Saturday, August 30, 2014

Newfoundland - General Information

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A Very Brief and Incomplete History 

  In 1497 John Cabot, on a expedition to the New World, sailed into Cape Bonavista and discovered teaming schools of cod fish. His discovery started years of conflict between France and England for control of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. It was also responsible for the unique pattern of European settlement in Newfoundland. At first fisherman spent only the summer, catching fish, salting them and spreading them on the rocks to dry. This cycle was repeated until the early 1600s when the French and English began to establish colonies. Eventually almost every little cove was settled. Many settlements were very small consisting of a few families who were not only isolated from the rest of the world but also from the other settlements. Fishing and general supplies came by ship from Europe and dried fish were taken to Spain, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean Islands where they were a staple food for the slaves on sugar plantations. Cod fishing remained an important part of Newfoundland’s economy until 1992 when the cod fish stocks had been depleted to such an extent that Canada declared a moratorium on fishing. 60,000 Newfoundlanders moved off of the island to find work. No large commercial fisheries remain but limited harvesting of cod along with other fish, lobster and shellfish still provides a living for coastal communities.

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  Ferry  Service

   Two ferry routes, which depart from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, connect Newfoundland to the mainland of North America. One docks on the west side of the island at Port aux Basques, the other on the east side at Argentina. The trip to Port aux Basques takes about 6 hours and to Argentina about 12. The ferries are huge and we felt very little rocking motion. Passengers must arrive at least two hours before departure time. Loading is quick and professional. Passengers who need space to deploy a wheelchair lift will be parked close to the elevator with plenty of maneuvering room. A ramp is available to bridge a high threshold at the elevator.  The seating areas do not have empty spots for wheelchairs so parking is in the aisles or at the snack bar tables. Accessible restrooms are in the center of the ship.

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  Road Conditions

   The Trans Canada Highway was built in 1965. It connects Port aux Basques to St. John ( almost 600 miles) and closely follows the path of the old rail line. The highway is in good condition but isn’t a limited access road and varies from four lane to two lane with a third passing lane at well spaced intervals. Secondary roads vary from excellent to barely drivable. 

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 Touring

Newfoundland is a really big island. We visited for 3 1/2 weeks which wasn’t enough time to see it all.

   When the TCH was built all of the little villages finally had access to the rest of the island. Until that time people either walked or traveled by boat to visit between villages. The road also bought conveniences such as electricity and running water to the villages. A process of resettlement was begun to centralize schools, local government and other public services so some of the smaller villages were abandoned but there are still hundreds along the coasts. Many have tiny museums, walking trails and tours to attract tourist traffic. There are dozens of roads that either dead end or form large loops so, unless you have unlimited time, deciding what to see is difficult. Visiting involves a good bit of driving but the scenery is magnificent. 

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  Weather

   Be prepared for all types of weather. Our first week of sunshine and blue skies was followed by a couple of weeks of overcast skies accompanied by mist, fog and short rain showers. Our last few days on the island were sunny and warm. If you’re planning on an excursions to see icebergs, whales and sea birds check the weather forecasts and plan accordingly.

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  Camping

  We stayed one night in a national park campground. The rest of the time we boondocked or stayed at Walmarts. 

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Boondocking

  95% of Newfoundland is crown land. Crown land is similar to US forest and BLM lands so camping is permitted almost everywhere but since flat areas along the coasts are settled and most of the inland is covered with small, densely packed trees, finding good spots isn’t easy.  Although they’re not very scenic gravel pits, which were created when building the TCH, are the most convenient, numerous and easy to find boondocking spots.

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Phone and Internet

   Before we entered Canada we added a $30.00 plan onto our phone plan which gave us 80 minutes of time using Rogers cell towers. This was fine in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia but only worked in St. Johns in Newfoundland.  Adding a Canadian internet plan to our US plan was too expensive to consider so we relied on hotspots and were very happy to find very fast, free internet at almost of the Walmarts in Canada.  Most of them also allow overnight RV parking of which we took full advantage.

