Impressions of Labrador

A guest post by Lisa Moore

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In the sand, bear paws.

Noses of the Zodiacs scrudging into the sand. Haul. Wet ropes, lean back, heels sliding on wet pebbles, tug the Zodiac up snug.  Slap down the bright yellow wooden step. Swinging legs over the side, walking poles, knapsack, step. Step on the block. Step into the water and feel the tug on your rubber boot. Water rushing up over the top of the wooden step, swirling  away in all directions, smooth pebbles tumbling end over end, everything stirred up underfoot. Stab the walking stick, lapping kelp, up, up, on the beach. Bright GoreTex jackets, red, aqua, mosquito net hats, hiss of radios, MJ, MJ, Jason. Jason, MJ.

The resettled Moravian/Inuit community of Ramah—bear paw. Some of them still filled with water. Claw scrapes on stone. The bear had just rambled through. Haunch and rippling muscle/chunks of hunger and force, but gone. The print a cup surging with water, gleaming in the sun.

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Partridge eggs. Hold back the alder branches. Can you see them? Speckled. See them? I can’t see them. There. The mother just flew. Where? There, the mother.

On the ridge overlooking the beach the bear monitors are just fluorescent orange flecks on the grey stone. They were far away but I could hear them checking in with each other on the radios.

The fjord last night. But impossible to capture the intensity, the depth. Cracks running through the mountains, the black dykes, old molten lava, rust, caramel, cream, brown, black, white splotches of snow, the green like an old rug worn in places, the light slicing through. Light slashing up the mountains. Clouds bunched like grapes, like marbles, like bowling balls. Still blue up there. Blue as a GoreTex jacket. I wish you could see this. I miss you. How can I tell you about this? You would love this. There was no wind. It was still. A black bear just a dot.  A moving dot on skyward straining granite. 

I felt tears lifting up inside me. Like the water rushing around the yellow block by the Zodiac, swirling all directions around my rubber boot, and tugging on my ankles, my leg, this answer in my body to beauty all mingled up and confused with you would love this and I miss you and my god, my god, what is this, the tears are disorienting, salt water—what is this? This is wordless. This is big. This is still. This is forever. This is infinity. This is a fork in the fjord. This is which way do we go? Do we ever go back? Can one go back from this? This is every path ever taken. Never taken. This is giving up, giving over. This is smallness. This is a blasting apart of the inner things. This is we are together, aren’t we? We are in this together. This is missing you and wishing you could see. This is a bunch of people on a deck, on all the decks, nosing in, deep and deeper. This is nowhere. This is the only place. 

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The rocks are cinema and the light is unrequited. The light is, don’t mess with me. The light is, you have never seen anything like this light. You will never see it again. Okay, this is vast. The light is a love affair. The light is going. The light is pink now. The light makes creases and folds in the mountains. The light fingers through. The lit up caves and the lit up faces of the people on the deck. The light is a last hurrah. The pink of inner things. The pink of new things, like the cry of a grandchild, like don’t stop, please don’t stop. This is the pink of the fresh salmon pulled from the water this afternoon and cut up with a pocket knife, and dip/flicked in the ocean on the side of the Zodiac and we ate in raw like religion, like a gift.

On the beach this morning Michelle told us about sod houses. The windows were made of seal intestine, translucent. Just imagine in a snowstorm. Just imagine a child born. The frame might have been wood or whale bone. This is so long ago. The ghosts are translucent. The ghosts are windows made of brass. They sang in four voices. They covered houses in cured skins, and then sods, and when there was a fall of snow, the sod house was very warm. 

The floor of the house might have been slate or wood. Now it has collapsed and grasses overgrown. Let’s not walk over it. Let’s leave it alone. There would have been a cold trap built in the entrance. A depression in the earth into which the cold would sink. But keep your eyes on the water, because bears can approach from there. Swimming sometimes as much as eight miles. Keep your eyes on the land. Be alert. I wish you could have seen. What a fjord that was last night. The way the light slashed across the uppermost blade of mountain. The way it faded. Or lasted. Went dark. Bellowed like a trumpet in the dining room. Looked all sultry and come thither, crooked its finger, said the truth. Flipped a coin, told a joke; the light was a pole dancer a circus, a dream with monsters and empty streets and everything was wet. Everything it touched turned to gold.

