Several of my posts have been about St Pierre and Miquelon, the French islands south of Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula in Canada. My last post mentioning them was on January 19, 2012 in my post about selecting travel destinations, click here to see it. As I explained in that post, I had wished to visit these islands since childhood, the last remaining French territory in North America, and finally visited them in 2008. I had stamps from these islands in my collection and was intrigued by them – because as it says on the top stamp on the left below, it was France in North America.
The posts on St Pierre and Miquelon can be found by clicking on the index on my blog on the right under that name. On August 22, 2010 I wrote a Blog Intermission post entitled An Island – une île, with a poem and photos of various islands, click here to see it. I had included the photo of the Grand Bank lighthouse taken later on an afternoon and which is now at the top of this post. Below is the same lighthouse taken around noon the same day.
In May 2012 I received an email from a Mr. Mike Martin asking if he could use the photo of the Grand Bank lighthouse – the one at the top of this post – for the cover of his upcoming book, a mystery set in Grand Bank, Newfoundland. I answered him that he could and to send me a copy of his book when it was published. In early July Mike Martin sent me another email saying that his book had been published and would I like a copy. Yes, indeed I replied. Here is the book below "The Walker on the Cape" – and my photograph on the cover, with the special effect, looks a lot better than my original picture.
The Walker on the Cape
I had also asked him to autograph the book for me, and he did. I have not read the book yet but am looking forward to it as I enjoy a good mystery and one set in Newfoundland will be a first for me.Along the years I had looked at ways to go and visit St Pierre et Miquelon from Atlanta, but I had to go to Paris and visit my mother – St Pierre was not on the way and it was expensive to take a flight from Halifax or Montreal. When I retired though I tried again to see how we could visit the islands. We had enough frequent flyers miles to get a round-trip flight to St. John’s, Newfoundland.
From there it looked like if we rented a car and drove down the Burin Peninsula to Fortune in southern Newfoundland, we could take a ferry to St. Pierre. So this is what we did. Below is a vintage postcard of St Pierre and Miquelon islands. On the extreme right you can see Terre-Neuve (New Land, the French name for Newfoundland) and Fortune above it.
I frankly did not know much about Newfoundland. I read a bit about it and found out it is quite a large island. It has an area of 108,860 square kilometers or 42,031 square miles. It is a little less than the area contained in Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands combined. You can see St Pierre et Miquelon in the bottom center of the map with Grand Bank across on the right.
We arrived late in the evening in St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland, and stayed the night. The next morning we drove toward the Burin Peninsula. I was very surprised by the landscape. I frankly had never seen anything like it. There was one road, called the Trans-Canada Highway, with hardly any cars on it. It is one of the longest highways in the world as it goes from Newfoundland, across Canada, and ends in Victoria, Vancouver Island in British Columbia. I’d love to drive on this “Route Transcanadienne” all 8,030 kms or 4,990 miles of it. Everything looked so green – no trees, just shrubs and many little lakes or ponds were on both sides of the highway. We drove carefully as we had been told that numerous moose were on the roadsides and could cross unexpectedly. You can see the road on the top left of the photo below.
The distance between St John’s and Fortune is 363 kms – 226 miles or 5 hours, but we had a Bed and Breakfast reservation in a town on the way, called Marystown. We stopped for lunch at a gas station restaurant – actually the first one we had seen (and the last one until Marystown.) I still remember that I had cod with cod’s tongue and cod’s cheeks. It was very tasty. I was not taking many photos at the time as I had just purchased my new digital camera. I loved the scenery of rolling heaths and bogs.
Newfoundlanders call their island “The Rock” because it is a giant rock. There is little topsoil so the trees are very short and stunted by their exposure to the strong elements and winds. Here we are below taking a break from driving.
Vikings came here in the 11th century – Viking Leif Eriksson called the land “Vinland” then John Cabot called it “new found isle” in 1497. Portuguese and French called it Terra Nova or Terre Neuve and Newfoundland.
Newfoundland was British until 1949 and then became the 10th province of the Canadian Confederation. Since 2001 the province is officially called Newfoundland and Labrador, but most people call is Newfoundland only.
This island has been inhabited for thousands of years and traces of people go back to 9,000 years ago. In 1960, Norwegian explorers discovered the only authenticated Norse settlement in North America dating to about the year 999.
Native Americans from this island were the Beothuk (now extinct) and the Mi’kmaq. One interesting note about the Mi’kmaqs – when I was a child in Paris and played “Indians and cowboys” with my little friends I called myself a “Micmac” Indian. I don’t know where in 1945 I could have ever heard the name if at all. My friend’s brother told me I invented the name, that there were no such Indians in the USA. I said that maybe they were in Texas. He said I should be a Sioux or Apache because these were true Indians. We had fights about it and I always wanted to stay a Micmac. So, when I read about Newfoundland and found out that the Mi’kmaqs were indeed a First Nation from Newfoundland, I was thrilled – who knew…It was early so we drove back to Grand Bank - 7 kms or 4.3 miles away. The French used Grand Bank as a fishing station as early as 1650. Fishing was the major industry for centuries until the death of the cod fishing industry in the 1990s (because of over fishing.) Fishing was done in the inshore and near offshore of the Grand Banks, which are shallow plateaus.
Queen Elizabeth is greeted by Mi'kmaq First Nations Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy and his daughter Christina Sylliboy, in 2010 (Courtesy Reuters)
Grand Banks Fishermen by Barbara Furhovde, Canadian, contemporary
We parked the car and walked around. This was in August but we did not see hardly any tourist. I just realized that I am standing near the painting of the man, left on the wall on the photo taken near the parking area, top center of collage below.Historic Grand Bank has some lovely houses painted vivid colors. I would have liked to stay at the Bed and Breakfast facing the harbor (below, behind my husband – top left) a Queen Anne revival style home built in 1917 by Captain John Thornhill, a famous fisherman.
But it was getting close to lunch and the "Sharon’s Nook Tea Room" looked inviting. We ate a delicious lunch there and a great dessert. There even was a book signing of Mike Martin’s Walker on the Cape at this tea room today.
After lunch we walked around some more and stopped in front of a colorfully painted building.
Then we walked back toward the Thornhill house in front of the port and lighthouse and our car. It was a short drive back to Fortune – we were still early and sat with the other few tourists to wait for our ferry to St Pierre. Then our Atlantic Jet ferry arrived (carrying foot passengers only.)
There have been about 500,000 tourists visiting Newfoundland last year, which is a large increase but still not a large number when you consider that 81.4 million tourists visited France last year as well. I heard that you either love or hate Newfoundland. I loved it and hope to return there someday. I can’t describe the feeling I had when visiting Newfoundland – it is like being in an unblemished land, unsullied by humanity – a different atmosphere, miles from malls, traffic and people – a mystical quality in the air – a primeval purity if you will.