The spaces between
With a whole four days remaining and over 1200 km (~750 miles) to cover, I took it very easy and meandered back towards Boston.
Then again, what’s another 1200 km?
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Cape Breton is the Cabot Trail. What I totally didn’t realise was that the Cabot Trail runs through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and that there was anything other than a scenic drive. I also had no idea that the whole scenic drive could be done in maybe three hours — but there’s plenty to keep you around for far longer, as I realised — and after Newfoundland, that’s a pretty short drive!
Canada can easily be summed up as “vast”: giant spaces with people scattered across long distances. Having spent the majority of my life in Canada’s big cities, however, has masked this reality to me. On the other hand, renting a car and driving across Newfoundland has now redefined the meaning of what a “long drive” is: hundreds of kilometres where you’re lucky to even find a gas station or restaurant within an hour’s distance.
After the cod moratorium decimated Newfoundland’s primary industry, people left. Many went off to the oil patch out west in Canada, while many stayed in Newfoundland but left behind the outports — isolated fishing communities — they grew up in.
In a time like this, it’s heartening to see some outport communities thriving in new ways. Fogo Island gets all the attention and most of the tourists, due to favourite daughter Zita Cobb (a multibillionaire tech executive) throwing in a ton of money into creating a luxury hotel (which I admittedly find ugly) and some other architecturally daring buildings scattered around remote locations on the already-remote island, inviting artists from around the world to take up residency — I managed to visit one by fortune, with German black-and-white-watercolour artist Silke Otto-Knapp opening the door allowing us a view into her beautiful, though somewhat impractical, studio where she was working on several new pieces. The island’s many towns have managed to stave off federally-imposed forced relocation, and have successfully attracted international attention and visitors that shore up plenty of jobs for locals.
On a completely different note, Fogo Island is also believed to be a corner of the Earth by the Flat Earth Society. Okay.
Still… it was the neighbouring island and its sole town of Change Islands that truly captured my heart in the mere two days (minus the daytrip to Fogo) I was there. Far more tranquil and quiet, I got completely lost upon arrival and managed to drive down every single road on the islands. Not that I minded at all! Around every corner or hillcrest was yet another breathtaking scene of coastline and houses and shacks hanging over the edges, and every person I passed by — kids, adults, seniors — gave a friendly wave. But between B&B owner and Ontario-transplant David and his partner, Massachusetts-transplant Carl and his son Adam, and their local friends Basil and Cherry, I received an overwhelmingly immediate warm welcome. Nothing like a lovely dinner, sunset boat ride around the islands, great conversation, a fine view, and some good reading material to while away the evenings!
I woke up early two consecutive mornings to hike the Skerwink Trail, next to the hostel I was staying at in Trinity East. It’s relatively undemanding, just under two hours long, incredibly scenic…and also incredibly empty, at this time of year. I ran into one single person on the trail, looking absolutely tiny standing on the edge of a cliff. We later ran into each other and hiked the rest of the trail together, picking wild blueberries along the way. Shrouded in the morning mist that first morning, the jagged, rocky coastline, the lightly obscured view of the little town of Trinity, the quickly-hiding stouts (kind of like large weasels), and the complete quiet of an empty trail gave an aura of mystery. The next morning, in full-on sunshine (and again empty), the same scenery looked vast and majestic. Crazy what a little weather does for you.
A mere 25 km from Newfoundland lies a geopolitical curiosity. Canada shares a border with the US, and a maritime border with Greenland, but did you know it also shares one with France?
It’s worth the trouble.
Yes, the trouble of driving four and a half hours from Halifax to North Sydney, Nova Scotia, paying C$338 for a passenger and vehicle ticket for the 14-hour ferry, eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches for something like four consecutive meals, sleeping in a chair and on the floor, then driving an hour and a half from Argentia to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.
I’ve always wanted to go to Newfoundland (and Labrador, but that’s not fitting into this trip because the gravel roads won’t jibe with my tiny rental car). British Columbia is actually further from Newfoundland than England is! Being from one end of the country, it’s only natural that I’d like to see how the other is, but the little I’ve heard — generalisations like its very different accent, the fact that it only joined Canada in 1949, its nonchalance to icebergs and whales, its incredible natural offerings, and its cultural distinction from the rest of Canada — only made me want to see it more.
No matter how you get there or what you do there, it isn’t easy. I’ve run into cross-Canada bikers (many from BC), roadtrippers from all over Canada (primarily Ontarians, Quebecois, and BCians), and people who took the very expensive flight in. Getting around is also next to impossible without a car or the patience to hitchhike over and over again, and distances are incredibly long. Any of these factors are prohibitive enough to reduce tourism from what it could be.
So I got a little too attached to Moncton (more specifically, the good company), which led me to cut time in Halifax (arguably more of a “city” than Moncton, and far more cosmopolitan in ethnic composition). Still, two weekday afternoons to wander around the compact, pleasant downtown and waterfront were enough to just barely glean off a general idea of a cool place to live. I definitely did not do it justice though, and I’ll have to return someday. (What I know I definitely missed was the music scene, but you can’t really expect much on a Monday or Tuesday night.)
I should mention two significant ties that bind Halifax and Boston: the assistance Boston provided after the Halifax Explosion (which is why Nova Scotia provides a big Christmas tree every year to Boston), and Boston’s prominent refusal to accept deported Acadians way back in the day. (Tying back to the last entry, Nova Scotia was also home to Acadians, who were deported and largely supplanted by New Englanders and Scottish immigrants.)
In addition, I’m pretty amused by the similarities – a beautiful public garden next to a green common space (Citadel Hill, which I sadly did not know was open to all even without paying admission), a lovely, long harbourwalk, the actually-argyle Argyle St being a pedestrian area akin to parts of Boston’s Downtown Crossing, microbreweries abound, including one right next to a bouldering space… Hmm, I could live here!
Within municipality limits is also Peggy’s Cove and its famous lighthouse and barren landscape, and a hop-skip west from there being the UNESCO-listed town of Lunenburg. The coastal drive between and including the two is an hour and forty minutes of quiet fishing villages, rocky shores, quaint churches, and colourful houses, and I could not have asked for a better time for a mix of fog and sun.
Canada’s huge. It should come as no surprise that I can even feel like a foreigner in my own country sometimes. Yet…it is surprising! And awesome! If anything, it tells me how little I know and how much more is left to be seen.