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I was talking with another writer on the deck about how hard it is to write. We laughed about ‘hard’ work. Because it isn’t coal mining after all. It’s pure pleasure. It is one-hundred voltage thrill. But it is hard. That’s what we said. And we said of course it wasn’t hard. Nobody twisting your arm to write. What is the difference between intense pleasure and pain. What is the difference between desire and discipline? If we follow this fjord forever where will we end up.

In the sod houses they had soap stone lamps with a wick made of woven beach grass burning in seal oil. The idea of that tiny flame, the halo it must throw out, in the midst of these  mountains,standing up in the dark. I hear Maria, on the radio, say she has spotted a white beluga. Mathew James, Mathew James, Maria, she says. And he answers: Maria, Maria, Mathew James. The hiss and clutches of sound bursting out of the radios. Maria, Mathew James. It is still very early in the morning.

The truth is I got up at five to write. I stumbled out onto the deck, almost blinded by the morning sun. Did it ever go to bed? Did it get tiny like that little flame in a sod hut, maybe a hundred and fifty years ago, glowing through the intestine of a seal? A line of radiant mist on the horizon. Pure white, where it touched the earth. Burning upward. On the hill in Ramah this morning, a little graveyard. Grey stone, half devoured by the grass, sunken, almost gone, splotches of orange lichen and the dates softened by the rain. It’s only ten thirty in the morning, but I feel like I have experienced a century since that mist on the deck burned away. I cannot wait to see you. I have a lot to tell.    

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.

The Floating Book Club

author-coversAcclaimed publisher, editor, and storyteller Doug Gibson—whose authors have won every major book award in Canada—will lead our first-ever onboard Book Club, featuring bestselling authors Terry Fallis and Kathleen Winter.

Kathleen Winter will guide readers through her groundbreaking novel, Annabel. Set in coastal Labrador, Annabel was a #1 Canadian bestseller, and a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

Terry Fallis will present the first of his four national bestselling books. His hilarious debut novel, The Best Laid Plans, won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and the 2011 Canada Reads competition. A CBC TV miniseries based on the book aired in January 2014.

In addition to his literary leadership, Doug Gibson will perform an exclusive showing of his one-man play, Stories About Storytellers, and offer his unique editor’s insights into the work of Alice Munro.

Join the Floating Book Club on our Newfoundland and Wild Labrador voyage, July 5-17, 2015.

Meet Chief Mi’sel Joe

CHIEF MISEL JOEMi’sel Joe was born in Miawpukek in 1947 to a family with strong ties to the community. Both his grandfather and uncle have held the office of hereditary Saqamaw—a high ranking spiritual leader traditionally tasked with spiritual and cultural leadership. His great great uncle, Morris Lewis, was the first appointed Chief in Newfoundland by the Grand Chief in Mi’kmaq territory. Mi’sel was educated in the Mi’kmaq ways and traditions, and at sixteen was given the alternative to either leave the reservation to seek employment, or travel to a neighbouring community to attend secondary school. He chose the former.

During his years away from the community, Mi’sel travelled widely and cut his teeth on a wide variety of professions. He worked in farms and factories, in construction and on railroads. He drove trucks and operated heavy machinery. He worked on fishing boats and in mines underground, and acted as labour foreman. But years passed, and in 1973 he moved back to Miawpukek.

Since then, Mi’sel has been been involved in First Nations Politics, initially as a councillor. After the death of his uncle, Chief William Joe, in 1982, Mi’sel became Saqamaw and Newfoundland District Chief for the Mi’kmaq Grand Council. He is currently in his sixth consecutive two-year term as Administrative Chief for the nation, and is recognized provincially, nationally, and internationally as a spiritual leader and healer, ambassador of his people. He has presented on native medicines and traditional healing practices at international medical conferences and hosted the 1996 International Healing Conference at Miawpukek. He is on the board of Parks Canada, a mentor of the Trudeau Foundation, a member of the First Nations Trust Fund, and sits on the Executive Council of the Atlantic Policy Congress. In 2004, Mi’sel was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador in recognition of his contribution to the economic, social, and political development of the Mi’kmaq people of the province.

