Friday, July 10, 2015

Tails of the sea

St Anthony, NL – Although today was the least scheduled of our three here in St Anthony, I’d venture to say it was one we will long remember – in a good way!

With no elaborate plans, we allowed ourselves a leisurely start. Our on-board weather station told us it was six degrees outside, so we made sure to bring our warm jackets with us when we set out a little while later. I don’t think it made it into the double digits today but at least it wasn’t terribly windy.
We wanted to have a look at the gift shop and museum that was across from the Lighthouse Seafood restaurant we’d eaten at yesterday. Inside the shop, we browsed a bit, looking at Christmas decorations of Santas riding on whales, and T-shirts (one had a picture of a Newfoundland motorcycle: a cow with saddle and handlebars, wearing socks – a “cow-a-sockie”!!), coffee mugs and Labradorite jewelry. Near the entrance was a pair of saloon-type swinging doors with a sign that said “free museum”.

On the other side of the doors was a small room lined with pictures, native animals, old typewriters and telephones, and large panels explaining everything about the flora, fauna, history and customs of Newfoundland. We read about the Newfoundland flag and anthem, about icebergs, whales, local berries, mummers, the influence on the town of US military installations in the 1960s, established to monitor Soviet air manoeuvers, about the struggles of the fishery and the heart-rending resettlement years when small villages ceased to be.
No admission fee was required to visit this home-made museum, lovingly assembled by Monty, the shop owner, over the space of a year when the shop first opened. He managed to acquire and mount a display that included a polar bear, black bear, foxes and seabirds in addition to the photos and artifacts that were offered up by townspeople. We gladly slipped some money into the tin by the door where we signed the guest book.

By this time we were ready to revisit the Lighthouse restaurant and enjoy another steaming bowl of delicious seafood chowder before taking a drive all the way around the St Anthony harbour.
Our next stop was a half-hour drive away, north toward the L’Anse aux Meadows historic site and then westward to a stretch of coastline facing Labrador across the Strait of Belle Isle. We were not entirely sure of our destination. Last night as we waited to go in to the Viking feast, we spoke with a fellow Ontarian who said she’d been up that way to have one last look at Labrador before heading south again. They had stopped to look at the strait and observed an amazing display of whales circling and feeding in the strait. We were hoping to see the same thing, so as Val drove along, I kept my eye on the water to our right.

Suddenly I spotted the billowing spout of one, two, three whales all in one spot. We pulled over and stepped out. We must have stood, spellbound, for ten minutes in the stiff wind, watching one whale after another surfacing to breathe, then diving with tail up. They were circling round and round in two places – it was hard to count them but there must have been more than 10 of them – churning the water. When we got too cold, we took to the car and moved to a higher vantage point where we sat for another half-hour. Several times we saw a whale leap out of the water and crash back with a huge splash, or lunge out and fall back sideways. It was thrilling to watch these animals in their habitat, from an isolated stretch of road that few people seemed to know about. We will never forget it.

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