A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Introducing My New Blog

I was to leave on May 4 for my annual "trip of a lifetime", this one was to be a 35-day trip to Russia and Mongolia, all by train. Of course, that trip is not going to happen for a long time, if ever. Instead I am staying home.

Home is Pouch Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador, where our town moto is that we are “The First to See the Sun”, a somewhat bold declaration since we are not quite the most eastern point in North America (and always ignoring Greenland, geographically part of North America, but considered part of Europe due to its Danish ties). But we are on the edge of the continent, next stop Ireland.

Because I will have no trip to write up this year for my main blog, I have decided to create a new blog about the lighthouses of Newfoundland and Labrador. Since coming to Newfoundland in 2006, I have become quite intrigued by lighthouses. Often, they have interesting shapes, especially if the original structure has been maintained, but almost always they are in beautiful locations, next to cliffs, looking out the Atlantic Ocean. And since this is about Newfoundland and Labrador, it is a guarantee that the journey to find them will have passed through some spectacular scenery.

My regular travel blog "Searching for Magical Moments" is here: https://bob-brink.travellerspoint.com/

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Posted by Bob Brink 12:58 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses canada newfoundland Comments (4)

Fort Amherst Lighthouse, St. John's

When It All Began

My love affair with both Newfoundland and its many lighthouses started on Signal Hill in St. John’s. It was June 8, 2006. Po and I had just arrived on a morning flight from Toronto, the start of our 10-day trip to Newfoundland.

Before this trip we had known little about Newfoundland other than that it had spectacular scenery with a population of friendly and welcoming people.

We were living in Toronto, Ontario. Our Saturday morning routine was to walk down to Bloor Street from our Toronto Bloor West Village home to buy the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper (Saturday was the big paper of the week) along with some pastries from our favourite bakery café and bring them back home to enjoy with our coffees.

One fateful Saturday the paper contained a full-page Newfoundland Tourism advertisement. Little did we know that our lives would begin to change dramatically, all thanks to that one ad.

We read that WestJet had cheap flights to St. John’s. Having no plans for a summer holiday, we decided to check out this Newfoundland place. In the next few weeks, I booked our return flights and with the help of Newfoundland tourism, put together a nice little self-drive tour. Our knowledge was so limited that I chose June 8 for the start, a time when you are more likely to experience Newfoundland’s “rdf” weather-rain, drizzle and fog, than enjoy the beautiful scenery of Newfoundland.

After arriving on our 3-hour flight into St. John’s, we picked up our rental car and drove to the Cantwell House, our B&B on Queen’s Road. We dropped off our bags and headed out on the streets of St. John’s. Looking up we saw the very prominent Signal Hill. It seemed very natural to walk in that direction.

We passed some of the “jellybean” houses that the city is known for, row houses all painted in different colours.

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This was the view from the Cantwell House of the houses, The Narrows and Signal Hill.
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The weather was cool but quite pleasant and sunny. The city was quiet. We were the only ones walking up the hill. It did not take us long to reach the top where we had a fabulous view of St. John’s and The Narrows, the amazingly small passage for ships into the protected St. John’s Harbour.

In addition to offering a spectacular view Signal Hill has a lot of history. It was the site of the final battle of the Seven Years’ War in North America in 1762. The hill was named Signal Hill based on its use for signalling to ships at sea. This was a bit confusing to me at first since the site was also the location of the first wireless transatlantic communication by Guglielmo Marconi in 1901 when he communicated with a station in Cornwall, England. But it has been Signal Hill for a couple of hundred years.

The landmark Cabot Tower was begun in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s landfall in Newfoundland.

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Once at the top we could easily see across to Fort Amherst with its ancient armaments and the lighthouse, my very first Newfoundland lighthouse. It is also the location of Newfoundland’s first lighthouse, a stone tower that was erected there in 1813 by the merchants of St. John’s. The current structure was built in 1951 by the Canadian government, shortly after Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 (a lot of history in that, not part of this short blog).
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I did not realize it at the time, but I could also see two more lighthouses in the distance at Cape Spear. I also did not know that I was going to search out many more lighthouses over the next several years.

St. John’s is a charming little city. There are a number of fine restaurants and bars. Many have live music.

On our first trip we took in a dinner theatre performance by the Spirit of Newfoundland called “Every Joan, Dick & Harry”. It told the stories and featured the music of three well known Newfoundland musicians from the 60’s and 70’s, Joan Morrissey, Dick Nolan and Harry Hibbs. It was also my debut performance on a Newfoundland stage (or any stage for that matter). During the show “Joan” came into the audience and ended up the lap of the only other male audience member sitting at the end of a table. So, at the end, when she came back down looking for a “volunteer”, I knew that I was caught. Sure enough, she grabbed my hand and led me up to the stage. There I was passed some musical spoons and put to work on their last song, which seemed to go on forever. When I stopped for a moment, a hand reached over and got me back into action. After that, it was inevitable that Po and I would end up living in Newfoundland.

