A Boatload of Kids

IMG_2212Working at Adventure Canada certainly has its highlights. Every voyage brings new peak experiences—that’s part of what keeps staff, as well as passengers coming back time and time again.

The best part is, you never know what’s in store in a given season, on a given trip, even on given day.

This spring, on my seventh trip with Adventure Canada, I finally had the opportunity to bring my wife and two kids aboard as we travelled the Mighty St. Lawrence from Quebec City to St. John’s. Better yet, it turned out we were not the only family with children on the trip.

In all there were eleven kids, every one of them a pint-sized explorer brimming with enthusiasm for what each new day brought.

The highlight of the trip for me was driving the Zodiac with all eleven of those kids on a morning cruise around Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island. The feeling of excitement and freedom was as fresh and stimulating as the morning breeze. To see kids embrace the fullness of nature’s bounty and the glory of a day at sea made an impression that will last a lifetime for me—and perhaps for them too.

Here’s the best shot we could get, with waves and wind (I got big props for taking a selfie stick along!). Clockwise from left, here are kids Olivia, Julianna, James, Leah, Ethan, Dylan, Jasper, Alexander, Islay, Brian, and Sage, plus parents Tammy, Steve, Cedar, Alana, my wife Meghan, and me—the luckiest Zodiac driver in the world!

It just doesn’t get better than this.

The Northwest Passage!

A legend made real: that’s how the Northwest Passage feels for those who have the rare privilege of travelling there. The mythical sea route between Europe and Asia holds a peculiar fascination. The many failed attempts to find, and later, to traverse the passage through the ice-choked waters of what is now the Canadian Arctic archipelago only increased its lure and its lustre, through the era of exploration to the present day.

The story most associated with the Northwest Passage, that of Sir John Franklin‘s lost expedition, deepened last summer with the discovery of the wreck of his flagship, the HMS Erebus, on the sea floor off King William Island, by the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition.

Yet the great irony of the Northwest Passage is that a route across the North American Arctic had long existed—in the form of the migration and hunting routes of the Inuit and their predecessors. The recent increase in loss of sea ice due to global warming makes all the more poignant the oft-overlooked fact that the Northwest Passage traverses the Inuit homeland.

And of course, even before the ancient human presence in the North, whales, seabirds and other migratory creatures delved the waters of the Passage, while seals, walrus and polar bears depended on its sea ice for food.

All of this is very much on the minds of travellers aboard our Northwest Passage excursions. There is the place, and then there is the sense of place—which is exceedingly difficult to express. This video, by film maker Jason Van Bruggen, with its impressionistic, highly cinematic approach, comes as close as anything we’ve seen to conveying the magic, and the mystery of the Northwest Passage.

Travel the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada:
Into the Northwest Passage, August 26-September 11, 2016.
Out of the Northwest Passage, September 11-26, 2016.

The Labrador Revelation

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Margaret Atwood scans the coast of Labrador, looking for birds and bears

What does Margaret Atwood know about Labrador that the rest of us should?

Having visited The Big Land several times aboard Adventure Canada voyages, the author of The Labrador Fiasco has had the unusual experience of having seen this extraordinary region of Canada first hand. With her keen eyes, the veteran birder and traveller is a valued addition to the wildlife-spotting team aboard the Ocean Endeavour.

Many Canadians, if they think of Labrador at all, think of it as a backwater of the already-distant province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

But Atwood and her fellow voyagers know that Labrador has a unique culture and diverse history all its own. Numerous First Peoples made their homes here in a rich history dating back thousands of years. Thule, Maritime Archaic, and paleoeskimo artifacts abound. Ramah chert from this ‘remote’ region was traded widely across eastern North America. Today, the region is home to Inuit, concentrated on the coastal region, with Innu communities at Sheshatshiu and Davis Inlet.

Viking explorers reached these shores, which they called Markland, by 1000 AD. They were the first of the European visitors. Red Bay, Canada’s newest UNESCO world heritage site, was home to a Basque whaling station through the 1500s that comprised the New World’s first export industry.

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Adventure Canada geologist David Bathe and explorer Milbry Polk in Red Bay

Portuguese, Spaniards, English and French all plied the Labrador Sea for whale and fish. Later came Moravian missionaries from Germany, whose abandoned outposts now dot the coast. The resettlement of the people of Hebron and other missions is a painful chapter in Labrador history. Medical missionary Wilfrid Grenfell’s humanitarian work drew volunteers from around the world, and sent many Labradorians for training abroad.

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Remains of the abandoned Moravian mission at Hebron, Labrador

Today’s visitors to the Labrador coast are often shocked to realize the scale of Labrador: 294,330 sq km, more than twice the area of Newfoundland. And much of that is rugged mountain coastline, where the human spirit is humbled by geography rendered sublime.

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The Ocean Endeavour in Eclipse Harbour, Nunatsiavut, Labrador

A mere one percent of Labrador is developed. The region’s largest city has fewer than 10,000 citizens. There are few roads in the south, and none in the north.

Ships and boats are still the best way—often the only way—to visit the extraordinary locations that dot the virtually unpopulated coastline along the Labrador Sea.

Yet the biggest thing about The Big Land is the people. Hardy, thoughtful, hard-working, and welcoming, the people of Nunatsiavut are survivors—there are many hard stories here—whose hardship has not hardened their hearts.

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Brass band welcome, Nain, Labrador

From the brass band playing from the wharf in Nain, to the bear guard scanning the landscape of Nachvak Fiord, to the culturalist revisiting her abandoned home at Hebron, to the grandfather welcoming his toddler granddaughter from Toronto, the people of the Labrador coast show themselves at every turn to be the most welcoming of hosts.

Among a myriad of surprises and aha! moments, that’s the Labrador revelation. Perhaps that’s what keeps travellers like Ms. Atwood coming back time and again.

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Exploring Torngat Mountains National Park by Zodiac

Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Adventure Canada present , June 29-July 11, 2016.

All photographs by David Newland.