A Travellerspoint blog

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Lighthouses of the Northern Peninsula

Keppel Island, Point Riche, Flowers Island, Cape Norman and Fox Point Lighthouses

By this point in your tour of Newfoundland, you might be out of vacation time and need to drive your rental car to Deer Lake to catch a flight home. You would be leaving with great memories of St. John’s, Bonavista, Fogo Island, Gros Morne, and the many other beautiful places along the way.

But maybe you have a few days remaining. Wonderful, because there are still more fantastic places to visit in our beautiful province.

Up the Northern Peninsula we go.

The next big stop on your Newfoundland tour will be the former Viking settlement at L’anse aux Meadows, which sits on the top of the peninsula. It will take you a bit over 5 hours to do the drive on the two-lane road that goes along the Straight of Belle Isle.

But I think you should stop along the way. You can check out some lighthouses and thrombolites, and maybe a shipwreck.

With its rugged coastline and stormy weather, Newfoundland and Labrador has seen hundreds of shipwrecks. Before leaving Gros Morne, we stopped at the remains of the SS Ethie. It sits just south of Cow Head. The Ethie was a steamship that serviced the Northern Peninsula and the Labrador Strait. The ship ran aground in December 1919.

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We did not get great weather when we drove through this area in July 2010, especially when I was taking the photos of these next lighthouses.

Keppel Island lighthouse is in Port Saunders, a town just south of our destination that day, Port au Choix.

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From there we drove to the Port au Choix National Historic Site where one could take a nice hike on the limestone barrens and check out the shoreline fossils. With the fog and drizzle, we did neither, but I was able to take photographs of the Point Riche Lighthouse.

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After our night in Port au Choix we took the ferry to Labrador. That will be a future post. But for now, I will assume that we are driving up the peninsula, with our next stop, Flower’s Cove. We had heard all about Flower’s Cove from a charming 90-year lady (mother of the owner) at our B&B in L’Anse Amour in Southern Labrador. She had lived most of her life in Flower’s Cove, which was tantalizingly close, only about 15 kilometres away across the Strait of Belle Isle, but a few hours away by road and ferry.

Our friend told us all about Thrombolites. They are rare fossils, about 650 million years old, and are only found here and in Western Australia.

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The lighthouse is on an island.

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Old rusting fishing boats suggest a more prosperous time.

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I have no idea if the views from the Cape Norman Lighthouse are nice. It is likely, but we could barely see the lighthouse. The terrain at Cape Norman did look interesting through the fog.

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From there it is a short drive to our destination at L’anse aux Meadows, which is a National Historic Site, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It contains the excavation of an 11th-century Viking settlement and is the earliest evidence of Europeans in North America. The site includes dwellings, a forge, and workshops. There are Vikings there to tell you stories. There are eight turf structures of the same style as those found in Greenland and Iceland from the same period.

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This sculpture is the Meeting of Two Worlds and is a collaboration of two artists, Richard Brixel and Luben Boykov.
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There are lots of moose in the area.

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We spent two nights at a B&B in the tiny community of Hay Cove.

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Root Cellar
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There we experienced the typical Newfoundland B&B experience which is about as far from an anonymous hotel experience as it gets. When we checked in, we were given a warm welcome and told that supper was available. We had planned to eat at a highly rated restaurant down the road but decided that we could do that the next night. We thoroughly enjoyed a family style meal of cod with the other B&B guests. We were then told that moose was on the menu for the following evening and gave up on the fancy restaurant plan.

We had a Viking for a fellow guest.

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During supper we were told of a big iceberg in the area. Our hostess arranged two places for us on a tour boat out of Saint Lunaire-Griquet. It was a good thing that we had a reservation, since we arrived to find that two ladies were ready to take our places if we did not show. They went away disappointed.

It was a foggy outing, but maybe it was good to get some moody photographs of an iceberg in the fog. Maybe. The sun was trying hard to shine through.

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At one point I could not find my wife. I then looked up and saw her up with the captain.