We have been back to Signal Hill or Fort Amherst many times over the past 14 years, so I have photographs of the lighthouse in all seasons.

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These photos were taken from inside The Rooms, the provincial museum, art gallery and archives.
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The Rooms

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Here are a couple of St. John's skyline shots, showing the city's iconic buildings, the Basilica and The Rooms.
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Posted by Bob Brink 13:48 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses canada newfoundland st.john's Comments (4)

Cape St. Francis Lighthouse, Pouch Cove

I began my new blog with the Fort Amherst Lighthouse since it was the first Newfoundland lighthouse that I saw after our arrival in Newfoundland. I will do the rest geographically, starting with the Avalon Peninsula which I will do clockwise, starting at the top of the Northeast Avalon. First up will be our own little lighthouse at Cape St. Francis.

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In my last post I told the story of how we had read an ad in the Globe & Mail and ended up on a 10-day vacation in Newfoundland. I will now tell the story about how two “come from aways” now live down the road from a Newfoundland lighthouse.

On our second morning in St. John’s, Po and I were having breakfast at our B&B and discussing our plans for our last day in the city before embarking on our self-drive tour. Po mentioned a place called Pouch Cove (pronounced pooch cove). She wanted to check out their artist residency. A fellow guest sitting next to us immediately chimed in to tell us about his visit to Pouch Cove the previous day and about the nice café with a really large (fat) resident cat. He highly recommended the town and the café.

So, easy decision. After breakfast we headed up the road to Pouch Cove which is about 25 kilometres north of St. John’s. We took the scenic road along the coast (officially called the Killick Coast in the tourist information). We passed by Logy Bay, Middle Cove, Outer Cove, Torbay and Flatrock. The scenery was spectacular.

Here are some later images of Logy Bay, Flatrock, and Torbay.
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It was easy to find Pouch Cove.
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We did not find the residency but kept driving until we came to the Rock Crest Cottage café. We got out and met the cat. We later found out his name was Tibbles. By the next year we knew him well, especially Po, who would end up helping the owner, Nora, serve customers. But I am getting a bit ahead of the story.

The Rock Crest Cottage
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We also noted a small single-story house across the road with a for sale sign. After ordering our coffee, we inquired as to the price of the house. After Nora told us the price, I did a rude Toronto thing and mimicked looking into my wallet for the funds. It was about a fifth of the cost of the absolute cheapest house in all of Toronto. That was all it took to plant a seed. We now knew that we could afford to have an ocean view vacation property in Newfoundland. But we had no plans to buy a second house. We already had one in Toronto. But I took a couple of photographs of the house and the view with my new little Nikon camera. You never know….

We headed out for Trinity the next day. I took many photographs. And when I would review them, there would be all the ones of Pouch Cove. And we kept discussing this little house in Pouch Cove.

We spent the last couple of nights of our road trip in Carbonear. Our plan was to return to St. John’s on Friday in order to catch our flight home on Saturday. Friday started quite grey with some showers. Rather then driving along the coast the car just seemed to steer itself back to Pouch Cove. We arrived at the café where Nora met us with a laugh. She knew what was going to happen. We were not the first tourists to decide to buy a house. She gave Po the number of the realtor, Sarah, who agreed to meet us the next day before our flight.

We met at the little white house. It was in rough shape, but Po had seen another for sale sign down the road. Sarah was the listing agent for that house as well. Off we went, Sarah knocked on the door, the unfortunate teenage daughter was hustled out of bed, and we had a quick viewing.

I took some more photographs. There were no clouds in the sky. A Newfoundland pony was grazing in the field in front of the rocky coastline. We both had a feeling of being at home. I could not believe that we had a chance to buy the house with that view.
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Then we flew back to Toronto. A month later we had finalized a deal to buy the house. We had not been looking to buy a vacation house in Newfoundland, did not look at any other towns besides Pouch Cove and only looked at the little white house and the house that we now live in. It was not logical at all. And 14 years later we are still here.

We took possession at the beginning of September and flew out to check out this house that we had barely seen and now owned. We bought folding chairs and a coffee machine at Walmart and slept on an air mattress (with a slow leak).

