GREENLAND AND WILD LABRADOR

A journey BY SMALL SHIP from KANGERLUSSUAQ, GREENLAND TO ST. JOHN'S, CANADA 

SETPEMBER 18-OCTOBER 2, 2012 

I really wanted to go somewhere completely 'off the beaten track' as I planned my first big solo trip. I had three months long-service leave up my sleeve and I really wanted to make it work for me. This trip took over a year to plan and save for and it involved meticulous fine-tuning because I had intended travelling to some of the most remote places in North America.  By the time I arrived in Toronto to start this tour, I had already travelled through Alaska with a group of Germans, spent eight days on a bus that took me from New York to Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, and Washington, and I stayed with friends long enough to get some washing done between trips.

The voyage I took with Adventure Canada was, without a doubt, a life-enhancing experience. Since I was travelling alone, I was challenged in more ways than one. I had to step outside my comfort zone on numerous occasions, and I became a better person for it. I had opted to share with a complete stranger, which was a positive experience.

Just before I left Australia, Billy Connolly's 'Journey to the Edge of the World' was released. I realised then that my choice to travel to the Canadian Arctic was going to provide me with experiences I shall never forget. And it did. 

TOUR: GREENLAND AND WILD LABRADOR (ADVENTURE CANADA)

SHIP: CLIPPER ADVENTURER

I cannot speak highly enough of this family-owned tour company. Along with approximately 100 passengers, there are a number of high-profile Canadian resource people, including Margaret Atwood. Photographers, artists, musicians, scientists, archaeologists, and Inuit culturalists made up the remaining resources on this voyage. The owner, Matthew Swan senior was able to bring the whole group together with his variety of madcap activities to enliven each day. We took daily trips from the ship in zodiacs, which gave us very close, personal views of the amazing landscapes of the Arctic. Not everything went to plan, but where they didn't due to weather conditions or other elements, the staff were highly adaptable and provided experiences that are unforgettable.

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DAY ONE: TORONTO - KANGERLUSSUAQ

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2012

Kangerlussuaq is a former U.S. Air Force base and Greenland’s primary flight hub. Here we will be transferred by Zodiac to the Clipper Adventurer.

With 190 kilometres of superb scenery, Kangerlussuaq Fjord (Søndre Strømfjord) is one of the longest fjords in the world. We begin our adventure by sailing down this dramatic fjord, crossing the Arctic Circle as we go, spending time on deck watching for aurora borealis.

The 4am early-morning alarm allows me enough time to organise myself for the 5am meeting with fellow passengers and staff before our charter flight by Canjet to the west coast of Greenland. 

Quickly clearing customs in this almost-empty terminal of Toronto's Pearson airport, we wait impatiently for the call to board our four-and-a-half-hour flight. I quickly settle into my seat and take the opportunity in the awakening day for a snooze to make up for my almost child-like excitement, which had, rather embarrassingly to admit, resulted in a rather fitful sleep overnight.

I had attended a meeting last evening to finalise the formalities and to be introduced to the resource people who are travelling with us for the next two weeks. It appears that many of these people are very well-known Canadian people, although I must admit that the only name that I recognise is that of Margaret Atwood, the author. The informative meeting quickly wrapped up and I had spent a few minutes talking to the other attendees and trying to work out who my cabin-mate was likely to be.

I am, this morning, none the wiser.

As breakfast is cleared, our pilot announces that we are nearing our destination and that he had permission from the tower to fly over the Russell Glacier on the edge of the world's largest ice shelf. From my window vantage point, I took the first glimpses of the vast, almost treeless island, on which we'll be shortly landing. After Australia, Greenland is the largest island in the world. 

Despite the obvious challenges of taking photos through a small plane window, the brilliant and almost cloudless blue sky provides an amazing contrast to the brown and white terrain, whilst large tracts of turquoise water of the Kangerlussuaq Fjord cuts through the bleak landscape blow. 

We land on the runway of the international airport, which had been built by the American military in 1941 when America joined the war. Kangerlussuaq was a strategic air base that provided security to Greenland after the fall of Denmark to Germany in World War II. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the usefulness of the base was diminished and the last US Air Force personnel left the base on September 30, 1992.

After clearing customs and climbing aboard one of the small buses waiting at the airport, we are given a tour of the township. According to our driver, the current population of Kangerlussuaq is 550.

Not exactly sure of what to expect, I find the buildings bleak and utilitarian. There is nothing pretty about the town, but to be fair, the repurposing of military buildings for domestic and commercial use is the best use of what is available. After all, the importation of new building materials is expensive and difficult. 

We are left off to explore the tiny town, taking a few minutes to view the place where a bridge over the Watson River was washed away during a flood in July, when higher-then-normal spring and summer ice-melt occurred. Thick, grey glacial mud and piles of stones had been dumped here during that period of high water. 

Our next stop is at the dog kennels. It is illegal for families to keep their dogs at home as they are not considered pets. Only one breed of husky is permitted as they don't want dogs to cross-breed. The dogs are essential working animals and pull sleds across the icy wastelands. 

Our last stop is at the museum, where the only public toilet in the town is located. This tiny museum not only chronicles the history of the region since the air base was built in 1941, but includes a comprehensive overview of Inuit hunting grounds in this area. There is an abundance of musk ox, of which 1,000 are butchered each year for local consumption. 

Our last ride on the bus is to take us to the nearby fishing port from where we will be ferried by zodiac to our home for the next two weeks. 

I finally meet my cabin-mate, Anne, and together we join the remaining passengers and resource staff for our first briefing, which includes a recap of today's journey and an overview of what to expect over the coming days. Before pulling anchor in this magnificent fjord, we take part in the obligatory lifeboat drill. 

The end of day one includes a meal and the first of the evening entertainment activities. Tonight we enjoy the folk music provided by fiddler, Daniel Payne, Tom Barlow and others and as songbooks are distributed we all join in singing.

DAY TWO: EVIGHSHEDFJORD & KANGAAMIUT

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2012

This morning we cruise in Evigshegdfjord . By zodiac we will enjoy the spectacular perspective of viewing a glacier from the sea. 

Kangaamiut is a settlement in Qeqqata municipality in central-western Greenland, with a population of just over 350. Throughout the past two decades, the small fishing village has seen a decrease in population by over 200 inhabitants.  To the south of the island, the long twisted Kangerlussuatsiaq Fjord empties into the sea, while immediately to the north, the Kangaamuit Kangerluarsuat Fjord flows into the sea between skerries. The mouth of the long Kangerlussuaq Fjord is located approximately 26 miles north of the island.

'Good morning, good morning, good morning!' The ship's intercom bursts through the cabin's tinny speakers at 7am, rudely awakening me. Surprisingly, I've slept very well, despite having a cabin in the bowels of the ship, not too far from the noisy and smelly engine room. The cabin is semi-submerged and the little porthole shows life above and below the water. That's what I get by selecting one of the cheaper options. I didn't quite go too cheap and nasty, selecting a twin share above a quad or triple and opting for the porthole cabin rather than an inside one.

The list of clothing to bring to the arctic was extensive, and being Australian, I have no experience in extremely cold places, even though this is technically autumn-time. Although Snowgum and Kathmandu stores helped out with the basic layers, I did purchase my coat in Toronto before arriving at the airport.

We have been advised to wear 'wet-weather' gear for our morning excursion, which will take place soon after breakfast. This will be my first expedition in a zodiac and all passengers will be defined by whether their cabins are odd or even-numbered. Grouping us in this way allows us to seamlessly and quickly don our life jackets, flip our tags to show that we are not onboard (for safety reasons), and wait patiently on the gangplank for our turn to to climb aboard the small black rubber boats, which will be expertly handled by one of the staff members or resource personnel. I soon learn that the singer and fiddle-player or the photographer will also be the people who will provide a safe and secure passage from the ship.

 

After breakfast, I return to the cabin to don waterproof trousers and my warm jacket, scarf, hat, gloves, and gumboots, collect my camera and safety vest and join the queue to exit the ship. There is an advantage to being at the bottom of the ship; our proximity to the gangplank!

Remembering the 'sailor's grip', by gripping the driver's forearm for stability, I sit on my allocated spot on the top of the inflatable dinghy and hold onto the thin rope whilst waiting for the small boat to fill. As the zodiac moves away from the ship, I begin to appreciate the enormous exercise in logistics that it takes to get 96 passengers to this remote part of the world. Just so I can sit here and gape at the glacier right here in front of me.

The grey-blue ice, combined with the dark-brown mud that has been brought down with the progression of the glacier looks as though it is moving. I can easily see where large chunks have calved, or broken off at the cliff edge. Like the icing on a cake, ice has moved into the crevasses of the rocky cliff and trickles of water flow down where the ice has softened during the summer melt. When I zoom my camera into the ice, it looks like small white mountains rising from the earth. The dull day provides highlights the variety of colour in the ice.

Suddenly the microphone on our driver's coat crackles into life as the voice of geologist comes through to discuss what is in front of our eyes. He talks about the slow progression of ice as it moves from mountain to sea in this most amazing 'white' island. The geological history of Greenland is delivered through the tiny speaker and I cannot think of a better classroom that this. A dozen or so zodiacs bobbing silently in the fjord, passengers listening, turning to view the rock formations, the glacier, and the birdlife as instructed. For ten minutes I am mesmerised as I mentally placed description with the view facing me, taking photos and staring at awe at this wondrous sight.

It is cold sitting here surrounded by the glacier. It's like sitting next to the open door of a fridge. My attention is drawn to the water and the small floating lumps of ice. This is sea ice, but I'm not sure whether it is forming or melting. Small pieces of ice bump against the zodiac, disturbing its equilibrium, but our driver steers clear of the larger pieces, explaining how dense these blocks of ice are. I'm also surprised to find out that these chunks of ice may be as old as 10,000 years. 

'There's an Arctic swan!' says Jason, our driver. I look toward the sky expecting to see a large white bird. But the joke's on me! A piece of ice, eroded by water and wind is floating a short distance away, is from one perspective, similar in shape to that of a swan.

All too soon, we form a queue to return to the ship. The weather is turning a little nasty and it is raining quite heavily by the time we reach the gangplank and disembark. 

I may be cold, but as I return to the cabin to remove my wet outer layer, I'm confident that the fears I had before arriving have been dispelled and I'm looking forward to taking part in the activities offered on board.

But first, lunch!

There is an announcement during lunch to say that the weather has turned against us and that our afternoon's visit to the glacier and to the Kangamiut have been postponed until tomorrow, weather permitting. Despite the groans from many of the passengers, I'm not too disappointed. Together with the ship's captain, the tour organisers know what they are doing and they are not taking risks. 

Our afternoon is not wasted, however, as we are directed to the front lounge to participate in some zany activities before our daily pre-dinner briefing. This important information session provides us with a recap on the day's activities and a review of the day ahead. In today's case, there is a discussion about the reasons we couldn't proceed to Kangaamiut today. The Captain of the Clipper Adventurer shows us the weather reports, which has resulted in swells of up to right metres, which is a good reason for remaining in the fjord for another day. The daily recap provides weather information and whether we will need wet-weather clothes or not during the day ahead. 

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DAY THREE: KANGAAMIUT

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2012

Kangaamiut is a settlement in Qeqqata municipality in central-western Greenland, with a population of just over 350. Throughout the past two decades, the small fishing village has seen a decrease in population by over 200 inhabitants. 