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From there we drove to St. Anthony, where with the sun now shining, we enjoyed a great hike at the Fox Point Lighthouse.

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We also visited the various Grenfell Historic Properties where we learned about the work of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell. Dr. Grenfell is renowned for his work in bringing health care to the people of Northern Newfoundland and Labrador after arriving from England in 1892. Dr. Grenfell was often the first doctor to visit remote outports. He worked to establish hospitals, schools, and orphanages.

There is a walking trail up Tea House Hill where Dr. Grenfell and his wife are buried. There is a great view of the town and harbour.

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The Jordi Bonet Murals grace the rotunda of the Charles Curtis Memorial Hospital. The artist, originally from Spain, became a major Quebec artist even though he had lost his right arm at the age of nine. His work adorns many public spaces including the Montreal Metro and JFK Airport in New York City.

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We left Hay Cove with a parting gift of moose sandwiches to eat on the way. This was a thank you for us taking our hostess to the grocery store the day before. Her husband was off fishing (commercial type, not trout), so she needed a ride. If you are looking for an anonymous stay, do not book into a Newfoundland B&B. But if you want to have a nice people experience as you interact with your hosts and other guests, then do it. We have had some really great experiences.

Posted by Bob Brink 12:22 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses canada newfoundland Comments (7)

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)

Battle Harbour & Red Bay

Double Island and Saddle Island Lighthouses

After our night in L’anse Amour, we awoke to a beautiful sunny day for a what would be a fantastic travel day. Our host served a great breakfast, and then we left early to make sure that we were on time for our boat ride. Our destination that day was the historic island community of Battle Harbour. To get there we would take a little ferry that runs once a day from Mary’s Harbour, about 2 hours up the coast, on a road that was mostly gravel.

If it was going to be sunny for only one day, this was the best day to have it. We passed by the town of Red Bay. Our plans were to spend time here on the way back but had no time for stopping on the way up. There was an iceberg in the distance. I decided to get a photograph. I got out of the car and lined up my shot. Then the blackflies began their attack. I quickly took a photo and fled back into the car. That was my first introduction to the dreaded black flies of Labrador.
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I was enthralled by the rocky terrain which was much different than Newfoundland.
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We arrived in plenty of time and checked in for our boat ride. It was not a big boat.

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The ferry ride was a great part of the trip. I rode in the bow taking photographs until the captain signalled me to move, so I went into the cabin.
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We passed icebergs. I loved the rocky terrain. We passed a small settlement which I assumed was seasonal.

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Battle Harbour was once a bustling commercial centre, the base for Labrador’s cod and seal fisheries. With the decline in the cod industry and eventual closing of the cod fishery, all operations were ended. But the Battle Harbour Historic Trust has done wonders to restore many of the structures. We booked one night (it was not cheap) in a shared house that included our meals.

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There were tours of the old fishing premises. We did a hike around the island. I could count about a dozen icebergs. The colours were amazing and really brought to my mind, “This is magical” as I tried to capture them.

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A huge pod of humpbacks put on a show just before dark. The lighting was not great, but I did attempt to capture some of that. We had a passed a sailboat anchored in the harbour. Some of the crew jumped into a zodiac to get a closer look.
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The lighthouse was across the water. I was hoping that we could book a boat trip and was disappointed that nothing was available.
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Based on comments to the post, here is a short edit. There were no black flies in Battle Harbour.

We left the next day as the fog and drizzle returned. I took another photo of my favorite boat from the ferry.
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It was a beautiful sunny day when we passed through Red Bay on the way up. It was much different on the way back. The number of sunken whaling ships has made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent a couple of hours in the museum. One of the other possible activities was to visit a beach full of whale bones. We passed on that. It was not a good day for walking on the beach.

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There is a lighthouse there, the total opposite of Point Amour. The Saddle Island Lighthouse is a steel tower. The weather did not encourage me to attempt to get closer.

