A Travellerspoint blog

August 2020

Point Amour Lighthouse, Labrador

My last post went up the Northern Peninsula to L’anse aux Meadows and St. Anthony. Most visitors would take this route. But there is a part of our province that most tourists do not see. Although our home is often referred to just as Newfoundland, the official name is Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland is the island part, Labrador is attached to the mainland, bordering on Quebec. Labrador constitutes 71% of the province’s area but only 6% of its population.

In July 2010, our primary destination for our trip was the bottom tip of the “Big Land”.

After spending one night in Port au Choix, we left our B&B and drove up the coast for about an hour to St. Barbe to catch the ferry across the Straight of Belle Isle.

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Once I pulled our car into the line to board, I made a quick phone call to some friends. I wanted to find out if they were excited or disappointed. I found out it was the latter. That made me quite relieved. Actually, it was more than that, it made me quite happy.

So why would this disappointment for my friends make me so happy? What kind of person would think that way? Let me explain.

Early that year our good friend Ray had told us that we had to take the overnight ferry from Lewisporte in central Newfoundland to Cartwright in Labrador. He told us that the trip was quite amazing as it sailed along the Labrador coast with even the possibility of seeing polar bears and seals on ice flows. He insisted that we had to do the trip that year, since the ferry was going to be discontinued. The province was building a road to connect southern Labrador to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Once that was finished, the ferry would no longer be supported. It was now or never.

I booked the trip for early July, including ferries and hotels. We even bought our “bug” outfits since Ray told us that the black flies would be fierce.

The plan was to take the ferry up to Cartwright and then drive back down, with various stops, including the island community of Battle Harbour and the Point Amour Lighthouse, before taking the short ferry across the Straight of Belle Isle. From there we were to head up the Northern Peninsula before the long drive home. All that required many hotel bookings at the busiest time of year.

Then we heard some disconcerting news. The sea ice along the Labrador coast was still too thick to allow shipping. A springtime phenomenon for us is the arrival of icebergs and sea ice from the north. The amount and thickness of the ice varies from year to year. When it is bad, it blocks fishing boats and ferries. We were scheduled on the first boat of the season. There was a good possibility that the ice would not be clear in time for our sailing.

I spent a couple of weeks studying the ice charts like this one.

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Then we heard more bad news. The ferry was being readied for the season, but there were mechanical issues. It seems to me that whenever you hear the word ferry in a sentence in Newfoundland, it also includes the words “broken”.

With everything booked for a big trip through Southern Labrador and the Northern Peninsula, we did not know if the biggest part of the trip, the ferry to Cartwright, would even happen. First it was the ice, and now it was the ship. Ray’s contacts provided regular updates over the next days. It did not sound good. But according to the official ferry information (website and phone calls), the sailing was still happening as scheduled. Nothing in the official communication mentioned the problems. The uncertainty made everything worse.

Our ferry was booked for July 3. I had booked a B&B the night before in Grand Falls, a short drive from the terminal in Lewisporte. On July 1 we talked to Ray at the Pouch Cove Canada Day festivities. He was a volunteer cook, serving up hot dogs and hamburgers. He had no good news. There was still no official word, but unofficially it was still looking doubtful. Since my vacation started the next day, and we had a room reserved in Grand Falls for the next night, I decided that we should just leave on our trip.

We headed out the next morning. We passed the turnoff for Lewisporte as we approached Grand Falls and decided that we should drive down to check things out.

We saw our ferry.

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We went into the ferry terminal and asked about the status of the ferry for the next day. No, they said, it is not going. No, they did not know when it might leave. I asked about changing our booking for the shorter ferry from St. Barbe, the one we were booked for our return. That was easily done.

We were disappointed, but at least now had a plan with some certainty. I start phoning as soon as we got to our room. I cancelled our Cartwright hotel and found rooms for the next two nights. But all our other reservations would still be good. And we would still get to see what I thought to be the highlight of southern Labrador, Battle Harbour.

