Day Twenty-Six: Home Again!

After almost a month on the road, we arrived back home today. We covered five provinces and about 7500 km (4660 miles) in 26 days, over dirt, mud, gravel, rock, treacherous potholes and occasionally paved roads, up steep mountains and into deep valleys, around tight turns and across flat plateaus. Our trusty Mini handled it all (and so did my fearless driver!)

This morning dawned cold but sunny and as we left L’Orignal, we decided to check out the Gingerbread Capital of Ontario. Vankleek Hill has over 250 homes with Victorian era decorative gingerbread woodwork on porches, gables, windows and rooflines (and you thought I meant the edible kind of gingerbread, didn’t you?)

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The town also has a series of murals including this one depicting real residents and the history of the community.

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Further down the road, south of Alexandria, we stopped to visit the St. Raphael ruins.

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It was one of the earliest Roman Catholic churches in  Upper Canada. Built in 1821, it was gutted by fire in 1970.

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Walking through the ruins, I felt like I was in Scotland or Ireland, exploring the ruins of an ancient church or castle. The remains have been stabilized and it is now a National Historic site, yet the stonework is just as stunning as when it was first built.

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It comes as no surprise that the church was built as the centre of a community of settlers from the Scottish Highlands. Many of them and their descendents now lie in the old cemetery beside the ruins.

And now we’re home, laundry done, feet up, enjoying a cosy fire in the woodstove, dreaming about the next adventure…ūüėä

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Day Twenty-five: L’Orignal, Ontario

We crossed the bridge from Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Quebec to Hawkesbury, Ontario mid-afternoon and decided to call it a day. We found a lovely B and B in nearby L’Orignal on the Ottawa River.

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It feels strange to be back in Ontario after almost a month on the road. However, since 89% of the people in Hawkesbury are francophone, it still feels like we’re away from home. It is considered to be the third most bilingual town in Ontario.

We started the day in a downpour so gave up plans to explore the view of old Quebec City from the waterfront of Lévis. Instead we took the Pierre Laporte bridge across the St. Lawrence and began our journey west to Trois Rivières.

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The skies did clear en route and the vast flat fields began to remind me of southern Ontario.

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We wandered around the busy port area of Trois Rivières.

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On the side of buildings in the core as well as along the river promenade I saw a number of silver plaques.

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Each one was engraved with a love poem, in its original language as well as in French, and gave the name of the poet and country of origin.

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I checked it out online and discovered that every September, Trois Rivi√®res hosts the International Poetry Festival with 40,000 participants, events all across the city, readings by poets from around the world and even a “poetry line” (like a clothesline) where you can hang up your poetry for others to read.

We came across this 100-year old covered bridge not far from Berthierville, the birthplace of racing legend, Gilles Villeneuve.

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As we drove through Saint-Lin-Laurentides, we saw a small picturesque brick house that turned out to be the birthplace of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s first francophone Prime Minister.

It continues to surprise me what you can learn along the backroads of your own country.

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Day Twenty-three: Rivière-du-Loup

Yesterday’s uphill hike in the strong cold wind took more out of us than we realized and we woke up rather tired today. So we scrapped plans for a hike today to a glacial lake and decided to meander slowly toward Rivi√®re-du-Loup. It would normally be about a 3-hour drive…it took us almost eight because of all the stops we made along the way!

We spent a good half hour in Ste-Anne-des-Monts parked along the pier, identifying birds and ducks. A new one for us was the black guillemot.

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A little further along the road we spotted a large bird sitting on a pile of stones off shore. Initially we had high hopes it was a golden eagle since they have been seen nesting in nearby Gaspésie National Park but it was an immature bald eagle.

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Impressive nonetheless.

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Our next stop was in Cap Chat to see the world’s tallest vertical wind turbine (it makes the other “regular” wind turbines look tiny by comparison).¬† It was in operation from 1983-1992. The site is now open for guided tours.

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The tide was out as we drove along the coast today which made for a far different experience from yesterday. There was no wind, we explored tidal flats, and unusual rock formations.

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One of the biggest surprises happened in Matane. The river was covered in white birds…snow geese, as far as the eye could see. There must have been thousands of them. For birders like us, it was a big thrill!

