Do We Really Have to Leave?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

THE BIG CHILL, Chapter 10:  

Days 14-16:  Labrador to Home

With an 8:00 Monday morning booking, we had to be at the ferry office in Blanc Sablon by 7 to purchase our tickets and get in line.  Guiding drivers where to go and folding in side mirrors on each car, the meticulous ferry agents packed vehicles in the hold with only inches to spare.  These guys would be a great help if you were putting a jigsaw puzzle together.

After parking below deck, we followed the crowd upstairs to one of the passenger lounges. Had our journey been an overnight cruise, rather than just 1.5 hours, berths are available with beds.  Instead we hung out in the cafeteria area, even indulging in a bit of breakfast to supplement the meager rations we stirred up before leaving the hotel.

Reaching Saint Barbe on schedule, the ferry was efficiently unloaded, and we drove south on the familiar Highway 430 down the west coast of Newfoundland.  We had run out of time to stop at the Port au Choix National Historic Site on our way north last week, and this return trip south would offer another opportunity.  When we arrived at the site, however, we learned that Monday was a government holiday—Discovery Day—commemorating John Cabot's 1497 arrival in Newfoundland.  So we didn't visit the prehistoric archaeological sites of Port au Choix on Monday either.  But the local Foodland was open so we were able to secure some lunch supplies.  Even though NL-430 is a main highway in Newfoundland terms, it is more like a county road in the U.S., so food options along the way would be limited.

As Newfoundland's warm weather season drew closer, our chances for seeing whales increased, so Ken focused his attention offshore as I drove.  On numerous occasions we stopped because he "definitely" saw a whale, but each time the binoculars proved him wrong.  He is an excellent wildlife spotter, so we were both confident in his assessments but finally decided we were so eager to see whales we were conjuring them up though they weren't there yet.

So we continued moseying down the coastal road and checked back in at the Holiday Inn Express where we stayed last week in Deer Lake.  With plenty of afternoon left, we decided to drive back east on the TransCanada Highway and visit the town of Howley on the opposite shore of Sandy Lake, not because we knew anything about it but because we had some time and saw it on the map.  Little did we know, we were stepping into a significant piece of Newfoundland history.

In this humble little town (pop. 241), moose were introduced to Newfoundland island in 1904.  With the island's caribou herd dwindling, the government was seeking an alternate source for big game hunting.  Arrangements were made with the neighboring province of New Brunswick, where seven moose were lassoed in deep snow and then transported by sled, rail, ferry and rail again to a wooded area near Howley.  Only four moose survived this lengthy travel ordeal, and they were released—two cows and two bulls.  From those four, the population grew over the next hundred years to a herd of more than 120,000 moose.  Now Newfoundland has the most concentrated moose population in North America.

Howley has memorialized its claim to fame in a city park complete with a large interpretive sign and a 4-ft. statue of a moose, all very nice, except there was something a bit off about the moose.  The second look of our double take revealed the problem.  This moose was equipped with... deer antlers?  Well, that was certainly a mystery to be solved, especially after we found a photo of the beast with his rightful moose antlers on the interpretive sign.

Say what?
There was only one thing to do.  On the way into town, we had passed the Trapper's Lounge, Howley's lone pub and one of only four businesses in town.  We figured it was as good a place as any to begin our investigation into the mutilated moose mystery.  Most of the customers in the pub this late afternoon were outsiders staying at the Howley Tourist Lodge next door; they wouldn't know any more than we did.  Finally, we hooked up with Bob, a native Newfoundlander who has lived in Howley for 15 years.  He didn't know how the moose obtained deer antlers either but his curiosity was aroused.  A regular at the pub, Bob barged into the kitchen to ask the bustling server/bartender/cook/busser Lorna about the anomaly.

Lorna knew the story.  It seems that vandals stole the original bronze antlers off the statue.  With no funds in the town budget for repair, some clever local conceived the money-saving idea of replacing the missing horns with a real rack from a deer.  Bob was just as excited as we were to solve this mystery.  We clinked our bottles of Black Horse with his Bud Light.  No doubt Bob will tell the story every chance he gets.  He seemed like a storyteller kind of guy.

Our Tuesday flight from Deer Lake to Toronto was scheduled for 8:30 p.m., giving us a full day to check out Corner Brook, just 33 miles west on the TransCanada Highway.  With a population pushing 20,000, Corner Brook is the province's largest population center outside the St. John's area.  Target even has a store there.  But we weren't there to shop.

Bottle Cove
Corner Brook sits at the mouth of the Humber River, and we had our sights set on driving out Captain Cook's Trail, also known as Highway 450, a twisting 34 miles of road tracing the southern shore of the Humber Arm of the Bay of Islands.  At the end of this scenic route, we chanced upon the wee village of Bottle Cove (pop. 10).  Like so many coastal villages in the province, Bottle Cove began life as a seasonal French fishing station in the early 1500s.  Typically, those long-ago fishermen set up a temporary base for the fishing season and returned to their home country at season's end.

Humber Arm at Bottle Cove
This area of Newfoundland was explored and mapped by Captain James Cook in the 1760s.  His maps and charts of the Bay of Islands remain accurate enough to be used today.  A trail from the secluded Bottle Cove climbs through a conifer forest to a flat grassy headland which looks across to craggy cliffs.  Below, waves crash over the rocky shore at the edge of the bay.  Cook called this spot 'trail's end,' and locals have erected a monument atop the headland in his honor.  We left a little tribute up there also in the form of our fourth letterbox planted in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In a move to ease us back into the hotter temperatures back in Georgia, the weather fairy sent Corner Brook's temperatures soaring near 80 degrees, diminishing our melancholy as we returned to the local airport to turn in our rental car and catch a flight to Toronto.  Like all small airports, Deer Lake procedures and laid-back staff eased the officiousness of the security screening.

Two uneventful flights later and we were back in Georgia, where the ever faithful Faisal picked us up at the airport without a hitch.  To facilitate our transition back to the reality of summer in the South, the temperature stayed below 90 degrees that day.

Our journey to Newfoundland and Labrador was all we hoped it would be and more.  It was one of the most scenic places we have visited, the people were warm and welcoming, and the weather was just what we were seeking.  Did we really have to leave?


Our buddy Bob from the Trapper's Lounge
View of Gulf or St. Lawrence from Bottle Cove Trail
Gulf of St. Lawrence from trail's end
Little Port harbor near Bottle Cove