Adventure Canada is proud to be setting sail in 2015 with Chief Mi’sel Joe on our Newfoundland & Wild Labrador expedition. This stunning itinerary departs from Saint-Pierre, France, and travels up the west coast of Newfoundland before crossing into the wilds of Labrador. As we move north, Chief Mi’sel Joe will be on hand as a member of our elite team of resource specialists, helping to share his wealth of knowledge and experience in—as well as his lifelong love for—the region. We are also thrilled to be stopping in Miawpukek (Conne River) on our 2015 Newfoundland Circumnavigation expedition, where we look forward to meeting with the community and sharing stories. Just one more way Adventure Canada is helping to spread culture, knowledge, and community.

Chief Mi’sel Joe will be delivering the 2015 Whipper Lecture on Tuesday, February 24, 2015, at the Canadian Canoe Museum (in partnership with Adventure Canada) in Peterborough, ON. Join us for an evening that promises to be enlightening and entertaining—free to all museum members, and $10 for non-members. The lecture includes a free guided tour, starting at 5:30PM. RSVP to 705-748-9153 or info@canoemuseum.ca for more information.

For more information about our Newfoundland & Wild Labrador itinerary, click here!

What NOT to do around icebergs

Adrenaline junkies are paradoxical people: they tend to evoke equal parts admiration, and dismay.

On the one hand, people who laugh in the face of danger help us expand the boundaries of human endeavour. On the other, their habit of doing potentially deadly things on purpose displays one of humanity’s most perplexing traits.

Watching Aweberg (now streaming at SnagFilms) highlights both aspects of the difficult balance. A self-portrait of a couple of ice-climbers determined to climb icebergs, the film reveals a little of what drives courageous athletes (literally) to new heights.

Despite serious warnings from a series of experts, lead climber Will Gadd is determined to scale a berg, for the thrill and the challenge of the climb. And while the resulting attempts make for fascinating, nerve-wracking viewing, (the film won the Special Jury Award at the Banff Film Festival) they also amount to a virtual list of what NOT to do around an iceberg.

Icebergs are nature's own abstract sculptures.

Icebergs are nature’s own abstract sculptures.

Adventure Canada expeditions frequently encounter icebergs on our east coast and Arctic excursions.

When we visit Greenland, as we do several times per summer, we see bergs in numbers and sizes that put the imposing, but relatively small bergs in this film to shame.

In Ilulissat, Karrat Fjord, Uummannaq, and other locations along the Greenland coast, the icebergs loom like small mountains. The cracking, tipping, splashing and crashing of these glacial remnants is one of nature’s most thrilling scenes.

Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

The beauty of icebergs is awe-inspiring, as the title of the film suggests. But true awe includes a healthy dose of respect. We view icebergs from a distance (equal to no less than two to three times their height), knowing that they can flip at any moment, creating a deadly wave in the process. We never touch them, let alone land on them. To try to climb something that is by nature in the process of breaking up is to enter the realm of insanity.

As a Zodiac driver, I’ve seen the waves generated by icebergs breaking up wreak serious havoc more than a kilometre away. And that’s about how far I’d want to distance myself from the antics of these brave (but foolhardy) ice-climbers. To their credit, these guys quit when they realized all their instincts, all their training, and all the warnings were on the money.

As Will Gadd and partner, Ben Firth, and their crew learn in the course of Aweberg, the expert advice they got at the beginning is dead right: icebergs are NOT for climbing. Watch this film for its scenery, for its glimpses of life in Makkovik, Labrador (and an appearance by Expedition Team member Jason Edmunds’s dad, Randy).

But especially, watch Aweberg for a perfect primer on what NOT to do around icebergs.

View icebergs safely on our expeditions to the east coast, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic in 2015. Choose your trip here!

A Family Affair

Adventure Canada mainstay and musical legend Daniel Payne has collaborated with his sister Stephanie on a new release, Winterside. It’s available now from Daniel’s website—check out the sounds of the east coast brought to you by one of our favourties!