Agricultural Inspection

   When we crossed the border from the US into New Brunswick there wasn’t an agricultural inspection so we were surprised to find one before boarding the ferry in Newfoundland for our return trip to Nova Scotia. All raw, unpeeled root vegetables are confiscated  to stop diseases common on the island from spreading to crops on the mainland.

Accessibility

   Few attempts have been made to provide wheelchair access  at outdoor attractions. The visitor centers at the national parks and historic sites are accessible but the trails are not. Most trails are rough and rocky but accessible boardwalks trails can be found in the medium sized towns. We would have loved a chance to walk/roll along some of the trails along the coast so hopefully someday they will be surfaced with hard packed stone making wheelchair access possible.  Even so we really enjoyed visiting Newfoundland!

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Grand Bay Trail

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  This well made boardwalk trail follows the shoreline of a small lake to a gravel trail that leads to an ocean beach. The boardwalk section is completely accessible but there’s a short rocky part at the beginning. The gravel section is accessible with an energetic helper but it soon becomes sandy. We couldn’t make it all the way to the beach. Out and back on the boardwalk section is about 1 1/2 miles.

The parking area is large enough for RVs.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ryan Premises NHS

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  The Ryan family established their fish merchant business in 1869 and controlled all aspects of the salt cod fish industry in Bonavista for almost 100 years. Their holdings included warehouses, a general store, a fishing supply store, salting and drying platforms, a personal house, wharves and a ship building yard. An excellent museum, which tells the story of cod fishing off the coast of Newfoundland from the early days of the 1500s up to modern times and the moratorium, is housed in the retail store and fish store, two of the original buildings.

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  The museum buildings are accessible with a few problem areas. The first building, where admission fees are collected, has exhibits on the first and second floors. Wheelchair access to the second building involves taking a lift to the basement. From the basement a ramp leads to an exit door with a very high threshold. The path outside is down a grade and surfaced with loose gravel. The exhibits continue on the second floor of the second building and conclude on the first floor. The salt store building, farther down the gravel path, has a small exhibit about furniture makers on the island. The Ryan house is located across the street from the museum. We didn’t have time to tour it.

   Parking is in the lot north of the museum – plenty of room for RVs.  Museum

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The Factory

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   For years the salt cod industry was managed similarly to isolated mining communities where the miners were dependent on the company store and the whims of the miner owner. Little money exchanged hands and the workers were often in dept. In the small cod fishing communities fish merchants were the middlemen, exchanging fishing supplies and household necessities for dried salted cod fish, and setting the price that the fishermen received for their fish. William Coaker, who was born in St. Johns, Newfoundland, saw this practice in person when he worked as  an agent for a fish merchant. In 1908 he helped found the Fishermen's Protective Union which grew to 21,000 members and united the rural fishermen. Cash was paid for the fish and stores were established where goods could be purchased at non-inflated prices.

  William Croaker founded the town of Port Union as a base for the FPU and built The Factory to house equipment for publishing his newspaper, "The Fishermen’s Advocate."  All of the equipment which was used from 1910 to 1980 is still in place. The top floor of The Factory was a wood working shop and has the original equipment.  Photographs, artifacts and the counter from a FPU store are also on display. Viewing is by guided tour.

  The museum is accessible. The threshold at the entrance is a bit high. A few steps lead down to the newspaper printing area but it can be viewed from the main floor.

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The parking lot is large enough for RVs.  The Factory

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve

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  Thousands of seabirds nest on this outcrop of rock. Each of the eight different species has a specific level where they build their nests and raise their young. The top level belongs to the gannets, a large seabird with a 5 foot wing span. A trail leads to a vantage point where visitors can get a very close view of the gannets. The visitor center has exhibits about all of the birds.

  Unfortunately the trail to the view point is very rough and we could only go a short distance. The visitor center is accessible and has a deck with a good view of the nesting area. Bring binoculars to get a close look.

