Sunday, 31 July 2011

A fine trail and play to check out in Cow Head

The limestone breccia has been shaped by waves and wind
The shoreline of the "Head" has many nooks and crannies
       When I recently mentioned to Gaylene Buckle that we were heading to Cow Head to see some plays for the weekend, she suggested we try out the hiking trail that traverses the “Head”. As Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s (TNL) general manager, she has spent many days in Cow Head and knows the area’s nooks and crannies. We were planning on seeing “The Oracle of Gros Morne” that evening, but wanted to do some exploring in the afternoon before the play. “Try contacting Glenda Reid Bavis since she gives tours of the island and you can usually reach her through the museum” she told us. So the day before our trip we contacted Glenda and although she said the tours were normally held on Tuesdays, she would give us a tour if we arrived about 4:00 pm at the Cow Head museum. We then followed Glenda to the amphitheatre trailhead (you can get great maps of the trails at the museum) and she gave us a 1.5 hour tour which included interesting information about the cemetery, wild flowers and even the limestone breccia which composes the bedrock coastline. “These rocks originated as an undersea landslide millions of years ago” she told us. “And further along the shore there are bands of chert which was extensively used for arrow heads by native peoples. In fact archeologists have found over 2000 artifacts near the point which indicates that this area has been important for native peoples for a very long time ” she added. She then pulled out a small Tupperware container containing a chert arrow head and pieces of raw chert. As we continued our tour we passed a small lighthouse that was built in 1909 and then two lookouts which gave good views of the Long Range Mountains and coastline.  Glenda also pointed out a side trail to the tip of the peninsula and mentioned that if we should try to hike out there if we had time later in our visit. The next day we did the 1.5 km trail again with the extension to the point. The 1 km trail to the point is well worth it. You could spend hours exploring the interesting wave eroded shoreline or enjoy the peaceful grassy meadow with benches at the trail end. 

A scene for "Oracle"
          The “The Oracle of Gros Morne” is a fascinating play about the decline of the cod stocks which has affected many fishermen along this coast and in Atlantic Canada in general.  This play by Berni Stapleton is a unique collaboration between TNL and Memorial University’s Community-University Research for Recovery Alliance (CURRA). CURRA’s mandate is to find ways to promote the recovery of the marine ecosystem and the communities that depend on the fishery through research by social and natural scientists as well as through the arts. This multi-layered play deals with not only what is happening in Newfoundland with the continued failure of the cod stocks but with the larger issue of the global decline in the health of our ocean ecosystem.  “I enjoy acting in this play since it deals with an important ecological issue – the collapse of the local cod fishery is just a symptom of the larger issue of the state of the world’s oceans “Rory Lambert (who plays Manly) told us after the play.  For more information on TNL’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival schedule or to book tickets to a show see- or call 1-877-243-2899.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Golf by day and play by night

A scene from Stones in His Pockets
 by Keith and Heather Nicol
          Some plays suit a location because they mimic what is happening in real life. Cow Head, at the northern tip of Gros Morne National Park, is pretty quiet during the winter but every spring and summer they get invaded by Theatre Newfoundland Labrador (TNL) who put on plays that are often about life in Newfoundland. Artistic Director Jeff Pitcher recently told us that they have between 30-35 people working there through the summer and that they employ many local residents. This year TNL is performing the play “Stones in His Pockets” which is about a Hollywood movie shoot that turns a small Irish town upside down when they arrive. Actors Rory Lambert and Colin Furlong have their hands full playing the roles of 15 people from the director all the way down to young kids trying to land their big movie role. All of this is done without a costume change but by a voice change or a distinctive mannerism. “One of the reasons I wanted to come to Cow Head this summer was because of the challenging role(s) I would have in “Stones in His Pockets” Rory told us after the play. This is a new play for TNL and the play had the sold out audience totally engaged. Although the play is billed as a comedy it has a solemn undercurrent.  For more information on TNL’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival schedule or to book tickets to a show see- or call 1-877-243-2899.