Daniel is a regular member of our expedition team and we always relish having him aboard. His extraordinary talent and his can-do attitude make Daniel a shining example of what we pride ourself in: staff that go above and beyond in all that they do, at sea and at home.

Congratulations, Daniel!

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The Grand Seduction wins again

BarbaraDoranVeteran Newfoundland film director and producer Barbara Doran is beaming today, after Don McKellar took Best Direction in a Feature Film from the Director’s Guild of Canada forThe Grand Seduction‘.

The film, produced by Barbara Doran had already won a Canadian Screen Award for Best Actor (Gordon Pinsent) and the David Renton Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor (Mark Critch.)

We’re thrilled for Barbara, whose body of work includes the Newfoundland epic Random Passage, which many of our passengers have appreciated aboard Adventure Canada sailings.

Barbara will be aboard with us once again in the summer of 2015 on our Newfoundland Circumnavigation itinerary. Please join us in sending Barbara our heartiest congratulations!

Michael Crummey’s changing Newfoundland

MichaelCrummeyNoted author (and frequent AC staffer) Michael Crummey is a thoughtful, empathetic chronicler of the changing culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Like many passengers aboard our East Coast trips, Michael has been fascinated by the village of Francois (pronounced Fransway) on Newfoundland’s south coast, as well as other remote communities we visit.

Francois—whose population nearly triples when our ship pays a call— is one of a dwindling number of outports across the province.

Sweetland

Michael’s new book, Sweetland, is set in a fictional outport on the verge of resettlement.

Michael recently penned an article for the Globe and Mail, What it means to be a Newfoundlander is rapidly changing.

And in recent appearances on CTV’s Canada AM, and CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning, Michael mentions his connection to AC and the unique perspective our trips have provided on his native province.

Michael’s insights about the changing ways of life in Newfoundland and Labrador are a boon to our East Coast expeditions, and Sweetland promises to be a fascinating read.

Well done, Michael Crummey!

Michael Crummey will join our Newfoundland Circumnavigation, June 24 to July 4 2015.

9 things you didn’t know about Newfoundland and Labrador

Battle Harbour, Labrador - Photo by John Chambers

Battle Harbour, Labrador – Photo by John Chambers

As of the 2014 season, Adventure Canada has been operating in Newfoundland and Labrador for twenty years. Over that time, we’ve learned to appreciate some of the unique, and lesser-known features of Canada’s easternmost province. Here are a few.

1. The Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River, Newfoundland, is one of the most economically successful First Nations in Canada. This Mi’kmaw community places a high value on traditional values, including canoe-building and handicrafts.

2. Gros Morne National Park helped change our understanding of the world. The park’s outstanding geology includes visible protrusions of the Earth’s mantle, and crust, which led to insights into tectonic plate theory and continental drift.

3. L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland is the site of the only authenticated Norse settlement on the North American mainland. Now a National Historic Site, the location was discovered by closely studying the text of ancient Viking sagas.

4. Red Bay, Labrador, is Canada’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site. For several decades in the 1500s Red Bay was home to a thriving whaling station, seasonally run by Basques whalers. Multiple shipwrecks from the era lie in the harbour.

5. Battle Harbour, Labrador preserves a classic cod fishing station, with superbly kept wharves, warehouses, ‘flakes’ (drying racks), a working general store, church and houses. Battle Harbour is a living museum of the traditional salt cod industry.

6. Ever wonder what the Wonderstrands were? Two pristine sandy stretches of 20km and 25km along the eastern shore of Labrador are the leading contenders for the phenomenal beaches mentioned by Norse explorers.

7. Rigolet, on the Labrador coast, has a unique place in literature: a fictional, future version of the hamlet (called Rigo), appears in the novel The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. In our time, the area is a haven for minke and humpback whales.

8. The ghost settlement of Okak, Labrador straddles the tree line – and two cultures as well. The site was home to a Moravian mission from 1776 to 1919, and at its heyday was the centre of a large Labrador Inuit presence in the area.

9. Torngat Mountains National Park in Nunatsiavut, the semi-autonomous Inuit region of northern Labrador, contains Canada’s highest peaks east of the Rockies, framing dramatic fiords. The Torngats teem with wildlife, including polar bears and caribou.

