Saturday, August 1, 2015

A tiny town links two worlds

St John’s, NL – Our day trip today took us west of the city and up the branch of the Avalon Peninsula that divides Conception Bay from Trinity Bay. We didn’t drive the coast all the way around; once we reached Victoria on the east side, we crossed to Heart’s Content on the west side and down again, with-out going around the top. It would have made the trip too long.

Rain splattered the windshield for the first part of the drive, but it eased up after a half hour or so, and it wasn’t too cold. The map names town after town on Highway 60 out of St John’s, but as we drove they seemed to be all melded together – Paradise, Conception Bay South, Sea Cave.
When we reached Holyrood, we pulled off the road to read the plaques at a lovely little park at the inner basin of the cove. The park was built on the old railway land, and was trimmed with well-tended planters with colour-ful flowers. On the hill behind us was a huge openwork cross above the town, where ambitious hikers can climb for a commanding look over the bay. Squid-jigging used to be a lucrative activity in this area.

Our route continued up the coast, and each town seemed to have its own small bay to nestle around, where a few boats were moored, and well-kept houses looked down on the water from the hillsides. There were little museums in almost each one, but we had seen plenty of vintage sewing machines, musty World War I uniforms and sepia photographs of days gone by. The coastland, inlets, rocky cliffs and wildflowers were more our speed today.
We did stop, however, once we crossed the peninsula to Heart’s Content, to see the Cable Station provincial historic site. This tiny village, by a deep bay shaped like a heart, was the end point of a transatlantic communi-cation cable that joined it to Valentia, Ireland and revo-lutionized international affairs for the entire continent.

The cable station, now a museum, still houses the original equipment used to read and transfer Morse Code messages from over-seas to North Sydney, NS and on to New York. The entrance floor is covered with a large world map, showing all the under-water cables that existed in 1901 – an impressive array!
Muriel, our guide, showed us pieces of the steel-wrapped copper cables that were strung along the Atlantic Ocean floor – some 2,600 kilometers of it. Three huge reels were transported on a specially-built ship, the Great Eastern, that uncoiled the cable in a single piece as it sailed from Ireland to Heart’s Content in 1866. This pro-tected bay was chosen because it was deep enough to receive a ship of its size.

We learned about the determination of Cyrus West Field, who sank all his savings into the project and overcame early failures and public disenchantment before achie-ving success. The museum also described the social change the cable caused to Heart’s Content, where cable company operators made a princely salary and lived in upscale housing next to poor fishing families. It was a fascinating visit.
We enjoyed a lunch of pan-fried cod at the local eatery before continuing south, passing through Heart’s Delight, Green’s Harbour, New Harbour and Dildo on the way back to the TransCanada Highway and our hotel, just in time for a hot cuppa and a cozy evening.

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