        Western Newfoundland has several golf courses and one of the newest is right next door to Cow Head at Gros Morne Resort . We were able to get in 9 holes on our last visit and are really looking forward to playing the last 9 on our next visit. The course seems to be easy to get on and is especially scenic with the backdrop of the Long Range Mountains. The course was in good shape when we played it even though the fairways were quite wet from the heavy rain the previous day. There are several elaborate stone bridges over the streams that wind through the par 72 course and on many holes you can see adjacent St. Paul’s Inlet. There is a large hotel and restaurant on site and it would make a fine place to stay for a “golf by day and see a play by night” vacation. For more information on the golf course contact:
Gros Morne Resort is Western Newfoundland's newest 18 hole course


Monday, 18 July 2011

TNL’s “Tempting Providence” gets better with age

A scene from Tempting Providence
  by Keith and Heather Nicol
      Nurse Bennett was a true Newfoundland hero who was dedicated to serving the health care needs along Newfoundland’s rugged Northern Peninsula for over 50 years beginning in 1921. She was known as the “Florence Nightingale of the North”, delivered more than 700 babies and amazingly reattached a logger’s foot that had been severed in an accident! And “Tempting Providence” is Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s (TNL) excellent play about her life along this shore. We had seen the play in its early days about 7-8 years ago and loved it then but after seeing it again last weekend in Cow Head we think it has gotten better with age. It has masterful staging (it is hard to believe how many uses a white table cloth can have) and it is well presented. Since this play opened in June 2002 it has been performed in over 440 performances to over 63,000 people in places as far flung as Australia, Scotland, Ireland, England and across North America! At the end of the performance the packed crowd leapt to their feet for a standing ovation.  If you only see one play at Cow Head we guaranty that you won’t be disappointed with this one. 
The kitchen table that also doubled as an operating room
            While you are in the area we also recommend seeing the house that Nurse Bennett shared with her husband and children and also acted as her operating room and patient care facility. The house is in Daniel’s Harbour which is a ½ hour drive north of Cow Head on highway 430 and be sure to watch closely for signs since it is easy to drive right on past the community with the new by pass. The Nurse Bennett Heritage House provides guided tours which gave us many insights into this remarkable woman. We particularly liked the story about the kitchen table which also served as an operating room. The legs were evidently carved by the famous fiddler, Rufus Guinchard, in exchange for a pulled tooth! Also there was no railing on the stairs so that a stretcher could more easily be maneuvered up the steep staircase.  As well, enroute to Daniel’s Harbour, be sure to visit the Arches which in noteworthy not only for the striking rock formation but also for its colourful rounded rocks that have been wave tossed for millennia. 

The Arches is a great place to explore the shoreline
        TNL is performing 7 plays this summer and seeing a play about the area you are visiting really adds to the visitor experience. When we travel we like to hike, beach walk or go sea kayaking by day and then if possible, listen to traditional music or take in a local play in the evening and Gros Morne National Park is ideal for this in the summer. For more information on the Nurse Bennett house contact- 709-243-2601 and for more information on TNL’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival schedule or to book tickets to a show see- or call 1-877-243-2899.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Waterfalls on the North Shore of the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland

Waterfall near McIver's
   by Keith and Heather Nicol
Waterfalls near Cox's Cove
     One upside of all the rain lately is that local waterfalls are impressively fully of water. There are several waterfalls which we will cover in future blog posts for Western Newfoundland so lets start with a couple on the North Shore of the Bay of Islands (Highway 440) near Corner Brook. The first one we discovered while sea kayaking but fortunately it is also easily accessible on foot from the community of McIver’s. It is impressive since it tumbles out right on to the beach. Park your car at coordinates- 49 03.818 N and 58 06.837 W and the trail head is nearby at 49 03.792 N and 58 06.802 W. This short trail winds down to the beach and then walk along the shore for a couple of hundred of meters to the waterfall.  The next waterfall is at Cox’s Cove at 49 06.599N and 58 03.658 W. You need to follow the main road past the community to see this waterfall and you can basically drive to the viewpoint seen in the photo to the right. If you know of other waterfalls on the North Shore then send me the coordinates or directions in the comments section and we will try to check them out.    

