centre uses displays, artifacts and videos to take the visitor through the history of sealing in Newfoundland. There is an emphasis on the great danger of sealing, with stories from  the unprecedented disasters of 1914. Seventy-eight men from the SS Newfoundland were lost on the ice floes during a vicious blizzard; in the same storm, 174 men were lost from the SS Southern Cross.

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If I ever thought of seal hunting, I imagined a vast sea of solid ice – like a huge rough hockey rink. I couldn’t have been more wrong – we watched a video of frigid ocean water  rolling and pitching. Covered in ice, yes, but changing all the time – solid footing one second later opened to water. It was terrifying to watch – I can’t imagine how exceedingly dangerous and frightening it was to be there. The worst part was the uncertainty – sealing was the only way to bring in cash and the possibility of hitting a big payday was irresistible – worth risking one’s life for.

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In a particularly poignant story, 16-year-old Albert John Crewe was insistent on going sealing: his father Ruben, who had already survived one disaster was less keen but did not want him to go alone. They were among the victims of the SS Newfoundland – found three days later frozen together – the son in his father’s protective embrace. A magnificent bronze sculpture captures them exactly as they were found on the ice.

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A fitting way to end our time here – surrounded by the history and character of Newfoundland. We are sad to leave – it feels too soon – so much left undiscovered.
I guess that is their sneaky way of getting us to come back.

On to Cape Breton  – see you soon.