We came back at Christmas and on Christmas day we drove out to the cape for the first time. We always think about it as “going up to the cape” since it is north. Locals call it “going down to the cape”. But by whatever means you get there or whether you are going up or down, the cape is an incredibly special place.

Beautiful Biscayne Cove was once home to a small fishing community by that name. Like many places here in Newfoundland, it is not pronounced like you think it would be. Instead it is “Bissen” or “Biscan”. Several families lived there. There was a church and a school. During the second world war the families packed up. Most moved into Pouch Cove and some brought their houses with them. They were cash poor, so it was better to take apart their homes, built with lumber they had cut themselves, then to tear them down and build from scratch.

Some of the homes were left there and are now family cottages. There is also a caboose. Our friend Helen lives there in the summer.
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It was cold and blustery that Christmas afternoon. It usually is. We were too busy trying to stand up in the wind to really appreciate the place but have been back many times over the years. We have driven, hiked, and once even passed by on a fishing boat. We have seen icebergs, whales, sea otters and seals.

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The lighthouse was put into use in 1877. There used to be a lightkeepers house, but that was torn down in the 90’s after the light was automated. There is a helicopter pad now. The coast guard keeps fencing it off and locals keep tearing the gate apart. Last year the gate was thrown onto the rocks.
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The Biscan Cove Pave hiking trail goes from Pouch Cove to the cape. A new trail, the White Horse Path, goes from the cape to the neighbouring community of Bauline.
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There used to be a foghorn. I loved listening to the horn on foggy nights. It reminded me of listening to trains at night when I was a little boy. Unfortunately, the foghorn has been removed.

A note on the drive to the cape, the road is marked as 4-wheel drive only, but most of the time a regular car is okay, as long as you drive carefully. A tourist mistake is for them to start the drive up the hill, change their minds partway, and then reverse back down. They then forget the curve and end up in the ditch. Once I had to phone a tow truck for a couple of ladies from Alberta. The road is not maintained in the winter, so please do not try. I had to phone a tow truck for someone this past winter. He thought it would be a nice Sunday outing.

Here are some photographs of our beautiful town of Pouch Cove.

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Posted by Bob Brink 18:56 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses canada newfoundland pouch_cove Comments (4)

Cape Spear Lighthouses

Continuing on down the peninsula, past Fort Amherst, the next stop is Cape Spear which is one of the two main attractions that every tourist must see when they come to Eastern Newfoundland. We visited Signal Hill on our first day in Newfoundland. On our second day we drove down to Cape Spear, a nice 20-minute drive to the south.

It was relatively easy to find our way out of town, although the windy roads that seemed to have a new name every couple of blocks were a bit confusing. We were used to driving in the metropolis of Toronto with its millions of people. St. John’s has a population of just over 100,000.

The weather was again quite beautiful. We did not realize how lucky we were to be having such beautiful sunny days at that time of the year.

The road to Cape Spear passes the small community of Black Head. After climbing a bit, the trees open to a lovely view of the two lighthouses sitting out on the treeless terrain. Cape Spear is the most eastern point in North America, (repeating the caveat that you need to disregard Greenland).

There are two lighthouses. The original lighthouse was built in 1836 and was the second one built in Newfoundland. In 1955 the lighthouse now referred to as the “New Lighthouse” was built. The original building, which include living quarters, was designated a National Historic Site.

The job of lighthouse keeper at the various locations tended to stay within families. The Cantwell family manned the Cape Spear light for over 150 years. We later found out that our B&B was named after the family.

We took a short tour of the original or "old" lighthouse before taking the walk on the path towards the ocean. There are signs warning visitors to stay on the designated walkways. Not everyone listens. Many folks get rescued when they look for the best photograph or just want to show off. Some do not survive.

We also visited a building that contained a collection of lighthouse paintings by a local artist named Leslie Noseworthy. His paintings and book of the same have been an inspiration to my attempts to photograph the lighthouses of Newfoundland and Labrador. Of course, at the time of our first visit, we still did not suspect that we would come back again and again.

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Newfoundland’s location made it an important site during World War II. There were thousands of allied troops based there. It was important for both air and sea purposes. St. John’s was especially important as the naval convoys stopped there en route to Europe. This made Cape Spear a strategic site, so underground passages and bunkers were built for troops who were stationed there. Some of the structures are still there. Even with the relatively mild weather on our first visit, I imagined that the weather made this a rather unpleasant posting.

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With its close location to St. John’s, we have made many visits to Cape Spear over the years, both to bring family and friends, and to use the nearby hiking trails. We have been there during times when you could hardly stand up in the strong winds. At other times it has been a great place to see whales and icebergs.

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Visits to Cape Spear usually include a stop in the picturesque fishing community of Petty Harbour.

