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‘A truly remarkably distinctive place…’

Photography by Ray Mackey
Text by Jim Gourlay

Arriving by ferry, the distinct difference immediately hits you right in the face. Disembarking at Port aux Basques on Newfoundland’s southwest coast, the dramatic rock terrain suddenly fills your viewplane and instills a sense of adventure, of wanting to explore.

Expect the same experience when reaching Labrador by ferry from the Island. Travel just half a minute uphill from the wharf and suddenly there it is stretching before you—a dramatic expanse of almost treeless tuckamore.

The inevitable (and all-important) first impression is that you have arrived in a truly remarkably distinctive place.

The geology, of course, is only one aspect of the uniqueness of our easternmost province. The culture and history are equally and dramatically different…

But the topography is really something to behold.

Tickle Cove sea arch.

It is necessary, though, to get off the beaten path (and sometimes into a boat) in order to fully appreciate it. You simply can’t do it from the Trans-Canada Highway.

Even the ancient capital city of St. John’s sits on a spectacular deep-water harbour protected by high granite walls. In late spring, icebergs often congregate just outside. From the air, on final approach into the airport the scene can be breathtaking.

And it’s really the craggy, jagged coastline that offers the most opportunity. Tortured trees, scarred and bent by salt spray and prevailing onshore winds and barely anchored into shallow topsoil, struggle to subsist along the rocky shore…

But the bedrock is unmovable and permanent; it literally and figuratively shapes the landscape.

Individual homes, boat sheds and whole settlements cling to rocks as if stuck on there with superglue.

Salt spray flies almost everywhere. Morning mist settles in the hollows like cotton wool. Fog rings hilltops like a wool shawl.

Fort Amherst.

Then there’s the wildlife…

The iceberg/whale combination event is so far removed from what passes for normal and usual in our lives as to be a semi-religious experience.

We once sat once in a restaurant in St. Anthony and, without even adjusting our chairs or standing up, enjoyed almost 30 minutes watching a Humpback and her calf feed in the bay out front.

We once stood frozen 40 feet from a huge jet-black bull moose and watched him raise a rear leg to scratch at flies behind his ear, like a pet dog.

We spotted one of Newfoundland’s massive black bears once in a ditch right alongside the Trans-Canada highway. It looked like a Volkswagen Beetle and must have weighed 600-plus pounds.

Petty Harbour sunrise.

We once stopped for 12 moose and two herds of caribou, while on a single morning drive.

We once had a Canada jay swoop in and steal a partially-eaten sandwich right out of the hand of the person enjoying it.

We once fed two pine martens by hand.

We once suffered the humiliation of being passed by a pod of white-sided dolphins sailing happily through the air while we laboured and barfed in rough seas in a Cape Island boat.

How do we ascribe value to unique experiences, we wonder?

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