It is still raining this morning, but we have been assured that our shore-landing will go ahead. At 8:45 our group dons wet-weather gear, gumboots, life vests and we line up along the bottom deck's passageway to move onto the awaiting zodiac. Today, the zodiacs will be hauled up as far as possible onto the shore, but it's possible I will still have to walk through the frigid water to land. The staff members are ready and able to assist with this. I just hope that I don't do something silly, like slip over! That will certainly test the waterproofing of my wet-weather gear!

Shore-excursions can be fraught with unseen dangers, including rough terrain and polar bears. For this reason, a reconnaissance party is sent to shore to check the intended landing area for these dangers. This team also decides the exact location for zodiacs to land and the area in which we are permitted to explore. A reasonable distance of one kilometre to the edge of the glacier over fairly rough terrain (for me) has been identified as safe.

As I'm helped out of the zodiac, I realise I am standing in shin-deep icy water and make my way to the shoreline. The glacier is ahead, and whilst the rain is steadily falling, my coat and trousers are holding up well and I'm dry and warm beneath the layers. The air is brisk and cold, but the energy used to walk over rocks dumped by the glacial action over past centuries soon heats me up. The bleak landscape is broken by low-growing plants. Algae and lichen cover many of the stones, whilst tiny deciduous plants peak out from the crevasses between the rocks. Autumn appears in the Arctic very early and the leaves of the willows are yellow, whilst other unknown plants are dressed in bright red.

 

I realise that my photos won't be great as the relentless rain is fogging my lens and I realise that perhaps a plastic bag or even the waterproof cover I brought along with me would have been handy today. I hope my camera survives this second excursion.

I'm not that fit and I'm certainly not agile, but I do scrabble across the rocky surface, eventually reaching the base of the glacier. The ice continues to melt and fast-moving rivulets flow down towards the sea, bringing grey sand, other small pieces of rock and debris with it. Where the ice meets the rock, a large ice-cave looms, water from the ever-relentless rain and ice melt form a curtain of water at its entrance. Ice caves like this are dangerous and we've been warned not to step into it. I do stand next to the huge bank of ice; it's grey and white and blue surface is filled with ridges and crevasses that have been created by wind and water and old age. I am in awe of this magnificent natural phenomena and all of a sudden I am aware that I may never be able to adequately describe the sense of how insignificant I actually feel against this behemoth.

 

I'm acutely aware that I must return to the bay and I have to tackle the terrain to get back to the little zodiacs. I find a flat surface - just mud and head towards it as it would be easier than clambering back over the rocks. There are plenty of footprints in here so I'm still within the designated area that was mapped out to us prior to arriving. There is a tiny, tiny tree and I stop to take a quick photograph. I take a step forward. Well, actually, I don't. My boots have sunk to my ankles in the grey sludge. I try to lift one foot and I feel that my foot is leaving my boot, so I quickly push it back into the boot and try not to panic as I attempt to get myself out of this mire. Eventually pulling one booted out with the assistance of both hands, I'm lucky that there is a handy rock to place that foot, whilst i pull the other boot out. Getting sucked into mud is not my idea of fun, and although it appears that walking on it is ok as long as I don't stop is enough motivation for me to work my way across to a stream of small rocks to continue my short walk. My boots are grey to the ankles and despite the amount of water I'm walking through, the mud has stuck fast to the boots. It takes a scrubbing brush to remove the mud once I return to the ship.

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Yesterday's visit to Kangaamiut is scheduled for today.

I quickly change out of my wet clothes and hang them near the cabin's vent and hop they don't take too long to dry. By the time I arrive at the forward lounge, people are gathering to listen to David Reid talk about life in an Arctic town. Here he describes the many changes that people have had to adapt to over the years and I think this is a good introduction to our visit this afternoon. Not many ships visit these remote towns and villages and apart from the time we have to explore the town, we will also have the opportunity to watch craftspeople at work and attend a church service. One of the resource people, Aaju Peter, is a Greenlandic Inuit. Aaju's face tattoos are symbolic of her culture. These tattoos had been banned for over 100 years as western culture was thrust upon the indigenous communities. Aaju will talk about her cultural background in detail before the end of the journey, but today she teaches us a song in Greenlandic Inuktitut for us to sing to our hosts. 

Our ship has already moved towards the town and by the time we have finished lunch, it is once again anchored and zodiacs are speeding from the ship towards the village as we return to the lounge. Our hosts have been invited aboard so they can introduce us to their community.

Dressed in traditional clothes, the community leaders explain a little about their history, the fishing industry, and life in a small remote village. At the end of the session, we sing 'Amazing Grace' in Inuktitut. By 3pm, we are onshore in Kangaamiut after a very rough crossing from the ship via zodiac. Thankfully, the day has improved somewhat; the rain has ceased and there is a hint of blue sky above. 

Kangaamiut lies off the coast of Davis Strait and the fishing port is in a sheltered cove. The town's houses are perched precariously on the rocky shore; the houses painted in bright colours. Due to the lack of timber in Greenland, the houses are sent up in kit form from Denmark and other parts of Scandinavia during the colonial period. Because there were no streets or house numbers, all buildings were one of five base colours; red, black, yellow, green, and blue and each colour had a specific meaning.

Red was the predominant colour as it represented the Church and trade, so all houses in which a priest or shop owner lived was painted red. Yellow represented anything health-related and all hospitals and homes in which doctors and nurses lived were painted yellow. Green was the colour for communications, black was used by the police, and blue was the colour used for factories. Today, the residents are free to paint their homes in whatever colour they wish. 

The walk from the pier to the town provides my first glimpse of village life and I'm delighted that I have enough time to absorb the sounds and smells of this unique (for me) village. Men standing in what appears to be a bus shelter are bemused as we march past them midway up a steep hill. I do wonder where they are going and whether there really is a bus here. Apart from the boats on the water, I haven't seen any transportation. I had been chatting to renowned photographer, Dennis Minty since leaving the zodiac, but he is now enthusiastically sauntering away to frame his shots whilst the natural light is at its best. Lagging behind our group, I stop to take photos of the houses, which have been anchored into the large granite rock. Sets of stairs have been built to provide access to the houses and I do wonder what it would be like to live on the top of a rock in a flimsy-looking house in the middle of winter when ice, snow, and howling wind is swirling around them. These homes may look as if they would blow over, but clearly are stronger than they look to be able to withstand the adverse weather conditions.

now the colour-coding has been explained, I now understand why large red and yellow buildings are closer to the pier, whilst other coloured buildings are further away. The ship's staff are standing at the top of the hill, directing us to the various places of interest that we should visit. I start inside the craft hall, where women are creating intricate patterns from seal-leather. Thin lengths of coloured leather are woven into geometric patterns, where are attached to the traditional clothes. This painstaking work is magnificent and until I watch one of the ladies expertly weave and cut these lengths of leather into the patterns, it is impossible to understand the level of concentration required to make these garments. From a distance, they look embroidered. They have a table of items for sale, and whether anyone agrees or not, I am quite happy with my purchase of seal-fur mittens. These will be one of my most-appreciated souvenirs as these mittens are used over and over during this trip. I'm very surprised to see how soft and pliable the leather and fur are. 

Outside again, I notice that the children must be out of school and we are probably considered a bit odd-looking to these young residents of the town. A small playground sits at the base of a huge boulder and many children are taking advantage of the fine day to play. I notice that they have no fear of climbing the mossy-covered rocks and confidently leap and jump across the spaces. My heart is in my mouth as I watch them.

I climb as high as I can, all the time looking into the tiny yards and marvelling at the coloured homes that although blend into the landscape when viewed from a distance, are actually each sitting on top of individual rocks when I see them in reality. As much as I do wonder about the conditions in Winter, I am not keen to experience it at all. It is bleak enough today! I reach a point where I can see over the top of the gabled roof of a house to the glacier in the distance and again I am humbled by the enormity of this place. 

I notice that a number of newer buildings are made of corrugated iron. The Church sits on a sold concrete foundation and although the windows and doors are trimmed in red, it is yellow in colour, a large cross-shaped window at one end. We are directed into the church and I take a seat in a pew. Someone lights the candles sitting in holders at the end of each pew before the Inuit choir files in and takes their seats to one side. There, in a church, on a rock sitting above the Greenlandic village of Kangaamiut, heavenly voices in perfect harmony sing songs that were written by the leader of the choir. Some of the ladies are in traditional dress, which include the beautiful seal-leather boots we had seen in the craft all. Their boots also feature floral patterns, lace and seal fur. The predominantly red-coloured clothes are topped with a cape made entirely of beads, the neckline is of seal fur. After the concert for which we participated in a tiny way, singing our Amazing Grace as a thank-you gift to the congregation of Kanaggmiut, the ladies stood outside whilst we took photos of them.

The weather has held up this afternoon and I have thoroughly enjoyed this excursion into Kangaamiut. I cannot begin to understand the harsh reality of their lifestyle, but I am pleased that I have been able to, albeit for a very short time, mingle and interact with the people of the village.

Down by the pier, the cooperative store is open and I peek inside. A huge warehouse, it's set out like a supermarket with shelves upon shelves of goods for sale. 

It's been a long and a little overwhelming day today, but every fibre within me tells me that taking this tour has been a good decision and I am looking forward to our excursion to the capital city of Nuuk tomorrow. When an interfering Australian told me I should not have bought the seal mittens for 'environmental' reasons, I was not impressed. As far as I'm concerned, I had made a financial contribution to the women craftworkers. I also don't agree that it was a 'bad' purchase. I will not feel guilty about my souvenir, particularly when those who make the loudest noises are often those who are too mean to put a little money into a community. 

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DAY FOUR: NUUK

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2012

Welcome to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland and one of the world’s northernmost capitals. The old harbour region of town includes many buildings dating from the Danish colonial days. The modern downtown core includes shopping, cafes, and restaurants—as well as public institutions with a European flair.

The Greenland National Museum is one of Nuuk’s many outstanding features; the world-famous Qilakitsoq mummies are housed here. The museum’s exhibits also offer in-depth information about colonial, Norse, and Inuit presence in Greenland—a must-see.

When we returned from Kangaamiut yesterday, I had noticed that our porthole had been bolted shut. With the promise of three-metre high waves overnight, I suppose the staff though it necessary. I had been lulled to sleep with the sounds of the ship hitting small ice-chunks all night. Some had been larger than others and when one of the larger varieties made contact with the strengthened hull of the ship, it would reverberate through our little cabin.  Apparently tomorrow night is meant to be worse!

It is raining heavily as we arrive in Nuuk. We are able to disembark directly onto the pier and I enter one of the waiting buses, which will take us for a short tour around the city. Despite the dreary weather, I'm quite excited about visiting this small city. As our bus wends its way around the streets, places of interest are pointed out, although the steady stream of water running down the windows provides an obscured view of the sights. I don't mind, as the commentary is excellent. Nobody can control the weather and we can only hope that sometime during the day, the rain will abate slightly.

The city is government owned and run, and although things are changing now, most people do not own their own homes. Many live in large apartment blocks rented from the government. Although some resemble ski-resort complexes, the older style apartment blocks are utilitarian and very bleak-looking, especially on this dull day. Greenland is currently working on a plan for independence from Denmark and feel that since valuable minerals are being discovered within the country, this status may be achievable in the not-too-distant future.

We stop at the cemetery as the rain stops. From the entrance, there is a straight path, which appears to lead right down to the water. No large stone monuments here, white crosses facing the water stand straight and tall. Brightly-coloured artificial flowers bedeck the graves. It may be an unusual stop on a tour, but I'm glad we visit.

As our tour winds to an end at the port, most of our group head straight for for museum. Since it will be crowded now, I decide to explore the city, leaving enough time to return to the museum before we have to return to the ship at 1:30pm.