A Fine Tyme is a celebration of NL music-photo T. Cochrane
      One nice aspect of living in Corner Brook is that there are increasing numbers of plays and other events scheduled in the evening throughout the summer.  So you can go hiking or exploring for waterfalls by day and see a fine play by night. We recently caught 2 shows that Stage West is doing and saw A Fine Tyme on Saturday, July 16 and Soldier’s Heart on Sunday, July 17. A Fine Tyme features many traditional songs and some stories about Newfoundland and we really enjoyed the fresh and talented cast. Soldier’s Heart is a powerful story about a World War 1 veteran retelling the tragic events of July 1,1916 to his curious son. Stage West is also doing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and their season winds up on July 23, 2011 so you only have a few more evenings to see these excellent plays at the Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre. See for more information.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Experiencing seals and shipwrecks in Gros Morne Park-July 9, 2011

Viewing the remains of the S.S. Ethie
             We had left our home in Corner Brook around 10:00 am on July 9, 2011 with the idea of having an outdoor adventure as well as seeing one of Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s (TNL) Gros Morne Theatre Festival  plays in Cow Head in the evening. Since we planned to see the play “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” we made a stop at the site where the S.S. Ethie was wrecked in a vicious December storm in 1919. A set of stairs leads you down to the beach where you can still see the remains of the rusting ship on the beach.  It turns out that the play “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” is 17 years old this summer and was the play that launched TNL’s programme in Cow Head according to director Jeff Pitcher. So we were looking forward to seeing TNL’s popular presentation about the events that led to the Ethie’s demise. But before we did so we had a sea kayaking trip of our own planned with Long Range Adventures at St. Paul’s Inlet which was just a few minutes from Cow Head.
Getting ready to set out on St Paul's Inlet
          I guess it was third time lucky. We had heard about the harbor seals at St.Paul’s Inlet located near the northern end of Gros Morne National Park for many years and twice had tried on our own to see them. But with no luck! So for this trip we decided to contact Long Range Adventures ( who regularly guides sea kayak trips in this area. “We have seen seals on every trip so far this summer” Daine Hewlin told me over the phone so we booked a spot on his afternoon tour. We joined their ½ day paddling excursion (with several other visitors from Ontario and Switzerland) and we hadn’t paddled out for more than 10 minutes when Daine said he could see seals. And before long we were paddling right up to them. Daine, in fact, seems to know these seals by name since they let him get remarkably close as the adjacent photos indicate.  This is one of the only places in Western Newfoundland and perhaps in all of the province where you can regularly see seals up close in a sea kayak. You can paddle a single if you like or if you are new to kayaking a double is the way to go since they are almost impossible to tip over and are very safe. This tour is ideal for beginner-intermediate paddlers since St. Paul’s Inlet is often protected from wind. Long Range Adventures also guides hiking trips and rents bikes and they are based out of Sally’s Cove.   

Daine seems to know the seals by name

A scene from the play
           That night we saw TNL’s play about the “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” and could see why it has had a 17 year run.  The dinner theatre venue at the Shallow Bay Motel was completely full (be sure to book ahead) and we enjoyed a top notch fresh cod dinner during the performance. This performance gives the backstory to the reasons why the Ethie sailed that night as well as what life was like along this coast over 90 years.  We learned that it was through the Captain’s skill in running her into one of the only places where they could possibly make it ashore and great deal of luck, that no one was lost despite the very stormy waters. Evidently a baby was saved by being transferred to shore in a mail bag! TNL is performing 7 plays this summer and seeing a play about the area you are visiting really adds to the visitor experience. When we travel we like to hike, beach walk or go sea kayaking by day and then if possible, listen to traditional music or take in a local play in the evening and Gros Morne National Park is ideal for this in the summer. For more information on TNL’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival schedule or to book tickets to a show see- or call 1-877-243-2899.         

