Up to the Cold North

Friday, June 20, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

THE BIG CHILL, Chapter 8:  

Days 10 & 11:  St. Anthony

Nothing could have been easier than planning our route from Deer Lake to St. Anthony near the farthest edge of Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula.  We didn't even need the GPS.  Only one highway spans the peninsula—the 430, which hugs the coastline between the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the west and the Long Range Mountains to the east.  When we entered the address of our St. Anthony hotel into our Garmin GPS just for the heck of it, we were instructed to drive 258 miles and we'd reach our destination.  No risk of getting lost, which was great because we were driving in rain again.

Although Gros Morne is said to have the densest moose population in North America, we had not seen any of the massive creatures in our two days in the park—plenty of moose caution signs but no beasts.  Finally on the drive up to St. Anthony, we had our first sighting.  Fortunately he walked onto the highway well ahead of us, so we had plenty of opportunity to avoid hitting him.

CAUTION:  Moose crossing
As we would observe again later when we encountered other moose in the St. Anthony area, he seemed just as curious about us as we were about him.  He walked onto the road, stopped and looked at our car, no doubt wondering what that strange metallic white animal might be.  Then he lumbered on across to the other side and disappeared into the woods.

We had come to the northernmost tip of Newfoundland to check out evidence dispelling another myth we had been taught in elementary school—that Christopher Columbus was the first European to visit the North American continent.  (Of course if you're over 40, you were probably told that Columbus "discovered America," a continent already fully populated by native peoples, but we're not getting into that.)

Re-creation of a Viking sod longhouse
In 1960, Norwegian writer/explorer Helge Ingstad and his archaeologist wife Anne Stine found remnants of a Viking settlement on the far northern coast of Newfoundland near a fishing hamlet called L'Anse aux Meadows.  Archaeological excavation uncovered artifacts dating from around the year 1000.  Based on this evidence and old Icelandic sagas, historians speculate that Leif Erikson brought an expedition to this area seeking forests to provide wood to supply their shipbuilding needs in Greenland.  A temporary camp was set up at L'Anse aux Meadows and used as a supply station for a period of about ten years.

Interpreter at national historic site
In addition to the national historic site operated by Parks Canada, Norstead operates a commercial re-creation of a Viking village nearby.  Both offer Viking re-enactors in period costume at Norse sod huts, but they seem to co-exist harmoniously, providing needed employment for locals.  The national historic site also exhibits artifacts found in the excavation.

Norstead Village
When we arrived in L'Anse aux Meadows, the temperature was hovering in the mid 30s, the slate sky was spitting out a wintry mix of sleet and rain, and the wind was howling.  It was easy to see why this spot might appeal to Norsemen accustomed to the climate of Greenland and Iceland.

After our visit to the site of Mr. Erikson's compound, we explored the remainder of the northern coast.  With only three roads spidering out from the 430 artery, it was quite manageable to visit every village.  Along the way, we encountered four more moose, engaging in a staredown with each.

Who you lookin' at?
All around the northern peninsula, the roadsides are fringed with small rustic garden plots, often miles away from any residences.  Finally we spied someone working in one of these gardens and stopped to ask about this unusual sight.

Roadside gardens
Rocky, barren limestone dominates the coastal landscape.  As in much of the island, most of the topsoil was scraped away by glaciers in the last ice age.  Then in 1967, the government came through and built a highway.  In the process, backhoes churned up some rich peaty soil and bulldozers shoved it to the roadsides, creating a narrow band of land with soil deep enough to cultivate.

Working the soil on a cold day
Bonnie lives at the end of the road in Boat Harbor (pop. 55), about 45 minutes from her little garden plot, where she grows potatoes, turnips and sometimes carrots.  Her choice of crops is limited to those hardy, cold-tolerant plants with a short growing season. Even in mid-June, on a day like today, the temperature may not rise above 45°.   But that didn't stop Bonnie from braving the cold and wind to till her little plot.  Growing up and living her entire life on the icy northern coast of the Strait of Belle Isle, she's just as hardy as her crops.

Proudly flying the provincial flag
Up here at the top of Newfoundland, the folks are not just tough, they are fiercely proud of being Newfoundlanders.  At many of the homes we passed, the provincial flag flapped in the chill winds.  Icebergs floated offshore here at the head of the Strait of Belle Isle, where the Labrador Current drags the bergs from Greenland into the strait.

As in other parts of the province, the people of the Northern Peninsula have treated us warmly, always ready to stop what they're doing and talk to us or answer questions.  Tomorrow we will finally leave the Newfoundland part of the province, hopping the ferry across the strait to Labrador.