We pass the red-painted Church of Our Saviour, the Lutheran cathedral of Nuuk, which is a prominent feature of the landscape. Built in 1849, it became a Cathedral on May 6, 1993.

As I trudge along the narrow bitumen streets, trying to avoid puddles, it occurs to me that there are very few cars on the road today. Or is it the same every day? 

Arriving in the centre of the CBD, or Downtown as the North Americans call it, I quickly locate the Post Office, buy some postcards and the stamps to post them home to Australia. I also buy a birthday card for Stephanie's birthday, which was yesterday, quickly wrote inside and posted it to her.

Once inside the shopping district, I do what all visitors to new countries do - visit the supermarket, checking out the aisles for familiar and unfamiliar goods. Of course, this supermarket stocks pretty-much the same things as those at home. My next stop is for coffee. As much as I love the ship's meals, their coffee leaves a lot to be desired! I settle on a cappuccino and a small Greenlandic pastry, which bears a distinct resemblance to the everyday Danish, and set about writing on the stamped postcards for posting before I leave this morning. My vantage point happens to be on an overpass between two sets of shops and below my feet, I can see the activities within a fresh-food market, which I intend to visit shortly. The cafe-owner has excellent English and he also points me in the direction of some stores selling locally-made items. I'm particularly interested in buying textiles, in particular, items made by indigenous women. Thanking him, I make my way down to the market, where there is a steady trade in berries and other fresh food. My eye is distracted by a butcher shop in which recognisable cuts of meat are on display for sale. Big white tubs of bright red-coloured meat are neatly placed on a table nearby and my curiosity gets the better of me as I take a step towards them. Inside each tub is a variety of cuts; unrecognisable until I catch sight of seal flippers in a flat container. These tubs contain locally-hunted sea-mammals; seal mostly, but whale-meat is there as well. On another table parts of caribou are displayed. This is not for the faint-hearted, but clearly hunted meats are desirable for many of the Nuuk residents. Each tub is numbered, which denotes the hunter, who will be paid when the meat is sold. Just as I leave the store, I pass Aaju Peter. She stops to say hello and since I have just the right person here, right now, I feel obliged to ask her about the meat and how the system works. She is only too keen to talk about it and I watch as she expertly selects some choice cuts of seal and caribou, which, she says, will be cooked later today.

Once outside again, I pause. I know I should have taken some photos, but I felt that it may be disrespectful to the butcher and to the customers. Anyway, onward because time is short and I still have to visit the museum.

Once inside the fashion boutique recommended by the cafe-owner, I understand why he has sent me here. This is like an Aladdin's Cave, filled with some beautiful clothes made from seal skins. There are slippers, gloves, hats and all sorts of wonderful crafts. I am more interested in knitted garments and soon find a jumper and headwarmer to take home. Perhaps I'll need them before I get home. I am, however, conscious that these garments are not made of merino and are quite rough and scratchy. But it is local wool. 

I quickly find the museum, which is located just opposite the modest Danish Royal residence. Apparently Princess Mary and the family had visited during the summer.

I more than an hour to spend here and there is hardly anyone else in the building, so my strategy of visiting the town first is a good one!

There are many fine exhibits inside, which trace the history of Greenland from Paleo-Eskimo to the present day. It includes the Viking history, explorers, and the wonderful boats used for hunting. narwal skulls show the immense length of their precious unicorn-like horns. But the best of the exhibits, in my opinion, are the Qilakitsoq mummies, which were found in the north of Greenland and provide tangible information about the life of the Inuit. Their preserved bodies and clothes are almost intact due to the cold conditions of the country.

It's time to return to the ship. This afternoon the anchor will be lifted and we will start on the rough 40-hour crossing of the Davis Strait.

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DAY FIVE: AT SEA - CROSSING THE DAVIS STRAIT

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2012

Sailing westward like the Vikings, we cross the Davis Strait—the mouth of the Northwest Passage. Narrower and shallower than Baffin Bay to the north, Davis Strait is a haven for marine mammals and seabirds. We’ll be on the watch!

Our visit to Greenland is over and as we set sail for the Canadian Coast via the Davis Strait, we had taken part in a number of lectures and workshops. By dinnertime, the passenger numbers were dwindling as one after the other they succumbed to the constant rise and fall of the ship as it boldly moved forward over the Davis Strait. 

Last night I was also introduced to the music of the late Canadian folksinger, Stan Rogers. The mining, farming, sea songs have a Celtic/country familiarity about them, but with distinct Canadian themes. When someone stood up and sang 'The Northwest Passage', I began to understand, just a little, of what drives people to explore. 

This morning, there are fewer people at breakfast as more and more passengers decide to remain in bed. I admit that it is a little hard to walk straight today - I feel like a drunkard as I lurch forward. The well-placed rails are an absolute necessity. I've promised to bring my cabin-mate a cup of tea and dry toast as she is also suffering. I'm afraid I don't have time to get sick.

The highlight of my day occurs just after breakfast, when author and Canadian icon, Margaret Atwood, presents her talk about growing up in the North. Here, is talks about her childhood growing up in a remote part of Quebec with her parents and brother. Together with photos, she paints a picture of life with her father, an entomologist, whose research had taken them into remote forests. Margaret didn't attend school full time until she was 12, but those years spent with her parents and brother were rich and productive. Today's presentation is excellent.

I move from one excellent presentation or photo slideshow to another as one by one the resource staff share their expertise with the small audience. 

The day that I thought would stretch interminably ended up being productive, educational and fun. Adventure Canada's expertise with these tours is evident as we barely have time to scratch between the activities. I'm just sorry that so many people are plastered on their beds in their cabins.

About mid-afternoon, I decide to check up on my cabin-mate and instead of improving, I fear she is gradually declining. In an effort to assist, I decide that the stuffy cabin is probably contributing and get her up . With an eye on the horizon - any horizon, we make our way along the diesel-smelling passageway and up into the main desk, where she can get fresh air. That becomes far too cold and we eventually make it into the tiny library. Sitting in front of the window and an eye on the outside horizon, she sat, eventually improving. 

Although she declines to attend the Captain's cocktail party, I make an effort to dress up a little. OK. I slip a set of freshwater pearls over my head to dress up the all-black ensemble I had been wearing all day. It's too damn cold to do anything else!

Our captain speaks about his ship, including the technical details that I will never remember, and the it's clear that he loves his job sailing though the Arctic. 

After dinner, we enjoy a concert by Daniel Payne and the other musicians on board. Daniel works as a professional musician, playing the traditional music of Newfoundland and Labrador. Playing the fiddle, accordion, flute, and bodhran, this Celtic-flavoured concert is wonderful. Afterwards he tells me he has performed at the Port Fairy Folk Festival. I'm quite intrigued with some of the songs he sings, as the melodies are very familiar to me. After all, they are Australian folk songs, but with different words. It's the first time it has been brought to my attention that when the Irish left their home country, they brought their tunes with them; the words they adapted to their surroundings. So those who migrated or were transported to Australia had adapted their songs to sing about sheep and convicts, whilst in Canada those same tunes were adapted to reflect the sea and life in the Arctic. Daniel plays several examples; both the Australian and Newfoundland versions. As well as being a talented musician, Daniel is also an actor, playing Ned Andrews in the mini-series, Random Passage. 

DAY SIX: KANGIQSUALUJJUAQ (pronounced can-JIK-soo-an-oo-joo-ak)

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2012

We make landfall on the Arctic coast of Québec’s Inuit region, Nunavik. The name Kangiqsualujjuaq means 'very large bay' in Inuktitut. Access to the township is by plane , although Kangiqsualujjuamiut travel to Kuujjuaq in Winter by snowmobile and in Summer by boat, a journey of approximately 160 kilometres to the southwest. Cargo ships from Montreal deliver cumbersome supplies and equipment to the community every summer. Enveloped by mountains, the township is framed by picturesque surroundings and its elevated position affords unobstructed view of the George River.

The Hudson's Bay Company established a post south of today's village  off an on between 1838 and 1923. Inuit of the area never settled near the post, preferring to live along the coast in Summer and setting their camps about 50 kilometres inland in the Winter. in 1959, Inuit established, on their own initiative, a co-operative in Northern Quebec to market Arctic char. Construction of the village started in 1962 and from then on, Inuit settled  permanently here, In 1963, a school, a co-operative store, and government buildings were built and in 1980, Kangiqsualujjuaq became a legal municipality.

Arctic flora thrives in the protected valley. The George River caribou herd, which is in critical decline, has its calving grounds nearby. A community welcome here gives us a chance to mingle with local folks and explore the hamlet.

There is some excitement this morning as later today we will make landfall and will visit the village of Kangiqsuilujjuaq. As you can imagine, I am finding it really difficult to get my tongue around the place names, and believe you me, it's much easier to copy and paste them into this journal than to actually say them.

I spend a pleasant morning first listening to Jerry Kobalenko, an Arctic explorer, who spend many summers kayaking through many of the waterways. His photographs are sublime and he is able to present his story of exploring the northern Canadian regions in an entertaining, but informative way. After a quick cuppa, I join the Inuit craft group, where Pete, an Inuit culturist not only demonstrates some Inuit crafts, but encourages us to participate.

As soon as lunch is over, we assemble, clad in life jackets and gumboots, ready to disembark the ship and to explore the village of Kangiqsuilujjuaq. Upon arrival on the beach and as soon as our passengers and resource people have assembled, the Mayor and other esteemed members of the community provide a formal welcome to us all. Nearby, tents are set up and we are invited to observe the crafts whilst sipping on delicious freshly-made Arctic char soup. Arctic char is closely related to salmon and lake trout, and is one of the staple foods of this area. 

 

I watch with fascination as women clean seal skins. The labour-intensive task is usually done by women using a curved knife called an ulu, which is extensively used through North America and Canada. The ulu is sharpened by running an ordinary sewing needle along the blade; apparently we can sharpen our knifes using the same technique. The fat, which is removed from the skins, was once used in their oil lamps, but now is usually fed to the dogs. Skin-cleaning is a source of income for the Inuit and the ladies are paid approximately $30 per skin for those that are not used for their own clothing. Sadly, because there is a world-wide moratorium on using seal skins in the clothing industry, they are currently being warehoused. At some stage in the not-too-distant-future, these ladies will be unable to earn this extra money. I am beginning to understand how Westerners are not taking into consideration the rights of the indigenous in managing their native crafts. All hunted animals in the Arctic have been placed under a quota system to ensure that proper management of animal numbers is adhered to. As I watch these ladies expertly scrape the backs of the skins, a dirty and smelly job, I am quietly pleased that I had purchased the mittens a few days ago.

My next stop is to visit a shaman, who demonstrates the local plants used for healing. In this particular region of northern Quebec, there is an abundance of plants with healing properties. The plants are laid out in front of us as she names, describes, and offers and explanation of how they are used by Inuit people for a range of common complaints. Like most indigenous communities around the world, the shaman or medicine person provides healing powers to their people.  

Next I witness the carving of caribou horn and bone. Caribou are wild reindeer and migrate through this region each year. Caribou also provide a much-needed variety of meat to the Inuit. Not wanting to waste any part of the animals the men mostly carve the horns and bones. Some pieces show intricate scrimshaw designs, whilst other artists carve small objects from the bones. I love watching the craftsmen as they work, but also note that they are, unlike the ladies stripping fat from the skins, using modern tools to make their items. As I step outside, I'm handed a scone filled with jam made from summer berries collected from around the village. Whilst I call these scones, the proper term is bannock, as these are fried in a pan, rather than baked in the oven. They are delicious, nonetheless.