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We passed the Pinware River. Labrador is known for its great salmon fishing. There was a narrow bridge. I parked our car and walked up on the bridge to get a better photograph. I took it and then had to run to get off the bridge as a large semi was barrelling down the road. I did not think that it would be good to share the bridge. I was engulfed by black flies when I got back to the car. Po did not want to open the door but eventually relented.
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We ended the day back in Point Amour at our now familiar B&B. It seemed like we had been friends for years. We got to meet the daughter and son-in-law. He was going fishing, not the trout kind but big commercial North Atlantic fishing. We also learned a bit about Labrador politics. Newfoundlanders feel hard done by in Confederation with Canada, but Labradoreans feel hard done by Newfoundlanders. They take the resources, the minerals and hydroelectric, but spend little in Labrador.

We had a fellow guest this time, a man who was driving up through Labrador in a little car. We wondered how he was going to make out since we had heard bad things about the state of the road.

We had a 9 am ferry to catch the next morning. I was enjoying my coffee, so got away a little late. We arrived at the ferry at just after 8, the CBC news came on as I left the car to check in. I then found out that there was a strict rule about checking in an hour before departure. There were two lines, one for those with paid for reservations (like us) and those without. Our line closed, and we had to join the end of the non-reservation line. I nervously waited as three or four people bought their tickets. We were the last car to get on.

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That day we ended up in Flowers Cove. That is included on a previous post.

Posted by Bob Brink 15:08 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses canada newfoundland labrador Comments (4)

Off to France

St. Pierre and Miquelon, Grand Bank, Fortune and St. Lawrence

I have taken you all around the island of Newfoundland and even up to Labrador on our journey to see the lighthouses and fantastic scenery of our beautiful province. To finish off the tour, we are actually going to France. Really? All the way to France? How does that fit into a blog about the lighthouses of Newfoundland and Labrador? And how do you get to France from here?

Well, the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon are a piece of France that sits a mere 25 kilometres away from Newfoundland. And since I am trying to entice you to visit Newfoundland, I want you to know that you can add a little French flavour to your visit.

Flying to St. Pierre from St. John’s is possible, but most visitors drive. For our trip we are taking the four-hour drive to the ferry and after an hour or so on the water, vous êtes là. You must pass through customs and immigration since you are entering the EU. Canadians get in easily, not sure about Americans and those now "independent" folks from the UK. Once through, proceed directly to a nice restaurant for some French food and wine. Or, if it is a bit early for you, pop into a bakery for some genuine croissants and baguettes. It will still feel somewhat like Newfoundland, but at the same time you know that you are in Europe.

The ferry leaves from a town called Fortune on the Burin Peninsula. The Burin sticks out from the south side of the island, kind of our version of the Italian boot.

We did our trip to France in 2012. We spent the night just up the road from Fortune in the adjacent town of Grand Bank. There we visited the Mariners' Memorial, dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives at sea and to those they left behind. The memorial is located in the garden of the George C. Harris House, a beautiful old heritage home that contains a museum of local history. I loved the widow's walk.

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The pond has plaques with the names of lost mariners.
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The woman represents the Newfoundland woman who lost their men. She is standing alone on the widow's walk, staring into the distance.
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This is the view of the town from the widow's walk.
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Some local fishers did not appreciate the way that Canada was handling foreign fishing fleets.
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The Grand Bank lighthouse gets great points for accessibility. It is right in the harbour.
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Fortune is about five minutes down the road. Here are some photographs of the town, taken the morning we left for France, and a few that were taken the following year.

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Now back to our trip to France, we have a ferry to catch. It was for passengers only. There were not many on that run.

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Apparently, the French have purchased two ferries that can transport cars, but the Newfoundland side needs upgrades to handle the boarding traffic. Part of the charm of St. Pierre will be lost with a car ferry since the cars on the island were shipped in from overseas. It was neat to see all the little Peugeots and Renaults on the streets.

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As the name suggests, there are two main islands. The smaller one is Île de Saint-Pierre, but most people live there. It also contains the main town of St. Pierre. Miquelon would have been good for hiking, but due to our short time and the foggy and rainy weather we chose to stay in St. Pierre.