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In Ste-Flavie, we discovered the stunning sculpture art of Marcel Gagnon. It’s a gallery plus a restaurant and guesthouse but you can’t drive by without noticing. Here’s why.

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We both kept seeing these odd rock shapes along the water’s edge. I tried to zero in with the binoculars but because we were driving I couldn’t get a good focus. The top of the rocks seemed to curve upward. I had a hunch but wasn’t sure until we found a spot to stop.

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My hunch was right! There were seals resting on the top of rocks at low tide.

We also saw quite a few whales today when we stopped for our daily picnic lunch. Always exciting!

The Pointe-au-Père lighthouse was a surprise (unusual design) as was the submarine (the first Canadian submarine open to the public).

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We learned at this stop that during WWII, German submarines came into the St. Lawrence. As a result, special radio transmission stations (Marconi once again) were set up along the shore and blackouts were established in all the coastal communities.

My favourite spot was definitely Bic National Park. We pulled into a small cove just off the highway and entered another world. Beauty in all directions, and so peaceful.

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Tonight we’re in Rivi√®re-du-Loup and the forecast is for 100 km/hour winds and heavy rain overnight. Happy to be inside, dry and warm. Hopefully, the storm will have blown over by morning.

Day Twenty-two: Ste-Anne-des-Monts

Looking back on today’s journey, I think I’d describe it as a rollercoaster ride. A lot of ups and downs, literally.

First we hiked up to Cap Gaspé.

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It’s a point of land in Forillon National Park that juts out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s a four km hike, mostly uphill, especially the last half km. The cliffs in the eastern side fall 700¬† feet to the ocean but where the lighthouse is located, it’s about 300 feet above the crashing waves. It’s also where the Appalachian Mountains meet the Atlantic Ocean and is the head of the Appalachian Trail.

The Mi’kmaq called it Gaspeg meaning Land’s End. From the lighthouse, we took a trail down the cliff through the woods to a lookout point.

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We saw a whale, seals, and many seabirds.

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In the distance, we even saw this.

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It was easy to imagine Jacques Cartier or Samuel de Champlain was sailing past, and we had slipped through a gap in time.

Hiking back down, the foliage was brilliant.

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Snuggled into the trees I spotted a sleeping porcupine.

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As we were driving out of the park, we saw something unusual crossing the road and so we stopped for a closer look.

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It was a lynx!

The rest of the day was spent driving up and down high mountain roads and deep valleys. I can’t count how many times I have said “Wow!” on this trip. Every turn offers a new feast for the eyes.

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One of our many detours was along a dirt road that climbed steeply upward.

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Suddenly the road took a sharp turn and head straight down toward the ocean. It took my breath away.

Our destination was yet another lighthouse (Pointe-à-la-Renommée) but of greater interest was the building where Marconi set up the first maritime radio station in 1904.

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The northern coast of the Gaspé Peninsula is far more dramatic than the south side. The mountains are steeper and more rugged, the wind blows harder, and the coastal villages seem to hug the shelter of the coves more tightly.

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In one community, we found a covered bridge.

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And in another, we came upon a 115 foot sailboat in the harbour.

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We chatted with the owner who is waiting for a break in the weather so he can sail it to Lake Ontario.

After that we had a long stretch of road with mountains on one side and crashing ocean on the other.

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We’re now officially on our way home, having turned west after leaving Cap Gasp√© and Land’s End this morning. Still a few more days to go and places to discover!

Day Twenty-One: Cap-aux-Os

You never know what the day will offer.

This morning at breakfast, we were chatting with a couple from France. They told us about a boat tour around Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island. It was a beautiful morning Рclear sky and sunshine Рso we decided to do it.

It wasn’t until we had bought our tickets and were approaching the boat that I questioned my sanity. The boat was bouncing up and down at the wharf like Tigger having an exuberantly happy day. My stomach lurched and I reached for gravol (which I carry in my purse just in case!)

Getting on the boat involved two men pushing a passenger on board in perfect timing as the edge of the boat rose with the swell to meet the wharf…and two other men catching the passenger on the other side.

The swells increased as we headed out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence but the photo opportunities were worth it (although we nearly froze even with all our warmest layers on). Thankfully, the gravol helped!