Buses are waiting to take us for a short tour around the township before leaving us at the Visitor Centre. Just outside of the town, it must be really sheltered as trees as high as 2 metres, tall by Arctic standards, grow. Autumn colours of yellow and red provide interesting colour variations from the grey rocky terrain. I can even see a forest of spindly conifers in varying shades of green and gold.

We pause at the location where, on January 1 1999, an avalanche swept down over the school gymnasium, where about 500 people were celebrating the new year. Nine people died and twenty-five were injured as tons of snow smashed through the wall of the gymnasium. Although the school was rebuilt and homes in the area were relocated, the deserted grounds at the foot of the hill are a sad and constant reminder of this tragedy. 

The Interpretation and Visitor Centre of the Kuururjuaq National Park provides an overview of the life of the Inuit. A wonderful series of ink prints that depict the old hunting methods are displayed along one wall. Not only do they show the weapons and tools used for hunting, there is a distinct element of the dangers faced each day by the Inuit as they strove to bring food home to their families. The artist, Tivi Etok spent his youth hunting with his elders. Tivi tells a compelling story in each of his hunting prints.

There is other information here, including the geology, botanic, and climatic conditions of this far-north region of the province of Quebec.

Upon leaving the visitor centre with a guide and bear monitor, we take a walk through the National Park. The path takes us through the forest of conifers. Other low-growing shrubs, fungi, and lichens provide a colourful palate. Our on-board photographers are making good use of the scant blue sky and clearing conditions. From our vantage point we can see above the trees to the water where our ship is waiting for our return. We need to return to the Community Centre for the remaining activities this afternoon, which includes a soccer-match between the locals and our passengers and support crew. I am really looking forward to this. Our ship-team have been training on the back deck of the ship over the past twenty-four hours.

As I enter the Community Centre, our musicians are already entertaining the local people. Children are laying on the floor watching our musicians and are eager to participate. As a choir, we stood and sang our repertoire of exactly three songs - in Greenlandic, a language somewhat different from Inuktitut, but the locals enthusiastically applauded our efforts by clapping and cheering. 

 

Sitting on the floor, we are treated to performances by the youth of Kangiqsuilujjuaq, who entertain us with throat-singing, drum dancing and music. One young talented boy sang a couple of original songs but the highlight of the day was when Willy, aged 15 and Elijah, 16, were introduced. Sitting down and playing their button accordions the whole crowd stood in unison and danced a type of Celtic step dance. Accompanied by a drummer and Daniel on the fiddle, the whole audience was involved. This is also a wonderful opportunity for us to contribute financially to Kangiqsuilujjuaq. This ship visits only once a year and it is only fair that we contribute in any way we can. Purchasing raffle tickets for a prize of smoked caribou mittens, I'm a little disappointed I didn't win them to add to my mitten collection! The craft stall that is quickly erected at the end of the cultural show showcases the arts and crafts of these talented people and I manage to buy some knitted scarves and a pair of bone-carved earrings.

There is an announcement as we make an attempt to leave the Community Centre. Our soccer match is cancelled due to the rain, which started to fall whilst we had been enjoying our afternoon's entertainment, and a quickly rising tide. I have to say goodbye to and return to the zodiacs that will speedily return us to the ship.

Our afternoon in community of Kangiqsuilujjuaq has been a valuable lesson in resilience by an indigenous group of people, isolated by distance and harsh climatic conditions, yet are proud and welcoming to our little group of visitors. I know that these people suffer from overcrowding, starvation, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and teenage pregnancy and there are many, many social issues that are a part of their every-day lives. But today, there are smiling faces, old and young people who want to reach out and share their culture with a group of people for a short afternoon. I love this and I love the opportunities provided by this amazing tour company.

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DAY SEVEN: TORNGAT MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

MONDAY, JANUARY 24, 2012

Canada’s highest peaks east of the Rockies are found in Torngat Mountains National Park. Here, the Inuit of Nunatsiavut will be our guides in their spiritual homeland.

Polar bears, caribou, falcons, and eagles are among the species we hope to spot on land. We’ll also be on the lookout for marine mammals! We’ll spend our time on guided hikes, searching for wildlife, visiting archaeological sites, and Zodiac cruising.

This afternoon we land in the Torngat Mountains National Park. Announced in December, 2005, it is the most recently-appointed National Park in Canada and its status had been based on the protection of the wildlife, such as caribou, polar bear, peregrine, and bald eagle, amongst others. It is a place of extensive cultural and spiritual significance for Inuit, Metis, and First Nations and there are many archaeological sites within the expansive area.

The National Park covers over 30,000 square kilometres over three provinces; Quebec, Labrador, and Nunavit. Before we are permitted to leave the ship, there is a mandatory obligation to view a video regarding polar bear safety. One of the conditions of being allowed to stop and explore the Torngat Mountains National Park is that three Parks Canada Inuit must accompany us whilst we are in the Park. These highly-skilled hunters are expert marksmen and are stationed on the highest points surrounding the area in which we are permitted to explore, as bear monitors. Only Inuit may shoot a polar bear here. Should the unfortunate situation arise that a polar bear wanders into the area whilst we are there and must be shot, that bear is taken from the annual quota. In a case where tourists are involved, the bear cannot be given to the Inuit for food and skins therefore reducing the amount of food to the community. Although there is a running joke about the amount of paperwork involved in killing a polar bear exceeds the paperwork for the death of a tourist, I somehow think this may be the case.

We enter the Torngat Mountains National Park at the Natchvak Fjord in the Northern Labrador Province. The Torngat Mountains that surround the fjord are the highest in Labrador. The Inuit have traditionally used this area as a summer fishing station. It was also the site of a Hudson's Bay Company post from 1868 to 1905; the most northerly of the company's posts in Labrador. 

We have a choice of activity for the afternoon: a long challenging walk, a shorter, more leisurely walk, and beachcombing. I am not that agile, so opt for the shorter and more leisurely option as I want to have the time to immerse myself into the landscape and try to observe as much as I can and learn more about the flora of this region.

 

I step out on the shore near a stony river bed, and although it would probably have been full of water during the spring melt, it is now quite dry. It's a beautiful day, probably about 16 degrees Celsius, and hopefully we have left the torrential rain behind us for a couple of days.  The air is clear and clean. I can see that our resident artist, Rob Saley, has already set up his portable art studio, has taken photos and is already mixing paints to match the myriad of colours surrounding us. I watch for a few minutes before tagging along with Denis Minty the photographer. He has a vast knowledge of Arctic flora and I want to pick up as much information as possible.

Unlike yesterday's landscape and quite-tall trees, all plants here are about ankle-height. At first, I try to avoid walking on the plants, but Denis assures me that the plants are quite springy and will bounce back, after all, polar bears stomp through here all the time. I peer closely at the vegetation and realise that nothing appears to be smashed or broken. Denis also points out an Arctic willow, which he says is maybe 500 years old; its gnarled trunk lies flat on the ground and it's leaves of autumnal yellow are beginning to drop exactly where it is lying. It's quite astonishing to witness how plants can adapt to their environment in such a dramatic way. Lichens and mosses, the most basic of plant life, cover most of the rocks, adding splashes of colour: black, orange, green, and white. In the distance, passengers and kitchen staff are busy gathering berries of blue, black, and red. Again, Denis informs me that no berries in Canada are poisonous and that we are safe to pick and eat them. Since the landscape is pristine, I follow the example of the passengers and pluck some ripe berries from the bushes. Inside my mouth, the plump berries pop with delicate sweetness, whilst the red ones have an edge of tartness, as one would expect. The view from here to the fjord is a blaze of colour; the purples, reds, yellows of the deciduous plants intermingled with white reindeer lichen and the green and yellowing grasses. A caribou horn, whitened with age, lies amongst the flora.

Our short time here is up and I must make my way back toward the beach. Denis had already moved on with his camera and tripod and I'm looking forward to seeing some of his photos at the daily recap later. These presentations provide us with the ability to see the same landscape through the eyes of another person and if I am smart, I can learn to observe the landscape with greater clarity. Rob also presents his landscape painting, which he will complete later. At the end of the tour, he will sell his paintings to the passengers.

What makes this so special is the reality that few people have had the opportunity to walk through this landscape. I think this is part of the reason why I love this tour so very much, not to mention the ability to extend my knowledge by speaking to experts in their particular fields.

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DAY EIGHT: TORNGAT MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2012

The highest mountains in Canada east of the Rockies form the backdrop to the only park initiated and staffed entirely by Inuit.

Gorgeous fjords, landscapes ablaze with autumn colours, and wonderful wildlife opportunities—including the possibility of both polar and black bears—make travel in the Torngats unbeatable!

We sail further south and as we do so, the weather improves. Today, it is a superb day. The azure sky is cloudless, although up here in the Arctic, that situation can change very quickly. 

We are still exploring the Torngat Mountains National Park and the Inuit guides and the onboard cultural staff have briefed us on what to expect and the specific areas in which we are permitted to explore. The bear and boundary monitors have already left the ship and are in place; the bear monitors on the highest elevations of our designated area, whilst the boundary monitors have spread out to ensure that the passengers do not step beyond the agreed-upon area. 

We are up early and because of a time-shift overnight, have had an hour's less sleep last night, so the 8am ride to the shore of Ramah Bay is a shock to the system. The beach has little sand and is made up of millions of rocks of all shapes, sizes, colours, and composition. Along with Pete, one of the cultural guides, we are looking for a specific rock called 'chert', which is highly prized by the Inuit for tool-making. Chert is a type of flint that, when smashed against other rocks, can be sharpened as a tool. When chert is struck against an iron-bearing surface, sparks occur and therefore is an excellent fire-starting tool.  We scrabble amongst the variety of smooth and rough stones for chert, but Pete is better able to identify chert and quickly demonstrates the characteristics of the stones we are looking for and how tools are fashioned through striking one against the other. 

I walk away from the rocky beach towards a waterfall in the distance but after taking a few steps from the rocky shore to a band of coarse grey sand, I see bear footprints. One of the wildlife experts explains that although the footprints are fairly fresh, being no older than twelve hours, there are no polar bears in this area at the moment. I am careful not to disturb the prints and follow them for some time, noting that a smaller set of prints is also present, along with various bird prints and those made by Addidas, Reebocks, and New Balance! I stop long enough to take photos before resuming my walk.

Nearby, water is falling over a cliff at a rapid pace and I'm surprised that there is still enough water from the spring/summer melt to flow at this rate. It won't be long before the ground freezes again. I have reached the outer limit of our area and turn to climb up a hill, where I've been assured that the view is wonderful. Our on-board geologist points out the rock formations, and talks about ancient tectonic plate lifts and advises us to check the shale for fossilised ferns and other tropical plants, which are found throughout this region. The geological history of the earth is absolutely fascinating and to easily find nature's imprints on the shale beneath our feet is not only a bonus, but an absolute privilege. It's obvious that we need to look beyond what's it in front of our eyes, and it's probably one of the most important lessons I will take from this expedition.

The shortcut I take up the hill finds me scrabbling up the side of a cliff. Not really - it wasn't that steep! But agility is not my strong point, and perhaps I should have taken the longer, more gentle route. However, once on the top, I am rewarded with the most spectacular view. A colourful tapestry of autumnal colour spreads out in front of me as my eye reaches towards the ship sitting patiently in the sheltered fjord. We are on the sunny side of the park and I find that the darkened mountains opposite contrast beautifully with the deepening blue colour of the water and the sky. Our photographers must be delighted with today's weather conditions. It is clear as far as the eye can see and the colours are magnificent. I climb as far as a tall inukshuk, which is overlooking the fjord. An inukshuk is a stone sculpture traditionally built by the Inuit as a navigational and hunting aid, coordination point and message centre. Today it serves as a typical Canadian cultural symbol and it appears on the flag of Nunavit. 