We took a tour around the island of St. Pierre. I did not take many photographs since it was quite foggy.
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Afterwards we walked up and down the streets. The houses are painted in bright colours like St. John’s but with a slightly different twist or should I say stripes?
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Île aux Marins
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I was fascinated with the little structures on the outside of the houses, basically covered entranceways. I learned that they are called tambours. They were originally seasonal structures. Owners were required by law to remove them during the warmer months. Eventually the law allowed them to be permanent.
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I was so taken with them that I made sure that our new addition in Pouch Cove had one.
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We stayed at the Hotel Robert. There was a good restaurant (French of course) next door. We dined next to two Frenchman (from mainland France, not St. Pierre) who happened to be sailing around the world. We saw them the next day on our walk.

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We visited the museum on our second day. There we learned that the islands big glory days were back during prohibition times when smuggling was a big business. The crates that brought the liquor ended up as part of the houses. The bottles were brought to the island in crates and removed for the boat ride to the United States. They seemed quite proud of their history as smugglers. The activity has carried on into recent history on a smaller scale with liquor heading the short distance to Canada. Alcohol is much less expensive than in Canada, thanks to Canada’s high taxes on alcoholic beverages.
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I thought I had a great shot when I saw these young women wearing berets. They looked quite French. Later we met them on the ferry. They were students on a school trip, so just tourists like us.

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Of course, I have to mention lighthouses. We walked to the Pointe aux Canons Lighthouse.
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In the distance we could see the Île aux Marins lighthouse. Until 1931 the island was named the Île aux Chiens, so from dogs to sailors.
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After our two nights in France and the return ferry, we had to clear Canadian Customs. We were each allowed to bring back two bottles of wine or one bottle of whiskey. But our neighbor back in Pouch Cove had requested some Crown Royal whiskey. I could not say no. So there went two bottles of wine for us. When we passed through, I announced that I had two bottles of wine for me and one bottle of whiskey for my neighbour Herb. We were waived through without a look at our bags to see if we had a couple of bottles in there.

We arrived on the north side of the Burin on our way in. We went the other way to see the Fortune Head Lighthouse.

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Sometimes I stop to take photographs of the way to show how the Newfoundlanders decorate their properties.
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We visited the town of St. Lawrence.

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This gives me a chance to tell another story about the wonderful people of my adopted home. In an earlier post I mentioned how the town of Gander looked after thousands of stranded air passengers after the US closed its airspace on September 11, 2001. St. Lawrence has its own story. It was the place of a great rescue in 1942 when two US Navy ships ran aground. Men rushed to the site to help the survivors out of the raging and oily surf and up the steep cliff. They then brought them back for first aid and cleanup by the women.

The best part of the tale is that of a black sailor from Alabama named Lanier Phillips. He and the other sailors of colour were greatly afraid that they would be killed if they went ashore. The others stayed on board and paid with their lives. Lanier made it through the spilled marine fuel which coated he and the other sailors. He later woke to find himself being scrubbed by a local woman. She exclaimed that she could not get the oil off of him. He had to tell her that no scrubbing would change that. She had never seen a black man. He was initially frightened to find himself with a white woman and was certain that he would be punished, possibly killed. But he soon learned that he was safe. He was forever grateful to the kindness and respect that he received from the Newfoundlanders. It changed his life as he went on to a successful career in the Navy and became a civil rights advocate. He returned to Newfoundland several times. You can read about it here.

It was all told in a play, Oil and Water, that I have seen both in Toronto and in St. John’s. The play recounts the rescue but also the great toll that the local fluorspar mine had on the community. The rescuers were mostly miners. Most died early and painful deaths from their time in the mines which had little in the way of health and safety equipment.

If you have time, you can walk to the site of the rescue. We did not, and hope to do so one day, but did visit the Echoes of Valour
memorial.
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They are quite proud of their soccer teams in St. Lawrence. The town has been referred to as the 'Soccer Capital of Canada'. Their field is even listed as a Historic Place in Canada.

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Posted by Bob Brink 06:38 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses canada newfoundland st.pierre_&_miquelon Comments (3)

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