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The view of Perc√© was extraordinary and as we passed Bonaventure Island, we saw grey seals and a huge gannet nesting area. All the photos are on my good camera though and I haven’t had a chance to download them yet.

We dawdled around Percé all morning, checking out historical buildings, and wandering along the shore.

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Then we continued our drive along the coast. Once again, the view was awe-inspiring – mountains in every direction and more hues of orange, yellow, red and green than I dreamed possible. We certainly lucked out with our timing for this trip in terms of seeing the peak of the fall foliage.

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As we came around the other side of the bay, I was able to capture one more shot of Percé Rock with an abandoned house in the foreground.

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The City of Gasp√© is nestled into a mountainside on the Bay of Gasp√©. It’s a picturesque spot with great views in all directions including these tidal flats.

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Tonight we’re staying in a former school in Cap-aux-Os, about 20 minutes east of the city of Gasp√©. The bedroom appears to have been a classroom with the original wooden cupboard doors in one corner, and big windows overlooking the playground. Funny how schools always feel like schools no matter how they are repurposed.

Tomorrow we get to explore Forillon National Park. And it looks like another nice day.

Day Nineteen: Bathurst, New Brunswick

Today it rained. And rained. And snowed. And rained.

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We crossed the border into New Brunswick first thing and stopped to buy a map. At the roadside stop, there were three larger-than-life semi-palmated plovers with some facsinating information about these and other shore birds.

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After breeding in the Arctic, they spend the summer months in the mudflats along the Bay of Fundy eating shrimp-like creatures. They eat until they have doubled in size and then fly 4300 km non-stop to South America.

We were lucky enough to see some semipalmated plovers on our travels.

Although the weather wasn’t great, we did identify a few more birds today. We found some Dunlin, Greater Yellowlegs, Hooded Mergansers and Black Ducks. I did try to take some photos but they didn’t turn out that well.

We stopped for our picnic lunch on Hay Island near Neguac. We were in the heart of the Acadian Peninsula, and the lighthouse was painted in the colours of the Acadian flag.

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For those unfamiliar with the tragic history of the Acadians, they were of French descent and settled in the Maritimes in the 17th and 18th century. Between 1755 and 1764, the British forcibly removed the Acadians and deported them to France, Britain and the Thirteen Colonies (which later became the U.S.). Approximately 11,500 of the 14,000 Acadians were deported.

As we drove along the coast of the Acadian Peninsula and out to the Islands of Lameque and Miscou, the Acadian flag was proudly waving in front of homes and businesses, painted at the base of telephone poles, on boats and even on buildings.

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Fortunately the rain lifted when we reached Miscou Island. It was one of the first areas explored by Jacques Cartier in 1534. It was a fishing base for Basque fishermen, fishermen from the Isle of Jersey and for Acadians. Indigenous people had seasonal hunting camps there.

Today, the majority of residents speak French and fishing is still the major industry (lobster and herring).

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Most of the island’s peat moss has not been harvested and there are boardwalks through the area.

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Miscou Island’s lighthouse was built in 1856 and is still in use.

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We were able to go inside for a tour right up to the top.

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Sheltered from the wind beside the replica of the lighthouse keeper’s house, we could see the coast of Gaspe (our destination tomorrow).

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Day Eighteen: Amherst

This is the view we woke up to this morning. Kelly’s Mountain near Sydney, Nova Scotia.

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As you can see, the fall colours are at their peak, and continued to captivate us during today’s drive.

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Beautiful as it was, I found myself missing Newfoundland and Labrador. The landscape there is so vast and wild, with more trees, mountains and coastline than people. Here there are rolling fields, cattle and sheep grazing, and plenty of towns with gas stations and coffee shops.

We discovered too late that the Celtic Colours International Festival is on now in Cape Breton. How wonderful it would have been to attend a ceilidh! Another trip perhaps.

We skirted away from the TransCanada highway to explore some coastal communities and we considered taking the ferry to Prince Edward Island but our timing was off for that too.

We did stop in Tatamagouche to visit some shops.

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And we came across this delightful lighthouse in Wallace Harbour.

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And this was our view of Prince Edward Island in the distance.

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We also came across a lavender farm in Seafoam (yes, that is a real place).

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And drove past Denmark!