A whistle and a shout alerts us to the presence of a polar bear across the water on the other side of the fjord. It's a long way away, and although my camera is a small pocket-sized one, the zoom is very good and I am lucky to capture a couple of shots that are not blurry. Our guide tells us it's a mother and cub. I think they suddenly become aware of us because they run for cover and quickly disappear. One of the other passengers points out a black bear in the distance, and although I detect movement, I am unable to take a clear shot of them. 

As we make our way to the ship, one of the official photographers who happened to be on our zodiac convinced the driver to move towards the opposite shore to check out the polar bears. Slowly making our way around the shoreline, but at the same time, keeping our distance, we scan the landscape for the bears. Their black skin and hollow hair helps them blend into the landscape, both in Winter and when there is no snow on the ground. Watching the bears watching us is a bit daunting, and as we are summoned back to the ship, the bears suddenly stand up and walk across the landscape. Trying desperately to photograph the running bears, whilst in a moving zodiac, holding the rope with one hand and the camera with the other, one would be forgiven for blurry photos. This is one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

 

We return to the ship, which repositions as we enjoy our lunch and discussing our exciting experiences with the bear sightings.

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This afternoon's excursion is to St. John's Harbor, Labrador, which is an old American air base. Today, it is little more than a landing strip with a radar. Since we are no longer in the Torngat Mountains National Park, we are permitted to include some of the trained staff as bear monitors in addition to the Inuit monitors, who have been travelling with us for the past two days. Up until a couple of months ago, a Japanese research station was staffed as they believe that the world's oldest rock may be found in this region. I'm not sure whether the researchers left because they ran out of money or they found the rock.

 

Again, I opt for the more leisurely walk of 2 kilometres to see a waterfall. I'm glad I've chosen this option because I am sure that people taking the more challenging hike are climbing up a very steep hill in the distance. Meanwhile, we are using an old jeep track, which has not been used for that purpose for some time. Rock falls have blocked it in part, and together with having to walk through some narrow streams (thank goodness for gumboots), the walk is challenging enough. The view from this location is unbelievably beautiful and whilst I sit on a large rock and enjoy my surroundings, including a waterfall. I hear someone whistling in the distance and hope that it's not a bear warning. Making my way to the rest of the group, our leader explains that there is another waterfall a little further on and that the bear monitors are checking out the terrain before we can move forward. Once cleared, I am fully aware of why they were excited about this waterfall. The force of the water flowing through the granite walls of the cliff had created some unusual rock formations, which I try to photograph. 

It's been a busy day and I am looking forward to our evening singalong after the daily recap and dinner. Today, we've been able to see the most amazing landscapes withing a fairly small region of this this vast country. Two completely different landscapes, but both equally dramatic and beautiful. It is an absolute privilege to be able to be part of this tour.

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DAY NINE: HEBRON

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2012

This haunting site preserves a Moravian Mission station dating from the 1830s. The mission was abandoned in 1959, forcing the relocation of the Inuit who resided there. In 2005, Newfoundland & Labrador issued an apology to people affected by the relocations.

Former Hebron residents and their kin continue to visit the site, and to hunt and fish nearby. With their help, some of Hebron’s buildings are now being repurposed as a cultural interpretation centre.

'Hebron is a wonderfully spiritual place. It has a haunting beauty and a tragic story still in living memory. The Moravian Church operated a mission here for nearly two hundred years. The remote community had a vegetable garden and livestock, but living conditions remained difficult. In the 1950s, the provincial government, in consultation with the Moravian leaders, decided that the closure of the mission and the relocation of the population was the best option for the people of Hebron. In 1959, the relocation took place with families moving to Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik. The hope was that through the relocation to larger centres, a more centralised system would service the people better. However, the uprooted faced many social and economic challenges in their new homes.

In 2005, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Danny Williams, apologised to the people affected by the relocation. In August 2009, the provincial government unveiled a monument at the site of Hebron with an inscribed apology for the site closure.' (Adventure Canada) 

Like a beacon, it is visible from the zodiac. Twisted. It's rusting corrugated roof points awkwardly towards the sky, whilst piles of weathered timber cladding lie scattered over the desolate terrain. I'm surprised to see that the sturdiest part of the building is still standing, probably due to the insulation, which had been placed between the weatherboards and the internal cladding. I don't expect to see piles of bricks, cream and red, used as insulation. These must have been imported along with the other materials for the buildings in this small village, now a ghost town. This building is mostly strong and well-built since the bleached timber building is still half-standing even after being abandoned for over half-a-century.

I walk up to the cemetery, and from my vantage-point, I can see more derelict buildings, weathered and falling asunder. I can't wait to return to the village, but first, I want to explore the final resting place of Moravians and Inuit alike. The picket fence surrounding the consecrated land has been largely flattened by the weather, although sections still struggle to remain upright. Low growing shrubs have slowly crept over the abandoned graveyard; the headstones knocked to the ground by time, weather, and possibly by polar bears. From the top of the hill, where the cemetery is located, there is a wonderful view of the fjord and the rest of the village. There is an atmosphere of desolate sadness here. Surprisingly, many of the monuments look as though they had been erected last week; they are in such a pristine state. Marble, white and opaque, tell stories of people now long gone.

 

Autumn has arrived in the high Arctic and the yellow and red vegetation along with the grey of the sky, the rocks, and the weathered buildings provide a startling contrast. I slowly make my way back to explore the village through vegetation that touches my ankles gently as I carefully pick my way towards the nearest building. Most of the structures are out of bounds as they are potentially dangerous; we cannot predict whether bits are ready to fall or even whether ferocious animals are lurking inside.  I hope not! We are allowed inside the church building, which has been restored and is now used as an official shelter for visitors or people passing through. Adventure Canada donates some tinned food to the supply cupboard inside.

In 1831, the Moravian Church established a mission at Hebron, a site located 200 kilometres north of Nain.  The Moravians formalised education, recorded the Inuktitut language in writing and created a legacy that has lasted through to the present day. Every mission set up by the Moravians in Labrador was similar, each featured an unadorned German church, a communal house, school, trading post, cemetery and garden. Each mission included at least a dozen missionaries and all learned to use the Inuktitut language to communicate with the Inuit. The Harmony, a Moravian supply ship, arrived once a year, providing an important link to the outside world. For the remainder of the year, the Moravians were otherwise self-sufficient. The locals gradually converted to Christianity but continued their traditional seasonal hunting, fishing, and trapping, returning to the mission between Christmas and Easter to participate in Church services, to receive health care and, in the case of the children, to attend school. On the flip side, The Harmony was also responsible for bringing in diseases, such as small pox and influenza, which decimated the Inuit populations. The 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic was responsible for the loss of 150 people out of a population of 220. In 1926, the Moravians moved their trading activities to the Hudson Bay Company and when Labrador became part of the Canadian Confederate in 1949, the children were typically sent to English-speaking schools. On Easter Monday 1959, the people of Hebron were assembled in the Moravian Church, where representatives of the Newfoundland government, the Moravian Church, and the International Grenfell Association announced their decision to close the mission. Since the gathering was held in the church, a place where arguments were not permitted, the Inuit were unable to voice their concerns. They felt betrayed as they were not given adequate notice nor an opportunity to discuss the move. This had a disastrous effect to the 58 families living in Hebron, as they were not familiar with their new surroundings and where the hunting grounds and fishing areas had already been taken. Families were separated and sent to Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik. Houses were not ready when the Hebron residents arrived, and their new homes were located on the fringes of the towns, reinforcing social, and economic isolation.

 

It took 46 years for the Canadian Government to apologise for the disastrous decision to relocate the Hebron Inuit. The apology had been delivered by the Premier, Daniel Williams in 2005.

  

'The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, on behalf of the citizens of the province, apologizes to the Inuit of Nutak and Hebron for the way in which the decision to close those communities was made and for the difficulties experienced by them and their descendants as a result of the closure.'

 

 

In 2009, on the 50th anniversary of the relocation, a memorial was unveiled. It's made up of three brass plaques, each on their own plinths; the names of all the individuals relocated from Hebron, the text of the government's apology, and the text of the Inuit's acceptance of the apology.

I walk to the memorial where our Inuit resource person and archaeologist, Lena Onalik, is located. Her grandparents had been relocated from Hebron and as she points out their names, she retells the story of the effect it had on their lives, and consequently on those their descendants. With Lena's story, the history of Hebron now has a human face and although Lena concedes that the relocation was probably made with the best interest of all people concerned at heart, it was not the right decision for the Inuit people. The monument is a sad reminder that consultation and communication is vital between indigenous people and non-indigenous decision-makers.

Lena points towards the top of a ridge, where I need to go in order to explore the rest of the village. Ever mindful that medical assistance is days away if I fall and break an bone, I carefully pick my way up through the stony terrain, finally reaching the top. Despite the very cold and windy conditions, the view is magnificent. A large Inukshuk is located here, apparently pointing in the direction of where a herd of caribou is travelling. From here, I can see more abandoned buildings we have not yet explored and I spend the remaining time we have in this deserted, desolate, but incredibly beautiful location wandering in that direction.

I feel that this experience will stay with me for a very long time and as I return to the ship, we are informed that we are expecting some rough weather ahead.

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DAY TEN: MAKKOVIK

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2012

With a population of just under 400, Makkovik's main industry is fishing for snow crab. The population is composed of residents of m ixed Norwegian and Inuit heritage. Settled by Torsten Kverna Andersen and his wife Mary Ann Thomas, who set up a trading post in 1860, the population increased over the next three decades as European settlers and Inuit established roots in the community. In 1896, the Moravian Church established a church mission and residential school here. A fire in 1948 destroyed both the church and the school, but the economy was maintained by two important events: the forced relocation of 150 Inuit residents of the northern communities of Nutak and Hebron, and the establishment of a radar warning station by the United /States Government. 

Directly after breakfast, I hurry down to the lounge to listen to a presentation delivered by Jason, an Inuit resource staff member and native of Makkovik. Unlike a dry, factual, third-person description of life in a remote town, which is geographically cut off from the rest of the world, Jason entertains us with tales of an idyllic childhood. He tells of the time, just prior to the arrival of the annual supply ship, and their co-op had run out of chips; a monumental problem for a group of teenage children anywhere in the world. A problem that is solved by going to another supermarket. Except that in this remote town, like similar towns across the globe, there is no other supermarket. So children, being children find a solution that involves an ATV and a very long distance from Makkovik. Needless to  say, children grow up quickly in these towns and they did arrive home safely from their adventure with chips. He talks lovingly about his mother's cooking and his favourite comfort foods, the games he played, and how different life became when he moved from Makkovik to Toronto in his late teens. It's refreshing to listen to these reminiscences from the perspective of a youth growing up here when the reality of life from an adult's point of view is vastly different. At the end of the discussion, I am acutely aware that no matter where we live or what our ethic or cultural background is, there are aspects of our lives that are so very similar. 

I'm dressed in wet-weather gear as the day is not looking so friendly. In fact there is a low-lying fog, which I hope will lift soon. Not even the rain can dampen my enthusiasm for today's excursion to the town of Makkovik. I believe that the soccer match we had to cancel four days ago may take place today if the rain subsides during the course of our visit.

