Open and closed
It goes without saying. People from away who come to the northeast coast of this island in summer want to see two things above all — whales and icebergs. We have the wonderful Tourism NL television ads to thank for that, and truth be told, even people who have lived here all their lives will go out of their way to seek out these spectacular summer visitors who arrive by sea from north and south in spring and early summer, and disappear again by the autumn.
A three-generation extended family of old friends from Ottawa were no exception when they came to stay with us some weeks ago. They had been here before, and had thrilled to the sight of hump-backwhales close-up from a 21-foot speedboat. If they saw them again, they would be happy, but it was icebergs that were really on their mind. So too for a new friend from Toronto.
In the weeks before all our friends’ arrival we waited for the bergs to turn up. We knew there were plenty of them around Twillingate, but those are in the open ocean and you can count on them. In Bonavista Bay, the timing is critical. As the icebergs pass the open mouth of the bay on their way south, there needs to be an easterly wind to push them westward between Cape Freels to the north and Cape Bonavista to the south. That wind needs to keep pushing them far enough up the bay until they are trapped among the chains of islands and run aground in the shoal water.
Looking out the mouth of the harbour the day after our friends’ arrival, I spotted one such berg just off Shalloway Cove — the ferry terminal for St. Brendan’s about eight miles away. As all 11 of us boarded the ferry the next day for the 50-minute voyage from Burnside, the crew assured us we would pass quite near the grounded iceberg. Emerging, as though by magic from one of the dense banks of fog that traded places with brilliant sunshine, we spotted the berg from our vantage point on the bridge where despite the signs warning us away, we had been welcomed by the captain. The iceberg was about half a mile away, and I knew the ferry could never get any closer.
As we docked, so did a longliner, a crab collector boat from Beothic Fisheries of Valleyfield. “I wonder,” I asked the longliner’s skipper Donald Barbour, who was waiting on the wharf for the crab to be graded before he could load it, “if there is any way you could bring my friends from Ottawa out a little closer to that iceberg. They’ve come a long way. You are here for an hour and so are we before we take the ferry back to Burnside. Any chance you could run us out there to take some snaps.”
The same openness that the skipper of the ferry had shown us in our tour of the bridge appeared again in Mr. Barbour’s reply. Within 10 minutes, the group, ranging in age between 80 years and six months, were aboard the longliner and steaming toward the iceberg. My Ottawa friends were awed by the beauty of the iceberg emerging from
My Ottawa friends were awed by the beauty of the iceberg emerging from the fog. They were every bit as amazed by the openness of the two skippers and their crews whose kindness had transformed what might have been a routine outing into a memorable occasion.
the fog. They were every bit as amazed by the openness of the two skippers and their crews whose kindness had transformed what might have been a routine outing into a memorable occasion. Many thanks to them from all of us who were aboard the two vessels that day.
This way of behaving is as valuable an asset to tourism here as any television ad — however beautiful. It comes naturally to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and, if you haven’t travelled outside this province, you can’t know how different it is from what you are likely to encounter elsewhere.
The warmth and openness we encountered as we travelled through the fog and sunshine over the waves of Bonavista Bay is in sharp contrast to the shameful behaviour on display in the Dunderdale government’s disgraceful changes to the public’s access to information that followed days after our delightful voyage.
I was glad my friends had left the province by then and I didn’t have to explain to them that our government was also made up of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, but whose natural openness had been closed up tight by their majority grip on power. Maybe it’s something in the water in the offices of the government side in the Confederation building.
If the Dunderdale government wants to stay in office, perhaps they should take a leaf out of the book written in the actions of everyday people of this province. Read it carefully and heed. Open up. Don’t imitate the tactics of Stephen Harper, one of Canada’s least admired politicians, particularly here. Be like the people you represent. While you’re at it, order in some bottled iceberg water from around the bay.
Peter Pickersgill is an artist and writer in Salvage, Bonavista Bay. He can be reached by email at the following: