TRAVELING IN ATLANTIC CANADA
21 June - 15 July 2007
Atlantic Canada includes the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick,
Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia) plus the more remote province
of 'Newfoundland and Labrador'. Our objective was to rent a car
in Bangor, Maine and drive as far north as Newfoundland, hiking
and photographing along the way.
We had a tough start. The second leg of our flight from Los Angles
to Bangor was canceled leaving us in Atlanta, Georgia for an unanticipated
27 hours. We made the best of it by visiting the Annie Leibowitz
show at the art museum and seeing other interesting sites downtown.
When we finally arrived in Bangor, one of our bags - the one containing
our camping and cooking gear - was lost. Nevertheless, we picked
up our rental car and drove north. Luckily, the bag reached us at
a B&B near Halifax, Nova Scotia 2 days later.
Halifax and Surroundings
Halifax is a beautiful city with lots of history and places to see.
The Blockhouse B&B was located across the bay within walking
distance of a passenger ferry. So we could leave the car and walk
to the points of interest. And we really enjoyed talking with our
hosts Fred and Marion. We spent another day visiting Lunenburg,
one of only 2 towns in North America to have a World Heritage Site
designation. (The other is Quebec City). The town is full of brightly
painted period architecture all laid out in perfect order. Nearby,
the artist colony of Mahone Bay and the fishing village of Peggy's
Cove were also as picturesque as can be.
Cape Breton Island
Cape Breton Highlands National Park on Cape Breton Island is in
the most northern part of Nova Scotia and is connected to the rest
of the province by a narrow causeway. The lush green vegetation
that is so prevalent in Atlantic Canada is very striking here. It
is easy to enjoy the highlights of the area by driving the 180-mile
Ceilidh and Cabot Trails, which follow the coastline most of the
time. At the beginning, we were in Ceilidh country (pronounced kay-lee)
where Scottish traditions and Gaelic culture abound. There is fiddle
music everywhere and it is world class! We listened to music, hiked
along the ocean, and had great campsites. The best was Jumping Mouse
Campground - named for a folk tale rather than camp invaders - on
a stormy bluff overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Nearby is the
Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site where we learned that
Bell (who was from Scotland) was a pioneer in aviation and boat
design along with his well-known invention of the telephone.
Our last stop before taking the 7-hour ferry to Newfoundland was
Louisburg, a huge reconstructed French walled town, as it would
have appeared in 1744, the year before the British captured it.
We were entertained by dozens of park employees dressed in period
costumes. For lunch, we ate fresh baked bread that was prepared
in huge stone ovens like in the 1700's.
Gros Morne National Park
Located on the West Coast of Newfoundland, Gros Morne (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/grosmorne)
is the place where geologists found ancient fossils that helped
prove the theory of continental drift. It is said that what the
Galapagos is to biology, Gros Morne is to geology. It has received
worldwide recognition as a World Heritage Site. The park contains
glacier-carved fjords with sides 2,000 feet high such as Western
Brook Pond. Caribou and moose abound. There is an abundance of hiking
trails that range from easy to some of the most difficult in Eastern
Our original plan had been to do a 5-day backpack in the Long Range
Mountains. But after failing a "compass test", I came
down with a cold. Although we practiced the compass procedures and
were prepared to retake the test, the schedule grew tight and we
passed on the backpack. We did climb Gros Morne Mountain where the
views were comparable to what we missed on the backpack.
Unlike many national parks, this one has pockets of civilization
around. The great little towns have lots of history, scenic harbors
used by people who make a living from the sea, and great bakeries.
We saw an interpretive display that taught us how important cod
fishing was in the settlement of the area. There is a theatre festival
in the town of Cow Head where we saw a play entitled "Double
Axe Murder" based on a true murder that occurred in the area
100 years ago.