Volunteer tour guides greet us as we arrive by zodiac and I quickly fall in behind the guide for our small group. Makkovik is much larger than I had expected. The community is made up of approximately 400 people of mixed ethnicity: Inuit and Norwegian. Boats, boat sheds and other fishing paraphernalia along the rocky foreshore shows the importance placed upon the fishing industry here. Our guide takes us away from the waterfront and through the village. Curious residents wave to us through their windows as we pass their homes. I'm not sure how often tourists like us arrive here each year, but I do know that Adventure Canada visits each area on their itinerary just once each summer/autumn season. 

We walk through the village to the top of a small hill, where a gazebo is strategically placed. In the shelter of the rounded building, I can only imagine what the views would be like on a fine day. Today's fog sits heavily on the village, but instead of perhaps being distracted by views, I can concentrate on the commentary from the guide. Our current location is a community meeting place and local events, like the Easter Games and the Trout Festival are held here. Pointing out large boxes, like trailers on skis, our guide explains that these are used in winter to carry people, shopping, and wood. Hooked up to skidoos, they are an efficient means of travelling and are often used by families taking a short break to Goose Bay, some 200 kilometres away, where they can stock up on items in short supply. I cannot imagine travelling around the block in one of these, let alone 200 kilometres, yet this is a testament to the resilience of people living in these remote regions. A sudden thought crosses my mind. Surely Jason and his friends didn't go to Goose Bay for a bag of chips! I must remember to ask him later.

Behind the line of houses and community buildings, we walk into a wooded area. Stepping onto a boardwalk we are taken through the Moravian Woods, an undeveloped coniferous forest, for want of a better word. It's not a forest in the strict definition of the word, since the trees are probably about 2 metres tall. This is a very valuable heritage site and the community-built boardwalk, still under construction, allows us to walk through the forest without damaging delicate ground-covering plants. From above the forest floor, I can appreciate that the vegetation below me is very old, albeit only centimetres tall. Lichens, white in colour, cover ancient wooded limbs, whilst abundant caribou lichen spreads across the surface of the grounds, providing patches of colour amongst the green landscape.  Whilst we walk amongst the treetops in this eerily-quiet and unusual environment, I am, in reality, just fifty-centimetres off the ground. 

Returning to the village, I am reminded that, due to its distance from the rest of Canada, and the delivery of building materials only possible by the annual supply ship arrival during the summer months, construction projects have only a short window of time in which to framed and wrapped before the harsh weather stops all progress. The expensive building materials and short summers contribute to overcrowding and lack of housing options.

Almost down to the waterfront again, we enter the church, which provides us some protection from the now-steady rain. Our guide provides a brief history of the town and of the influence of the Moravian Church in Makkovik. Established in 1896, the Moravian Church and residential school, both of which had been destroyed in 1948. The current church in which we are now sitting was built in 1992 from prefabricated panels that were shipped into Makkovik and assembled by the community and a group of volunteers from Texas in the United States. During the interim years between the fire and the building of this church, another community building had been used for the church services. I can see our ship in the bay through the front window of the church and I imagine that on a fine day, there must be a wonderful view of the water from the church. As we step out of the church, we are advised that we haven't enough time to visit the museum and a line of utes are waiting to transport us to the school, where Jason is now being treated like a superstar, after spending time with his family.

The entire school welcomes us to their community and our musicians provide light-hearted entertainment; the locals joining in with the impromptu band. The excitement of the students is buzzing through the gymnasium as they dance and they sing to us. Our feeble attempt at singing our songs in Greenlandic Inuktitut is greeted with muffled snickers and I don't blame them! Outside, we are ordered, to take part in the soccer match.

Our soccer team is made up of support staff and passengers; each with their name taped to the back of their red T-shirts. A cheer squad stands on the sidelines, whilst the village team prepares for action. A young school student finds a vuvuzela and stands on my left side, and I kid you not, almost without drawing a breath for over half-an-hour, that child blows that thing with its B-flat sound for the entire game. I love the enthusiasm displayed by the whole community. Everybody joins in, including the cop, who has to call 'time-out' to answer his phone - just in case there is an emergency.

Although the sky is still a dull grey, the fog suddenly lifts and the village is visible for the first time. The locals are declared the winners of the soccer match and with a tinge of sadness, we are shepherded back to the zodiacs for our return to the ship.

Upon our return to the ship, I find the porthole has once again been closed and a lot of barf-bags distributed throughout the ship; a sure sign that rough conditions are expected between here and Cartwright, our next stop.

This afternoon, I enjoy a discussion presented by Margaret Atwood on her short story, Stone Mattress, which was written about this ship in the Arctic. One of Margaret's more light-hearted stories, it is a pleasure to simply be here; to listen, to be physically in a space where creativity is shared in such an intimate setting. This style of travel has provided a completely different set of experiences, which one cannot possibly appreciate unless they are here. 

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DAY ELEVEN: ST. ANTHONY

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2012

The plan had been to outrun the oncoming storm and stop at the community of Cartwright. All well-laid plans went to hell as the ship pitched all night in 100km winds. I've been fortunate throughout this voyage and despite some challenging weather along the way, I have not suffered from motion sickness at all. Whilst many passengers moan and whinge about the conditions as they swallow handfuls of pills, I am able to enjoy the whole experience, including the activities provided by the resource staff. Where stops are not made, the creative and scientific resource people keep us informed and entertained. There is not a minute to spare on any given day as we participate and learn and involve ourselves in this small floating community. I love this entire journey.

Despite not being able to anchor in Cartwright or anywhere else along the Labrador coast due to high winds and bad weather, we are, later in the day, advised that there is a sheltered cove in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, where we will be stopping for an entire 24-hour period.

During our daily briefing, and as they ship anchors in clam waters, we are provided with some information about St. Anthony and are advised that the local mission is expecting us to visit this evening. It is an absolute delight to stretch our legs for the twenty-minute walk to the town, where we are welcomed into the local watering hole. Similar to country pubs or RSL clubs across the world, we immediately feel at home in the friendly town. Entertained by brothers, Pierce and Norm Cull on guitar and accordion, along with our shipboard musicians, we spend an absolutely wonderful evening with the locals. 

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DAY TWELVE: ST. ANTHONY, L'ANSE AUX MEADOWS, CONCHE

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2012

The history of European settlement of St. Anthony reaches back to the early 16th century, when French and Basque fishermen used the well-sheltered harbour as a seasonal fishing station.  

by the time Jacques Cartier came across the settlement in 1534, he reported it was named St. Anthony Haven.   A member of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, Dr. Wilfred Grenfell was sent to investigate the conditions of the fishermen in the Newfoundland/Labrador region in 1892.  The first official doctor in the region, he established a number of cottage hospitals, schools, and cooperatives for people in remote villages along the coastline. In 1900, he set up the Grenfell Headquarters in Red Bay and became responsible for the healthcare of more than thirty thousand residents in Northern Newfoundland and Southern Labrador. This health responsibility was maintained until 1981, when the Government bought the resources and took over the health service.

L'Anse aux Meadows is an archaeological site on the northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland. Discovered in 1960,  it is the only verified site of a Norse Village in North America. The site remains the only accepted instance of pre-Colombian trans-oceanic contact and is notable for its possible connection with the attempted colony of Vinland, established  by Leif Erikson around 1000 and with the broader Norse exploration with North America.

 

Conche is a small town on a small peninsula with a deep harbour that runs the length of the entire community. In the Spring and Summer icebergs float through the harbour and maroon there, providing a wonderful annual spectacle. There is a large colony of seals that reside in the harbour and it's a popular site for whales. 

This is our first view of the lovely fishing village of St. Anthony, and whilst our ship remains in the harbour, we have a long day ahead of us as we explore the region. Yellow school buses greet us as I disembark at 7:30, still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, after a wonderfully warm and welcoming evening at the pub. In fact, it reminds me of the pubs in Ireland.

A short time later, the bus stops at the Grenfell Centre, a museum that traces the history of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell and his contribution to the health of the people in this region. The Wilfred Thomason Grenfell Historical Society was established in 1978 and purchased this property, the home of Grenfell, and restored it as a museum and archives. Our guide and historian provides a brief overview of the legacy of Grenfell in this region.

Wilfred Grenfell arrived in Newfoundland in his early 20s after completing is training in London. He had been sent out by the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen to assess the health of fishermen in the region. Very quickly he realised that the health issues here were not restricted to fishermen and he set up clinics and small cottage hospitals to take care of the health of all the residents in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 1908, when Grenfell was on his way to a medical emergency, he got caught on an ice floe. Stranded, without food and water, he had to sacrifice some of his dogs to make a warm fur coat for himself. A few days later, after his rescue, he buried his dogs and placed a plaque on their grave, which said,' Who gave their lives for me'. Grenfell was also a writer and artists, each year designing is own Christmas cards, and was a lecturer of note. He also founded the International Grenfell Association, a non-profit mission society, which operated until 1981, when it became a governmental agency. When we reflect upon the life and work of these people that eventually become posthumous heroes, it's important to not that they too, make mistakes. When Grenfell imported a herd of reindeer from Norway to provide an extra source of food, the spread of a parasitic roundworm that causes cerebrospinal elaphostronglosis in local caribou was the unintended consequence.  The museum giftshop is a treasure trove of locally-crafted items. I opt for some hand-knitted cotton slippers, which feature the snowflake symbol and which is a pattern identifiable in this region. 

I step out of the Grenfell Museum and directly across the road is the new hospital. We have been told that a mural in the foyer is worth viewing, and with just minutes to spare before being collected for our next stop, I slip through the front door as most of the other passengers are leaving. I'm blown away by the massive floor-to-ceiling ceramic mural by Spanish-Canadian artist, Jordi Bonet, which follows the circular walls and depicts life in the Arctic. Like so much I've experiences over the past two weeks, this work of art is totally unexpected, but so appropriate in this remote setting.

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It's now 9am and I'm grateful that the guides and curators have willingly opened up the museum outside of business hours just to accommodate our group. Time and time again I have felt that people across Greenland and Canada will go out of their way to welcome and to embrace us and I'm truly mindful that their generosity allows me to gain a better understanding of life in the Arctic. I am so very grateful for these small gestures of kindness.

Still early morning, it is a bit chilly, and I'm delighted when the rickety little yellow buses arrive to collect us for our forty-five minute journey to L'Anse aux Meadows. Not long before arriving at our destination, the driver stops, opens the door and points to the marshy landscape beyond. There, grazing on grasses and other plants are moose. Finally! I've been travelling through North America and Canada for over six weeks and haven't to date, seen one moose, so I am delighted to be able to see them in their natural environment doing what moose do!

There are a few cultures, like the Egyptian and the Inca civilizations, which fire up the imagination and provide speculation and wonder at the amazing feats they have achieved. The Vikings probably fall into the same category, and although are not known to have built large edifices, there is a feeling that their sense of adventure far outweighs that of other cultures of their era. There is evidence that, from their Scandinavian homes, the Vikings had not been frightened to explore lands on the other side of the sea.

Like the Sutton Hoo discovery in England, a series of mounds in the small fishing hamlet of L'Anse aux Meadows provided enough interest to warrant their excavation. In 1960, local man, George Decker, led Norwegians Helge Ingstad and his archaeologist wife Anne Stine Ingstad to the mounds. Here, they carried out seven archaeological excavations between 1961 and 1968 and determined that the site was of Norse origin because of similarities between these and other sites dating from 1000CE in Greenland and Iceland. 

L'Anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Norse settlement in North America outside of Greenland. It precedes the voyages of Christopher Columbus by approximately 500 years and although possible Norse outposts have been identified in Arctic Canada, this site confirms that settlement probably occurred here for approximately twenty-five years. Although there is no evidence to the contrary, it is believed that the site may have been used for ship repair due to an apparent natural timber supply.