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Sampling the hikes in the Coast of Bays region of Newfoundland

by Keith and Heather Nicol

Walking along the Jersey Point Trail
Watching the fog roll in on the Deadman's Cove Trail
We recently had a chance to visit the excellent Conne River powwow over the July 1 long weekend in the Coast of Bays region of Newfoundland (see blog post for Monday, July 4, 2011).  This area is accessed by highway 360 which is near Grand Falls in Central Newfoundland. We had never been to this part of the province before so we were keen to see as much as we could in the couple of days that we had available. Since we like to explore on foot we also sampled many of the short hiking trails that the area has to offer. So what follows are some that we found easy to find and that are well marked. In Milltown we walked the Jersey Point Trail which is about 1 km (1 way). Much of it is along the ocean so is a pleasant walk and you can also check out the Piercey Heritage house enroute. We also walked the short 500 meter Southeast Brook Trail which traverses a portion of that scenic stream. In Conne River we really enjoyed their "medicine trail" which I we discussed more fully in the July 4 blog post. As well you can hike up to Clem Joe's Lookout which branches off of this trail at the first small building and it climbs 70 meters to a fine viewpoint. This trail is just 500 meters long (1 way) but the last portion is quite steep. Lastly we walked several very nice trails in Harbour Breton where we played in and out with the fog. The Rocky Point Lighthouse trail is about 400 meters long (1 way) if you take the beach route (beware at high tide since this route will mean getting your feet wet-but there is another entrance point near a cemetery that is less   scenic-since it is not along the water- but you won't have to worry about wet feet). We also really enjoyed the Gun Hill hike which provided great views of the entire area. This hike is short -just 650 meters (1 way) but is has a ton of stairs to climb up. Think of it as an outdoor "stairmaster". We also hiked about a portion of the Deadman's Cove trail which looked to be a great trail but part way along the fog rolled in and we so we decided to return to the car. This trail has fine views of some offshore islands and long beaches and would be a stellar trail in the sunshine. If readers have other suggestions of good trails in this area place a note in the comments section of this blogpost. 

The View from the Gun Hill Trail in Harbour Breton

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Conne River Powwow - June 30-July 3, 2011

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Chief Misel Joe discussing uses of local plants 

Climbing to the top of Clem Joe's Lookout

     We had never been to the Coast of Bays along the south coast of Newfoundland so when we heard about the Conne River Powwow we thought that we should make a point of visiting this year. In 2011, the Miawputek First Nation celebrated its 16th annual traditional powwow from June 30-July 3 so we planned to see the Saturday festivities in Conne River and then see some other parts of this area on Sunday, July 2. We were also very fortunate to get a guided tour of their "traditional medicine" trail by Chief Misel Joe who told us about which plants they would use for various types of health remedies.  For instance, to combat mosquitoes they would crush young ferns and rub them on their skin. I will definitely be trying this the next time I am plagued by mosquitoes while hiking or camping.  This tour will be happening throughout the summer and the trail that they hold it on is very attractive and also has examples of various dwellings displayed along the way. You can even climb a side trail to Clem Joe's lookout for a fabulous view of the entire area (trailhead is at: 47 53.196 N and 55 42.822 W).   

Dancers at the 2011 Conne River Powwow included many children

Dancers at the 2011 Powwow

Mi'kmaq Discovery Centre
The Saturday afternoon powwow consisted of various drumming groups and dancers from a number of first nations groups including Inuit from Labrador, Mohawks from Ontario and of course local Mi'kmaq participants from Conne River. The dancers were all dressed in colourful outfits and it is a photographer's dream. We had perfect weather for the event and the sun and bright costumes made for ideal picture taking. Part of the event is also a community meal with lots of different "country" food like moose, rabbit, salmon and cod. You can also take part in a sweat lodge ceremony if you wish. If you haven't been to this event circle it for next July 1 weekend. It is a unique cultural experience for this province since Conne River has the only recognized reserve on the island of Newfoundland. We also fully recommend going to the Mi'kmaq Discovery Centre which is just off of Highway 360 near Milltown. We had a very good explanation of the displays from the tour guides, Severn and John Jeddore. This is open for the main tourism season and gives an insight into the entire area. For more information on the Discovery Centre, the guided "medicine" trail walks and the powwow contact Colleen Lambert at or