The road north from the park mostly follows the coast and passes
through numerous fishing villages which are experiencing hard times
due to over-fishing and fishing moratoriums. At Port au Choix National
Historic Site, we saw exhibits describing the Maritime Archaic and
Dorset people who lived in this area for thousands of years before
the Europeans arrived. Hiking out to one of the sites, you could
almost hear the ancient village sounds on the beachfront.
The highpoint of the North was Newfoundland's other World Heritage
Site, L'Anse aux Meadows where the Vikings, led by Leif Erickson,
founded the first European settlement in North America circa 1000
ad. The houses they lived in were reconstructed based on other Viking
settlements in Iceland. Although there is little doubt that the
Vikings did land here, they stayed for only 10 years or so. It was
a fascinating visit, and quite luxurious as we enjoyed the hospitability
of Marilyn's B&B only 5 minutes away.
Also on the northern tip of Newfoundland, we tiptoed through Burnt
Cape Ecological Preserve where 300 different plants grow of which
30 are rare and all are tiny. One of the most memorable was a 200-year
old willow tree, which is only 4 inches tall. The winds and climate
here make it difficult for plants to grow to normal size. We saw
whales and icebergs off the coast as we walked around with a naturalist.
In the village of St. Anthony, we stayed in the Fishing Point B&B
overlooking the harbor. There we learned about the Grenfell Mission
and Dr. Wilfred Grenfell who brought desperately needed medical
care to northern Newfoundland and the remote coastal areas of Labrador
in the 1890's.
Finally, while watching fly fisherman cast for salmon just before
they swam through an underground cavern moving upstream to spawn,
we met Freeman Cull who we recognized from a travel brochure as
a local artist and writer. Demonstrating the amazing Newfie hospitability,
he invited us to camp on his front lawn that night in Englee at
the end of the road and fed us and his 6 other houseguests a Newfie
breakfast the next morning. It was one of the most beautiful villages
we visited and it was not even mentioned in our travel guide. Meeting
this family was a highlight.
Moose watch was mandatory for all driving in this region. The area
boasts the highest moose density in North America. All told we saw
22 moose, including 7 in one day. We tried not to add to the "moose
encounter sign" statistics, which we saw along the road reporting
the annual number of collisions between moose and autos.
Back to Bangor
On our return drive to Bangor, we drove almost straight through
but did take a day to drive the "Fundy Trail" in New Brunswick
where the highest tides in the world occur. The area north of Fundy
National Park was one of the best rural areas we saw on the trip.
We camped and hiked in the park.
Our final visit was to the historic city of St. Johns, just 3 hours
from Bangor. Contrary to the start of the trip, the flights went
well and all bags showed up. Our 24-day trip was history. Although
we enjoyed the scenery, the most lasting memory is meeting the local
people who seem to really enjoy life with less stress and urgency
than we find at home.
Logistics and Costs
Renting a car is the best way to see the many different areas of
interest. We booked a long-term rental early from Enterprise for
$30 per day with unlimited mileage. Some companies have restrictions
regarding leaving the USA. Gas in Canada exceeds $5 per gallon.
Bed and Breakfast places were better value than motels and inns
and they allow you to interact better with locals. A great website
which lists many B&Bs in Canada, including all the ones we stayed
at is www.bbcanada.com. Campgrounds
are everywhere although they are more expensive than in the USA.
They are extremely organized and have lots of services. Note that
black flies and mosquitoes are around in the June/July timeframe
and can be a real nuisance. B&Bs started at about $60 per night
including tax while campgrounds charged from $13 to $25 for tent
sites. If you do camp, bring a good rain tent since it can get very
wet in these areas. We did not make reservations for campgrounds
although one can. It is unlikely that they will be full. We did
call the B&B's a day or so in advance.
We bought the Canada Discovery Card, which is equivalent to the
Golden Eagle Pass we have in the States. This allows entry into
all national parks and historic sites for a year. We came out ahead
in our 3-week trip.
Note that a 14% tax is applied to most purchases including restaurants
in Atlantic Canada. ATM's are the best way to change money.