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Posted by Bob Brink 15:03 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses canada newfoundland Comments (5)

Bull Head Lighthouse, Bay Bulls

Moving on down the Southern shore of the Avalon, the next lighthouse is Bull Head in Bay Bulls. We visited Bay Bulls on our first full day in Newfoundland, June 9, 2006, after our stop at Cape Spear.

We were there for a boat cruise with O’Brien’s. It was surprisingly comfortable on the boat for late spring on the North Atlantic. We first sailed past the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, home to largest Atlantic Puffin colony in North America (260,000 pairs). The four islands are a nesting ground for approximately 4 million seabirds. We saw lots of birds, but only had a quick glimpse of a whale.

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The following year we came back with my mother-in-law on Canada Day (July 1). We again took the O’Brien’s tour and again did not see any whales, but there was an iceberg, and it came with some great lighting. I refer to magical moments in my main travel blog. That was one such moment. I lined it up in my viewfinder and knew I had a good one.

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On the way back I took my first photograph of the Bullhead Lighthouse.

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On our third trip to the area we went a little further down the road to a town called Mobile. My wife’s cousins were visiting. I thought I should be a good host and take them out on a whale watching trip. Someone told me about the boat trips from Mobile and that they use smaller boats. It sounded great to me.

The weather was gorgeous, not a cloud in the sky. The kiosk for the boat is on the main highway. Cousin insisted on paying. We turned down the road to the boat launch, and suddenly we were in a bank of fog. But the plan seemed to be that the boat would still go out. I could not understand how we would ever see anything. The man mentioned that they had a seen a whale the other day. I thought, “You saw a whale? The other day? That’s it?”

A small group of us boarded the little boat. We started to pull away. Then we came to a sudden stop. The tow line had gotten wound around the propeller. We were only about 10 metres from the dock, so no one was too concerned. The owner was summoned, we were pulled back to the dock and told that we could get our money back or come back in the afternoon. Our visitors literally jumped for joy. They hate little boats but were too polite to tell us. We drove out of the fog, got our refund, had a nice lunch along the way, and saw lots of whales at Cape Spear without leaving dry land.

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Our last boat trip was in June 2016. We had visitors again, including my mother-in-law and a couple of my wife’s old schoolmates. They were keen to take the boat. This time we tried another tour company, Gatherall’s. We did not see that many puffins, but after bouncing around for awhile they brought us next to a humpback.

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On the way back I took another photograph of the lighthouse.

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I had warned my group about the optional “screeching in” ceremony. In my opinion the custom of being screeched in is a silly tourist thing. Tourists are asked to kiss a codfish (usually not fresh, so either frozen or a stuffed toy) and drink some of the local rum product, screech. My group took my advice and did not book the ceremony. They were quite happy when they witnessed the hapless tourists going through the ceremony on the boat, especially since Gatherall’s has a couple of strange variations. They have the tourists dip their shoes in a bucket of water (so a wet shoe for the afternoon). They then pour the screech down the poor folks’ throats. When you visit Newfoundland, skip the kissing the cod part, but try to go out fishing, jig yourself some nice fresh cod, and eat the cod while drinking some screech. Or just go to a restaurant and order some cod and a shot of screech.

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The two boat operations, O’Brien’s and Gatherall’s, are quite similar. The Gatherall’s boat is a big larger, so perhaps a little more stable, but the singing is better on O’Brien’s.

I have hiked to the lighthouse two times. They were on consecutive weekends back in 2013. The East Coast Trail Association (the wonderful group that looks after our fantastic network of hiking trails along the coast) has an annual fund-raising hike. That year it was run out of Bay Bulls. Our friends wanted to hike the trail in advance and asked us to go along. It was a beautiful late spring day, sunny all the way from Pouch Cove to Bay Bulls. We started walking and were soon in the fog. It persisted all the way to the lighthouse and all the way back. Once we got in the car, it was sunny again.

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It was raining the day of the actual hike. The forecast was for more of the same. I thought we should skip it, but the group was keen to go. Thinking that the day would be too messy for photographs, I decided to leave my camera at home. The clouds went away. I took a couple of photographs with my phone, but in those days, I was a bit of a snob and did not consider a phone worthy of photography, so thought that I would save my lighthouse photograph for my next trip. I have never made it back. But I did have a photo of us in front of the lighthouse, taken by another friend. In this year of staycation, I intend to finally get back there for a good photograph (assuming the weather cooperates).

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About the lighthouse, it was first lit in 1908.

Posted by Bob Brink 16:17 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses whales canada icebergs newfoundland Comments (8)

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