While we were having our breakfast the next morning, our host came and told me that we had a phone call. I was quite surprised. It was our friend, Ray. He did not have my cell number, so had guessed which place we were staying. He told me that the ferry was going for sea trials and if all went well, would be sailing the next day. He also told me that he and his wife, Tina, would be on the boat. He had never told me that they were going. It was a surprise. He had lots of plans for our time in the Cartwright area.

I was really torn. I wanted to do the big ferry ride, especially now that I knew that our friends were going as well. But I was really sceptical, and if it did not sail, then our trip would be really messed up. We would likely miss a good part of our Labrador stay, or have to change all of our reservations, at a time when rooms would be difficult to find.

With little time to decide, I took a deep breath and told Ray that I did not believe that the ferry would sail the next day. We were going to stay with our new plans. I returned to our table and informed Po of my decision. She seemed disappointed, but as I learned later, did not agree with my decision to carry on.

She did not say anything. It took almost six hours to reach our B&B in Port au Choix, with stops at two lighthouses en route. Po still did not say anything. She only spoke after dinner when I looked at the credit card slip, noted the date, and wished her happy anniversary. She at least talked to me then, just not nice things.

That sets the scene for the following morning when I made that phone call. If the Lewisporte ferry was going to sail, Ray and Tina would be sitting in the same type of lineup that we were, getting ready to board for that great trip to Cartwright. Tina answered my call. No, it was not sailing. They were sitting at home. There was no indication of when it might go. They were quite relieved that I had stayed with our revised plans.

That is why I was so happy that my friends were disappointed. Instead of ruining our only chance to take the Lewisporte ferry, I was now a hero for saving our trip. And after my previous day, I needed that.

Our short ferry ride took about two hours. The ship seemed quite ancient.

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It was really foggy on the crossing, so that there nothing to see out the windows. A passenger provided some entertainment.

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Once across, we drove east to our home for the night in the little community of L'Anse-Amour, population of maybe 7, all related. I had already booked a room for our return trip but had added this night due to our change of plans.

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We met our charming hostess at the B&B. She told us that she was going to a church event that night, but that we would be kept company by her 90-year-old mother, who likely would demand hugs from both of us.

We left soon after to visit the Point Amour Lighthouse, which is the tallest in Atlantic Canada, second tallest in Canada, at 125 feet. The lighthouse buildings were open. We even had a tour guide.

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He asked if we wanted to go to the top. I hesitated at first, since I remembered a visit to the Cape Race lighthouse which has a totally open structure. That one was hard for me to climb. I was pleased to learn that the stairway here is totally enclosed.

The view at the top was not great, thanks to the fog, but as at other lighthouses, I was impressed by the lighting system, how a small bulb can be made so visible by the glassware. The lighthouse was completed in 1857 and was built from limestone that was quarried in the area.
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We stopped at the HMS Raleigh shipwreck which we had learned a bit about during our lighthouse tour. This was not a raging storm shipwreck story. The officers of the British ship wanted to fish for salmon and trout in the Forteau River. They got too close to land and became stuck. I wonder how they explained that. Ten sailors lost their lives, but seven hundred managed to come ashore. We would later learn that some of the furnishings at the B&B, including the piano, came from the ship, gifts from the captain in appreciation for the community's help.

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We also stopped at the Maritime Archaic Burial Mound which is designated a National Historic Site of Canada. It is thought to be the oldest burial site in the new world and dates back at least 7,500 years.

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We had a supper at a local restaurant and returned to the B&B. As warned, the mother demanded hugs. She was extremely sharp and spent her time working on word puzzles. Because Po had taken an interest, she later mailed her a book of puzzles. As I mentioned in my last post, she told us all about Flowers Cove and Thrombolites.

Posted by Bob Brink 12:53 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses canada newfoundland labrador Comments (1)

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