We arrive at the excellent Visitor's Centre, which provides an overview of the history of the Viking settlement here. Outside the large windows, I can see across the boggy ground to the village on the shores of the water. The ground is filled with hummocks; green bumps and lumps connected by a path. I can see groups of people walking with their guides and acknowledge that this UNESCO site needs to be strictly controlled in regard to tourist activity. The boardwalk extends from the Visitor's Centre, passing greening sculptures set in strategic places. After so many days cooped up inside the ship, this first real walk outside in the fresh air is not only welcome but refreshing. This morning's brilliant blue skies and fresh breeze are tinged with salt as my small group follows the guide along the boardwalk as she provides a brief history of the indigenous cultures that probably used this area as a camp during the summer months. Interestingly, there is no evidence of any interaction between the indigenous and the Vikings, however, it had been widely believed that the mounds had been left by those indigenous groups.

Although much of the narrative about life in this settlement is conjecture, there is evidence found within the mounds that this area must have been well-vegetated and timber had been used for boat-building, house-building, and iron extraction. Based on the artefacts left, the buildings had been built of sod over a timber frame. There is evidence of a iron smith containing a forge and iron slag and it is thought that iron rivets had been made from the small deposits of mineral in the area. Most surprisingly is that scraps of Scots pine had been well-preserved. Since Scots pine is not found anywhere in Newfoundland or Labrador, there is an assumption that this timber was on the original boats and had been removed and repairs made with local timbers. There is evidence of slaves, possibly from Ireland, and women lived here as everyday Norse items such as bone needles, oil lamps, brass fastening pins and part of a spindle had also been preserved. Although it is believed that Lief Erikson did visit, it is unlikely that L'Anse aux Meadows was a permanent site as evidence of burial sites, tools, agriculture, or animal pens have not been found.

As we leave the mounds, our commentary also finishes and the guide points to a fenced area beyond. The site includes a a 20th century reconstruction of the Norse settlement just out of the archaeological site. Lena, our shipboard archaeologist is wonderful as she answers some of the questions I've thought of since the guide returned to the Visitor Centre. As we explore the interactive village, I recognise a Viking or two; some of our resource staff have gotten into the swing of things and have dressed for the occasion. Inside the various reconstructed buildings are people demonstrating their Norse skills and at the same time, provide an approximate idea of life in the settlement. Despite hearing the words, 'tacky' and 'silly' from some of the doubters from our ship, I am delighted that the settlement has been reconstructed and that we now are able to experience the 'idea' of life in this settlement. I come away glad that my visit is in the Autumn as I imagine it would be a bleak and cold place in the Winter, but then again, Vikings came from bleak and cold.

This UNESCO site is brilliant and my visit here has been a true educational experience. As I wait for the funny yellow buses to arrive to deposit us back to our ship for lunch and a small journey to the next town, I can see all the way past the small bay and I commit the bright green bog between me and the water to memory and photograph so I can write it all down. I not only want to remember the view, but I need to record the way I feel; the way I imagine boats being rowed by slaves crossing the incredibly rough Davis Strait and wandering along the coastline in search of a place to stop. The widespread exploration of the Norsemen is well-documented in places like Britain and Ireland, Greenland and Iceland, but delightfully unexpected on this journey. 

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After lunch, and whilst the ship follows the coastline in a southward direction, we spend a wonderful couple of hours sorting through the various books, photos, CDs, and other odds and ends that our resource staff have brought with them to sell. There is a wonderful array of goods and although I would love to purchase one of Graeme Gibson's bird tomes, I know that I cannot fit it into my luggage, which is already stretched to its absolute limit. So a pack of greeting cards and a couple of CDs is about all I can manage at the moment.

 

As the shadows lengthened in the late afternoon, we disembark and meet the local guides that are waiting for us in the beautiful sheltered cove of Conche. This charming little fishing town has an interesting history, all based on the fishing industry. Claimed and used by the French as a Summer fishing ground, the first permanent settlers were from Ireland. In fact, I can detect an Irish accent as our guide, Austin walks us through the village. A school teacher and born storyteller, Austin is concerned that there are now only twelve children left at the school and fears that it will close, pushing the children to the next town for their education. I must admit that I am fascinated by the intriguing stories of not only the early settlers, but life in the village today. 

The townsfolk are predominantly from Irish descent and the main industry is fishing for cod. When cod is in short supply, they fish for mackerel and we are shown one of the fishing sheds, where men get together and mend nets and discuss current events. I would probably compare this to our 'Men's Shed' organisation.

As Austin leads us to the French Shore Interpretation Centre, he promises that we are in for a huge surprise. What he doesn't mention is that what we see is not only totally unexpected, but mind-blowing. As we enter the foyer, we are met by a lady who introduces us to the history of Newfoundland and Labrador through a hand-worked tapestry, which is almost 82 metres (266 feet) in length.

The French Shore Tapestry is the brainchild of visiting artist, Jean-Claude Roy and his wife, Christina, who put forward an idea of creating a Bayeux-style tapestry to record the history of this region. Whilst Jean-Claude designed the panels based on Christina's historical research, they ordered enough fabric from France to complete the project. Two local women travelled to France to attend workshops to learn the Bayeux-style of stitching, which they taught to eleven women of Conche upon their return. For almost three years, the thirteen women worked on the tapestry, oftentimes after working long hours in the fish factory. 

The story is riveting, but when the doors open to reveal this magnificent project, which is mounted and snakes around the room, there is an audible gasp as we slowly enter and savour the work from the beginning.  No photographs are permitted and since the project has been recently completed, there are no professional photographs or postcards available. I am sorely disappointed, so I have to try to commit what is in front of me to memory and I know that I am not going to succeed. The first sections use muted colours that would have been available during that era. More colours are added as time goes on and by the time we reach the modern era, thirty-two colours are used. The story traces the history of the Inuit and the Native Canadian, it records the arrival of the Vikings, French, Basques, Portuguese, British, and Irish. It includes texts in different languages, including French, old and modern English, Latin, and Irish Gaelic. Tiny animals, Celtic knots, and other items relevant to each part of the narrative make up the borders, whilst the timeline at the bottom provides the world events that occurred during the story. As we reach the more recent era, a local event, the crash of a US bomber in 1942 next to the local primary school is depicted. It shows the engineer, who parachuted to safety along with the pilot and co-pilot, who are emerging, shaken but not seriously injured in the crash.

I've come to the very end of the 86 metre work of art and can honestly say that this incredible tapestry is probably one of the most significant works of art I've ever seen. Not being able to photograph it has made me look closer, absorb, take notes, and hope that when I leave here, I can describe this in such a way that the reader would want to visit, simply to see this. As much as I understand the historical significance of the work for Conche, I would perhaps like to think that there will be opportunities for lots of people to see it in one of the larger cities of Canada. 

Reluctantly, Austin leads us from the museum, which had once been a Grenfell hospital. Since learning about the work of Wilfred Grenfell this morning, I am more aware of the significance of these buildings and am happy to see that they are being used as museums as their walls seep the history of the region. As we walk away, Austin adds some insight into the dedication of the women wo worked on the tapestry. An insight from a personal perspective as his wife had been one of the stitchers. This community is very proud of this amazing achievement, and I somehow think that little happens here without the entire community's encouragement and support.

We walk past the main town, the school and to gate with a boardwalk beyond. As the sky turns to an evening shade of pink, we walk down to the end of the boardwalk where the remains of the 1942 crashed bomber now resides.

On November 30, 1942, three Boston BZ-277s left Gander, Newfoundland for England. Heading in a northerly direction toward Greenland, they hit bad weather. With a risk of running low on fuel, the three planes turned around to return to Gander. Two of them disappeared,and the third crashed next to the school in Conche. At 600 feet, and before impact, the navigator had been advised to bail, which he did and survived, whilst the pilot and co-pilot walked away with few scratches. Whilst the drama was being carried out in the air, children watched in fascination as the plane attempted to crash-landed into a meadow right next to their school. After hitting a boulder, it slewed into a stream. With true Newfoundland hospitality, the three crew members were taken care of by the locals until assistance arrived from Gander. Eventually the aircraft engines had been removed and hauled by the locals to the wharf, where they had been collected. The remaining wreckage was left at the site for for future salvage. The second phase of the salvage never occurred and after a while locals in need of a piece of metal to fix a sled or to patch a roof, would come along with a pair of tin-cutters and hack off whatever they needed. 

Today, the striking pose of wreckage provides not only aesthetic value due to its appearance on the coastal landscape, but is a valuable historic site, which has now been fenced and is now a tourist attraction maintained by the Town of Conche and the French Shore Historical Society.

 

It is almost dark when we leave the wreckage. Austin leads us to the community hall, where the townsfolk had each contributed a portion of their annual cod quota and a meal has been prepared for the passengers. As I watch our musicians set themselves up on the stage, I settle in with my travel mates and townsfolk at a table. Reminiscent of a 1970s dinner dance or country-town 21st birthday party, of which I had attended many during my youth, our hosts make sure that our every need is taken care of. Our meal finished and plates collected, we are welcomed by the school teacher, who is the MC for the evening. She introduces one of the town's academics, wo has been tasked to talk to us about the history of the town, touching on the significance of the Irish and French cultures. Instead, we are given a reading of a thesis of the fishing habits of something or other. Honestly, I'm lost with the display of the first slide, but try to look interested. The more she drones, the chatter on the table increases. Not from us visitors, though. It is the locals who are making rude comments.

'Boring,' says one.

'Get 'er off,' says another.

I am in danger of laughing hysterically. 

After half-an-hour, our torment is over as the deliverer of said thesis switches off the overhead projector and sits down. The teacher returns to the microphone, introduces the musicians, both local and our ship-board stars. She sings a song, unaccompanied before handing over to the boys on stage. Even our thesis-lady is forgiven as we dance and listen to the Celtic music of the region. I'm again reminded that the Irish had brought their melodies across the world as I listen to familiar songs with unfamiliar lyrics. 

It's late when we file out of the hall and walk down to the beach where our zodiacs are waiting for us. We've had an extraordinary day, starting with the history of the rural hospitals in St. Anthony before following the footsteps of the Vikings in L'Anse aux Meadows and finally exploring this charming town, where hidden treasures are too incredible for words. Mostly though, my encounters with the people who have gone out of their way to make my day something really special really shine, as none of this could be possible without the hospitality, the warmth, and the sharing of themselves. Today has been truly wonderful.

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DAY THIRTEEN: LEADING TICKLES

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2012

The town of Leading Tickles is located in Notre Dame Bay, often referred to as the Caribbean of the North, with its peaceful waters and its breathtaking natural coves.

In Leading Tickles (population 450), we will find a trail that leads through a dense miniature Newfoundland forest, with brilliant views of islands. The famous Giant Squid is a fibreglass replica of the largest giant squid on record, a 17 metre (55 foot) monster that washed ashore here in 1878.

Yesterday may have been action-packed full of wonderful, wonderful experiences, but when I wake up to the daily wakeup call through the room's speakers, I realise that today is our last full day onboard. 

The one place I would love to visit here in Newfoundland is Gander, but unfortunately it is not on our itinerary. Gander is approximately two hours by road from our current location, but is best-known for its involvement in taking care of stranded airline passengers during the 9/11 New York terrorist crisis in September, 2001. Established in 1935 as an important refuelling stop for transatlantic flights, Gander is still a preferred emergency landing spot for aircraft facing on-board medical or security problems. Most of Gander's streets are named after famous aviators. Gander will have to wait until I return.

