We have now driven down the west side of this island to Corner Brook, covering again some of the beautiful coastal scenery we first saw in 2000. Much of the western mid-coast is occupied by Canada's magnificent national park, Gros Morne, an immense territory of forested mountains and water of all descriptions (waterfalls, brooks, the ocean, bays...). The rocky shore provides waves of such clarity that they seem transparent -- and makes the beach not very inviting for settlement, so most of the coast is still empty of houses.
Moving south we are slowly finding more settlements and more prosperity. Labrador life was necessarily simple -- there might be a grocery, and a "gas bar" (one or two ancient gas pumps where the vendor hurried out to fill our tank with, of course, regular gas). A larger town might Unpopulated coast have had a more general store selling hardware and clothing, but often those items were combined with the groceries. This eliminated the need for advertising. Several times we found that menu choices were remarkably limited. Once, a breakfast menu included fruit. The fruit turned out to be Grapes. Except that they were all out of Grapes. Another time we found ourselves in an all-chicken restaurant (Chester-Fried Chicken). We asked for salt for the fries, and were told, No salt until the truck comes.
Newfoundlanders, on the other hand, enjoy showing off their island to tourists, and are not shy about sharing their opinions. It has been much too hot and muggy for most, and the rains we have had this week have come too late for the berries and the salmon. Our housekeeper told us, Salmon weir, Labrador "they spawn, all right, but then they just lie there in the river. It's too hot for them to try to jump." Makes for unsatisfactory fishing.
We're including with this report a couple of photos illustrating some of the topics we touched upon last letter. Not only Labrador, but Newfoundland also, supports frequent supply stations of chopped wood (our friend Austin reminds us that wood chopping and cutting is done in the winter, to avoid the blackflies and mosquitos). Sleds come in all shapes and sizes and are clearly all home-made.
On our first visit to this part of Newfoundland, we had noticed weatherbeaten sheds in groups along the shore, but we didn't know that they are fishing rooms -- workrooms where boats and gear are stored, and where the catch is processed before delivery to the local plant. Fishing rooms
Today we visited the Corner Brook Museum, and marveled at the new exhibit on The French Shore. At the beginning of European settlement, most of the fishermen were French. They would spend the summer but return home for the winter months, eventually hiring the local (English speaking) Newfoundlanders as "gardiens" to watch their equipment. As more and more English began to occupy the island, the French became aware that competition for fishing grounds was becoming acute. Both England and France took pains to document their occupation of the fishing grounds, producing intricate maps and charts with high degrees of accuracy.
Captain Cook in fact, first came to notice because of the excellence of his charts, some of which are on display here; the resulting Woodpiles and sled attention from English naval ministers set in motion his expeditions.
For three hundred years, England and France jousted over the territory, drawing up accords and treaties and agreements, all of which were bitterly resented and generally ignored by the people concerned -- the French and English fishermen of Newfoundland and Labrador. One of these agreements established the French right to fish the western shore of the island, another involved the two offshore islands St. Pierre and Miquelon which are still today little corners of France. Today, the French Shore is more of a historic site than a live community, and, perhaps because the fishing industry in general has diminished there seems to be less passion.
But politics is as always an emotional subject, and here in Newfoundland the idea of becoming part of Canada is still new and controversial. After a hundred years or more of self-government, the Dominion of Newfoundland accepted confederation with Canada in 1949. That, and its uneasy relationship to its smaller, less sturdy brother Labrador, makes for lively discussions.
Earlier we mentioned the Labrador flag and now we enclose a photo of the Labrador and Newfoundland flags. Newfoundland and Labrador
To understand how new Canada is, as a country, it helps to look at these flags. The national flag, the maple leaf, was first flown in 1965 (prevously the national flag was a variant of the British Union Jack).
The Newfoundland and Labrador flag dates from 1980. Its design is political symbolism at its most sublime -- we quote from a catalog: "What the colours represent: Blue symbolizes the sea. White represents snow and ice. Red is for human effort. Gold signifies our confidence in ourselves. What the areas represent: The blue triangles stand for our Commonwealth heritage in its similarity to Britain's Union Jack. The red triangles represent the island and mainland portions of the province. The gold arrow points toward our optimism for a bright future. When hung as Dominion of Newfoundland a banner, the arrow closely resembles a sword - a reminder of the great sacrifice made by our province's war veterans. The white centre incorporates the Christian cross, Beothuk and Naskapi ornamentation, and the maple leafs outline. The trident emphasizes Newfoundland and Labrador's continued dependence on and connection to the fishery and marine resources. The provincial flag symbolizes the past, present and future of Newfoundland and Labrador."
There's another flag of importance. The Native Newfoundland Flag dates from the 1840s and may be the only national flag with a pink Native Newfoundland stripe. The story goes that every year thousands of seal fishermen would congregate on the island before leaving for their hunts. The Protestant English and the Catholic Irish sealers were at each others' throats, until the local bishop intervened, calling for a sample of the flags of each. The Irish produced their green banner, and the English supplied the pink ensign of the Native Newfoundland Society. The bishop joined them together, separating them by his white handkerchief, and thus was born the earliest official Newfoundland flag.
Today, this flag is reappearing unofficially, as a statement of opposition to Confederation, which some Newfoundlanders see as the government giving their fishing rights to foreigners, a capitulation to globalism which robs the island of its most prized resource.