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  The parking lot is large enough for any RV.  Reserve

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Colony of Avalon

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  In 1621 George Calvert purchased a tract of land in Newfoundland from Sir William Vaughan, who had earlier failed to establish a colony on the island. Calvert’s colony, which he named Avalon, was more successful even though Calvert decided, after staying over the winter of 1629, that it was too cold and harsh. He started planning a colony in the more moderate climate of Maryland and left a representative in charge of Avalon. By 1637 Avalon had been granted to Sir David Kirke by the king of England and it stayed in the Kirk family until a raid by the French in 1696 destroyed the colony’s buildings. 

   The exact site of the colony was not known until the 1950s and a thorough excavation was not begun until 1992.  Many of the artifacts that have been found are on display in the interpretive center. A short film is also shown. Touring the site may be done on your own or with a guide.

  The interpretive center is accessible. Wheelchair visitors may wish to borrow an interpretive booklet and visit the dig site on their own rather than taking the guided tour because not all of it is accessible. A boardwalk overlooks the dig site and the other stops on the self guided tour may be seen from the road.

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  The parking lot is fairly big but large RVs may have to park in the gravel lot.  Avalon

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Signal Hill NHS

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  Although it looks like a little fortress the tower on Signal Hill never served a military purpose but was built in 1897 to commemorate John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland. However the hill, with it’s excellent position overlooking the entrance to St. John’s harbor, has been an important defensive site from the 1700s to WWII. Nothing remains but a 1860s barracks has been reconstructed and  canons are positioned overlooking the narrow passageway into the harbor. The visitor center has a short film and displays about the military history of Signal Hill.

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  The tower is not accessible due to steps. A short trail loops around the tower with great views of the city and harbor. It has some steep sections but is accessible with help. The other trails are too steep and rocky. The barracks is at the end of a long downhill trail and is not accessible. The visitor center is accessible.

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  RVs will fit in the lot by using two spaces.  Signal Hill

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Johnson Geo Vista Park

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  The Geo Park is part of the Geo Centre but an admission ticket isn’t required to walk the trails. The trails loop around and interconnect. The short Stoneworks Trail has examples of the way stone was used by the fishermen who settled along the rocky shores and built their own houses, boundary walls and boat landings.

  The trails are hard packed, crushed stone with some short hills.

   RVs will fit in the lot parked lengthwise across the spaces.  Park

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Rooms

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  The Rooms is Newfoundland’s provincial museum. We always visit the official state and provincial museums because they usually give a good overview of the history of the region however this one is disappointing. Newfoundland has a unique history but the museum displays flow poorly and have little substance. Much of the museum is a large atrium which allows great views of the city but wastes a lot of space. Labeling for many of the exhibits is on computer screens and in little booklets with just a few words of explanation.

  The museum is fairly accessible but the computer screens are at a height that is hard to view from a seated position. Some of the articles in display cabinets are too high to view easily. The lift to access the upper level of the forth floor can only be operated by museum staff.

  The parking lot is fairly large. There are a few long RV spaces. The accessible spaces are long enough for small RVs. St. Johns streets are not laid out in a grid plus they’re very steep and narrow which may making navigating a large vehicle difficult.  Museum

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden

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  The cultivated section of the gardens covers a small area of the property and includes many different carefully tended specialty gardens. The rest is kept in a natural state with about three miles of well maintained walking trails that travel through wetlands, forests and barrens. Buy a bag of duck food and cause a  feeding frenzy. :-)

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  The trails all lead downhill from the garden center. One of the trails has switchbacks to lessen the grade but most wheelchair users will still need to have some help. Some of the gardens have paths that are too narrow for wheelchairs.  The Yetman Trail has steps. We walked/rolled along the Main Trail and the Owens Trail. Part of the Main Trail is steep but can be avoided by using the trails through the gardens. The Owens Trail is part boardwalk and part hard packed, crushed stone – easy to roll along. We didn’t have enough time to check out the other trails.

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  Small RVs will fit in the main lot. Larger RVs can park in the lot across the street.  Garden

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