The tiny harbour at Leading Tickles is crowded with fishing boats, but the water is too shallow for our ship to dock. So it anchors near and I wait anxiously for my turn to climb aboard a zodiac for the short passage to the town's beach, we we are directed to buses, which were waiting for us. For once, I'm in one of the first zodiacs to leave the ship, which enables me to board the larger, more comfortable coach. The other bus is one of the recognisable school buses, and although has the Gander Tours logo emblazoned across its sides, I doubt that the seats offer any comfort at all. The recent memory of spending twelve hours in one at Denali National Park in Alaska is still fresh enough for me to reject it here when I have a choice.

We are perhaps returning to more temperate landscape as the area around the tiny town is more wooded than we've experienced on this journey. In fact, this region is very pretty. Our tour guide explains a little about the town, lamenting that many of the younger people are leaving and not returning and the population is waning. It must be difficult to try to keep the younger people in the towns when there are few opportunities beyond the fishing industry. 

I'm glad that we have a nice day again today. We've really been lucky with the weather over the past two weeks, and although we've had a few wet days, I'm surprised that it's been as fine as it has. We travel away from the town a short distance whilst our guide tells of giant squids that are perhaps found between the pages of a Jules Verne novel. But on November 2, 1878, a squid of such giant proportions washed up on Glover Bay. 

Moses Harvey, an authority on giant squids of St. John's wrote,

'Three fishermen spied; 

...some bulky object, and, supposing it might be part of a wreck, they rowed toward it, and to their horror, found themselves close to a huge fish, having large glassy eyes, which was making desperate efforts to escape, and churning water into foam by the motion of its immense arms and tail. It was aground and the tide was ebbing. From the funnel at the back of its head it was ejecting large volumes of water, this being its method of moving backward, the force of the stream, by the reaction of the surrounding medium, driving it into the required direction. At times then water from the siphon was as black as ink.'

 

'Finding the monster partially disabled, the fishermen plucked up courage and ventured near enough to throw the grapnel  of their boat, the sharp flukes of which, having barbed points, sunk into the soft body. To the grapnel they had attached a rope which they carried shore and tied to a tree, so as to prevent the fish from going out with the tide. It was a happy thought, for the devilfish found himself effectively moored to the shore. His struggles were terrific as he flung his ten arms about in dying agony. The fishermen took care to keep a respectful distance from the long tentacles, which darted out like great tongues from the central mass. At length it became exhausted, and as the water receded it expired.'

' The fishermen, alas! Knowing no better, proceeded into converting it into dog's meat. It was a splendid specimen - the largest yet taken - the body measuring 20 feet from the beak to the extremity of the tail. It was thus exactly double the size of the New York specimen, and five feet longer than the one taken by Budgell. The circumference of the body was not stated, but one of the arms measured 35 feet. This must have been a tentacle. 

I just love this description, even if it was a little gory. We are now standing in front of the Giant Squid Interpretation centre and after listening to our guide read this description, are ready to visit the site of the exact-size replica, which lies near the waterfront. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Glover Bay's giant squid weighed 1814kg (2 ton), and its eyes were 400mm (15 inches) in diameter. It's still listed as the largest Giant Squid ever found. Coming from the land of the Big Pineapple, the Big Banana, The Big Prawn, and more 'big' things, the Giant Squid piques my interest. I do find a spot where I can take a photo that not only shows the squid's best side, but provides a glimpse of the wonderful scenery beyond. 

Returning to our bus, we drive the short distance to Ocean View Park, which provides lovely hiking trails and access to three beaches. Inside the small hall, the local ladies had ordered morning tea from Tim Horton's, a Canadian coffee and donut chain. Tim Horton was a baseball player who originally set up the coffee and donut restaurants. Unfortunately, before the concept really took hold, Horton was killed and his business partner turned the concept into a huge money-making empire. As the ladies offer us tea and coffee and whilst a lone guitarist sits in a corner playing his original material, it strikes me that we are very short of people - about fifty, in fact, and the musicians are all missing.

I take a walk along one of the beaches. Breathing in that beachy smell of rotting seaweed and fish and fresh pine brings back childhood memories of beaches at the other end of the world. The jagged rocks along the shore provide homes for limpets and other tiny sea creatures, whilst bright yellow lichen growing on the top of the rocks looks like someone has sprinkled them with golden dust.

Just as we are about to board the bus, our musicians and other passengers arrive, breathless. I'm not sure what happened, but it appears their bus broke down. Although we are meant to return to Leading Tickles to visit the Jack Ward Memorial General Store Heritage Centre, we do stick around to support the local singer/songwriter whilst he performs with our musicians. Since our bus will need to return for these passengers, we reluctantly say our goodbyes to the wonderful women who have hosted this morning tea before returning to the bus.

This is our last excursion before our arrival in St. John's, the capital of Newfoundland, tomorrow and although we have a busy afternoon filled with exciting activities, I think I am going to be quite sad leaving this most wonderful of tours.

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DAY FOURTEEN: ST JOHN'S

MONDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2012

We arrive in St. John's on the morning of October 1 and there is much hustle and bustle as we disembark and move to our hotels or to the airport for onward travel. My flight is tomorrow, so I have the remainder of the day to explore St. John's.

But first, I would like to reflect upon what is probably the most profoundly life-enhancing tour I've ever done. I chose to travel solo and although it can be very expensive to do so, the option of being matched to another solo traveller for the accommodation is an advantage. I am very surprised to see how many female middle-aged solo travellers there are on board; in fact, I'm surprised at how many solo or single travellers are onboard. Adventure Canada has been able to expertly match solo travellers who, like me, opt to take the sharing option for the 'twin-share' price. I probably haven't mentioned my own room-mate very often, but she has been an excellent buddy. In fact, she (and a number of other travellers) were left in a situation when the tour company they were meant to be travelling with went bust, Adventure Canada offered them the option of taking this voyage. 

Last night, at our daily recap, the resource staff each had time to talk about the highlights of the trip from their perspective. Along with photos, paintings, vivid descriptions, and quirky stories unique to this trip, it was just wonderful to remember the very privilege of being part of this voyage. We have also been blessed to be in the company of some of Canada's most celebrated scientists, photographers, writers, and the presence of Margaret Atwood and her partner, Graeme Gibson, is more than most people could hope for. Margaret and Graeme are not only very well-known authors, they participate in every activity, talk to every person they come across, and are very interesting to listen to. For me, this is totally unexpected aspect of the trip highlights the value that tours such as this have for the individual travellers.

Another person, who has been an absolute delight to meet and to talk to, although with her face tattoos, she looks fearsome, is Aju Peter. Resplendent in hand-crafted garments made of sealskin by herself, she talks about how she became a lawyer to fight for the rights of the Inuit hunter.

'We are one of the world's last traditional hunting cultures and seals have been essential to our survival for thousands of years.'

 

Aju has appeared at the European Union Parliament to fight to lift the ban on importing seal hides in Europe. Unfortunately her bid has failed, but Aju keeps fighting for her people. 

For me, though, the Swan family, Matthew the elder, Mathew James, and Cedar, along with their wonderful staff have made this journey a memorable one, and I'm a little sad to leave the comfort of the ship to continue my own personal journey. I am a little over half-way through an epic solo trip and for today, I need to say my goodbyes, settle into my accommodation at the Delta Hotel before exploring this beautiful city and catching up with a couple I met recently on my tour of the East Coast of USA.

My taxi driver is wonderful! He tells me that the trip from ship to hotel is too short, and decides to take me on a short tour of the city centre to 'get my bearings'. I don't care because it's actually not costing me a cent. The hotel couldn't send a bus to collect the Delta guests, so they sent taxis. I tell him that I need to go to the post office later and he is happy to show me where it is in relation to the hotel - just a few steps down the road. Whilst I sit with my nose almost glued to the rear window of the car, he passes the museum, points out the 'painted ladies' and throws in a few Newfoundland stories and weird customs like being 'schreeched' in, which turns a visitor like me into an honorary Newfoundlander after dancing a jig with an ugly stick, kissing a cod, and drinking a shot or two or three of rum. Not even that is worse than the Dawson custom of drinking whiskey that has a human toe in the glass! 

My afternoon is planned almost to the last minute and I am really enjoying this beautiful and warm day. In fact, I think it's about 23 degrees Celsius and it's the warmest I've felt for over two weeks. I enjoy the sun's rays on my skin as I walk down to the post office with a parcel filled with the foul-weather gear I won't need from here on. 

In the main street, I find the recommended music store, O'Brien's, which has an unbelievable array of musical instruments, CDs, and anything else one would want or need, including ugly sticks for the screeching ceremony. When this music store first opened in 1939, Newfoundland was its own country and the owners, Roy O'Brien and his wife Nellie, became the first retailers of Newfoundland and Irish music. The store is like an Aladdin's cave, filled with everything I want or need. One of our musicians, Leander Baikie, is a member of the well-known band from Goose Bay, about 200 kms from Makkovik called 'The Flummies'. Singing songs that depict life of the people and their culture, Leander had showcased his music both with his involvement with the Inuit communities we had visited and each evening at our nightly singalong on the ship. Again, I marvel at the exposure to local culture that I had been exposed to during the past two weeks. And it was a gradual thing. There were no harsh words about the tyranny of those who colonised this region (although I know that exists), but a quiet discussion at how their language and customs were banned, their customs replaced, their people displaced and how they have had to fight to retain their place in their traditional lands. I know that they have suffered similar plights as our Aboriginal people and nearly every other indigenous group around the world, and I don't think they are less angry. But it's not my place to comment on that. I simply don't know enough about their history. I have, however, gained a lot of insight during these days floating up the coast of Greenland and down the Labrador/Newfoundland coasts. I select a few CDs from local bands, including The Flummies, and pounce on 'The Very Best of Stan Rogers'. My exposure to Canadian folk and popular music has been one of the highlights of this trip. 

I didn't notice it whilst I was in O'Brien's, but the weather has changed for the worse. The sun is no longer shining and the wind has whipped up. I stop in the gathering gale to take photos of the Painted Ladies, brightly painted homes that are synonymous with St. John's before slipping into the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, which was built between 1839 and 1855. At the time of its completion, it was the largest church building in North America, and is still the second largest in Canada. Like all Catholic churches, St. John's basilica is located on the highest point of the city; the grey limestone and white marble used in its construction was imported from Dublin and Galway in Ireland and the grey sandstone had been sourced from Conception Bay in Newfoundland. Like so many churches and cathedrals of this era, it is a magnificent building, both in its construction and in it's beauty.

The rain is pouring down as I leave the cathedral and it is necessary to don a waterproof coat and pull out an umbrella. Clearly, I don't trust the weather enough to post ALL my wet-weather great back to Australia. My next stop is the museum, which is called The Rooms. This modern building not only houses the art gallery, but includes a museum dedicated to natural and cultural history. Here, I find an exhibition outlining the migration of the Irish to Newfoundland and suddenly it occurs to me that this would be a perfect place to display the wonderful tapestry of Conche. Just in an afternoon, I've been able to fill in the 'missing' bits to add to my wonderful overview of this region.

As the rain is replaced by mist and fog, I return to the hotel in time to meet Gary and Hilda, a couple I had met on a tour in USA and share a fish-and-chip meal with them before they take me for a drive around the area, including Signal Hill and the University, all the while showing their city off with pride. Although the fog prevents me from seeing the promised views, it does occur to me that fog is likely to be seen more often than not. Perhaps I haven't missed too much, but I somehow think that's not true.

My flight to Denver is scheduled for early tomorrow morning, so it is time to say goodbye to Canada and this most wondrous of tours.

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