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You never know where your adventures will take you ūüėĀ

 

Day Seventeen: Sydney, Nova Scotia

 

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I did mention that I’m not a morning person, right? My partner took the risky step of buying me a coffee. My first. And I’m sad to report that it went down far too easily!

The early morning drive along the coast of Newfoundland to the ferry was just as stunning as every other we’ve taken on the island.

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Right to the end of the drive, mountains rose on either side as if saying a fond farewell.

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The ferry ride was smooth and we scored the best seats ever. We paid a bit extra for cushy reclining chairs in the reserved section. We overlooked the stern of the ferry, on the 9th level (the only thing above us was the observation deck) and windows all around.

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About an hour into the seven-hour crossing, Newfoundland became the suggestion of a pencil smudge on the gloomy horizon. After that we were cocooned in fog.

The rain and clouds finally began to lift as we approached Cape Breton.

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As we drove away from the ferry, my first impression of Nova Scotia was one of brilliant colour. Oh maple trees of orange, gold and red, how I have missed you! It was dusk and too dark to take photos but I know tomorrow’s drive will be spectacular!

Day Sixteen: Stephenville

The highlight today was the landscape. We drove in sunshine from Rocky Harbour to Stephenville, albeit via a rather circuitous route. Why drive directly to your destination when there are so many things to explore?

Once again, we saw brilliant colours on tree-covered hillsides followed by rugged mountainsides around the next corner.

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At times, you could see for miles and all you could see was range after range of mountains. I was reminded of that children’s song about the bear going over the mountain to see what he could see. And all that he could see was…another mountain!

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As we approached Stephenville, we turned off and headed out to explore the Port-au-Port Peninsula joined to the mainland by a causeway with a stony beach.

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The area has the most diverse ethnic and linguistic mix on the island including Mi’kmaq, French (descendants of French and Basque settlers from the 1700’s) and Acadians. We saw the Mi’kmaq flag for the first time today, and many of the signs were in 3 languages – French, Mi’kmaq and English.

The drive to Cape St. George and back around was spectacular. Here are some of the amazing views.

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On the way back to Stephenville, we suddenly descended from the mountains to a low coastal beach. The beach itself was made of thin stones that sank under your feet like sand.

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Newfoundland continues to surprise us with its diversity.

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Tomorrow we will be up before the sun to drive a couple of hours to Port-aux-Basques for the ferry to Nova Scotia. I’m not a morning person (as some of you well know!) so it’s a good thing I’m not the one driving ūüėä

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Day Fifteen: Gros Morne Park (Part Two)

We are now halfway through our trip. We have seen so much yet it feels like we have only skimmed the surface.

Speaking of which, today we had the rare opportunity to walk on the Earth’s mantle. The Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park look like a barren desert with steep slopes rising to flat-topped mountains.

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The golden brown rock – peridotite – is thought to have been forced up from the depths several hundred million years ago during a collision between tectonic plates.

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The rock has toxic amounts of heavy metals and lacks nutrients to sustain plant life so the area looks like a moonscape.

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Yet the land and mountains on the opposite side of the road are lush and green.

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The plants that do grow on the tablelands are alpine and found only in the lower part of the landscape. The pitcher plant (a carnivorous plant like the Venus flytrap) is vibrant red and prevalent.

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So is the creeping juniper. We saw some tiny ferns near a waterfall as well as some purple asters.

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The whole day was one of contrasts. I had no idea that this part of Newfoundland was so mountainous. Every time we came around a corner, a new breathtaking view arose before us. And what a mix! Snow-covered mountains, jagged peaks and flat table tops, lush valleys, deep lakes and fjords…

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We stopped as always in a few coastal villages along the way. We were particularly charmed by Norris Point nestled between Bonne Bay and the East Arm and surrounded by rolling hills and mountains in glorious fall colours.

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In a couple of valleys we saw the unmistakable crimson of maple trees – the first maples we’ve seen since Quebec. It actually made me feel a bit homesick for the range of fall colours we usually see this time of the year.

Tomorrow we continue south to Stephensville, and the next day, we’ll be catching the ferry to Nova Scotia. Only two more sleeps in Newfoundland. I will miss the extraordinary land and sea as well as the open and welcoming people who have made us feel so at home.

Oh, and the partridge berry pie!