Visit Newfoundland and Labrador on these Adventure Canada trips:

Newfoundland and Wild Labrador, June 29-July 12, 2014
Greenland and Wild Labrador, September 11-24, 2014

Picturesque Newfoundland

One passenger aboard our recent Newfoundland Circumnavigation had an amazing story to tell. Keen photographer John Chambers had earned his passage with a picture.

That’s right: John was the winner of the 2012 edition of Photolife‘s annual photo contest, “The World We Live In” in the Amateur category. You may have seen his extraordinary Arctic wolf portrait on the cover of the contest issue of the magazine – it’s sublime.

John was an enthusiastic traveller, leaping at every opportunity to grab great shots. He was kind enough to share some of his favourites with us here.

St. John's is a beautiful and fascinating city, one of North America's oldest.

St. John’s is a beautiful and fascinating city, one of North America’s oldest.

Rock formations south of St. John's near Bay Bulls are spectacular.

Rock formations south of St. John’s near Bay Bulls are spectacular.

Fogo Island was once considered one of the four corners of the Earth.

Fogo Island was once considered one of the four corners of the Earth.

The restored fish station at Battle Harbour is a national treasure.

The restored fish station at Battle Harbour is a national treasure.

Reconstructed Viking sod house, circa 1000 A.D.

Reconstructed Viking sod house, c. 1000 A.D. at L’Anse Aux Meadows.

Castle Island off the Labrador coast is famed for its columnar basalt.

Castle Island off the Labrador coast is famed for its columnar basalt.

Saddle Island, at Red Bay, once housed a Basque whaling station.

Saddle Island, at Red Bay, once housed a Basque whaling station.

Spruce stacked to dry in traditional fashion.

Spruce stacked to dry in traditional fashion in Red Bay, Labrador.

Gros Morne National Park is considered 'The Galapagos of Geology'

Gros Morne National Park is considered ‘The Galapagos of Geology’

The tiny outport of Francois is only accessible by boat.

The tiny outport of Francois is only accessible by boat.

The Sea Adventurer proudly flies the AC flag.

The Sea Adventurer proudly flies the AC flag.

Tiny St. Pierre preserves the culture and heritage of France.

Tiny St. Pierre preserves the culture and heritage of France.

The easternmost point in Canada.

The easternmost point in Canada, Cape Spear.

St. John's features one of the world's great ocean harbours.

St. John’s features one of the world’s great ocean harbours.

Enter this year’s edition of The World We Live In, sponsored by Adventure Canada, and you too could win one of many spectacular prizes.

Congratulations, Red Bay!

Photo: Alex Drainville / Flickr

Photo: Alex Drainville / Flickr

It’s a very important moment for one of our favourite regions in the world: Labrador has its first World Heritage Site.

Red Bay Basque Whaling Station, located in Red Bay, Labrador, represents an important episode in Canadian history. For several decades in the 16th century, Basques from Spain and France used Red Bay during annual whaling hunts. Though today’s town site was built on top of the original site (obscuring some of the archeology), important artifacts have been identified, including parts of wharves, and the remains of vessels in the harbour.

Since 1978, one of Canada’s most comprehensive marine archeological endeavours has pieced together artifacts, and drawn a revealing picture of whaling life during the 1600s. A recovered chalupa, or small whaling craft, meticulously conserved, is among the items of interest at the Red Bay National Heritage Site Visitor Centre.

With the UNESCO announcement in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Saturday morning, Red Bay became the third site in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to make the prestigious list. Gros Morne National Park and L’Anse Aux Meadows National Historic Site have previously been named to UNESCO’s list, along with 16 other sites across Canada.

For Red Bay, a town of only 200 inhabitants, joining the global list is a matter of pride, prestige—and hopefully, some attention from travellers. We can certainly recommend a visit: Red Bay is an important destination for our Newfoundland and Labrador tours.

We’re glad the UNESCO decision highlights the importance of this fascinating, little-known part of the country, with its direct links to a little-known story from our collective past. Congratulations, Red Bay!

Visit Red Bay on our Newfoundland Circumnavigation 2013 and Newfoundland & Wild Labrador 2014 adventures.