Gerry Feehan takes us to North America’s Oldest European Settlement
By Gerry Feehan
This is the second in the Newfoundland series. Scroll down to find Part 1, Gros Morne.
On a lonely highway in a tempest on Newfoundland’s remote Northern Peninsula, we finally spotted our first moose. Luckily, before moose met grill, the big bull stepped off the road into the ditch and I was able to keep the rig down the centerline, avoiding the frigid Gulf of St. Lawrence to our left and a frightfully deep fen to our right.
We had set out that morning from Gros Morne National Park, 350 km south ‘up’ the coast. The night before had been clear and 7 degrees. By early morning it was rain and 17. This was the muggy aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which long after devastating Key West, was now bringing high winds and warm rain to remote—and distinctly non-tropical—Newfoundland.
We were bound for L’Anse aux Meadows, on the extreme tip of northwest Newfoundland where lie the remains of North America’s oldest European settlement. It was October so, although we arrived before 5 p.m., twilight was nigh as we settled in at the Viking RV Park. We were the only campers. The office was closed. In the morning I deposited cash in the “off-season/$25 per night” bucket by the abandoned office and drove the remaining few km to the National Historic Site.
One of the advantages to a late fall motorhome trip is that, with darkness extant by suppertime, it’s early to bed—and early to rise. (The healthy wealthy and wise part I won’t comment on.) So, uncharacteristically, we arrived at L’Anse aux Meadows first thing in the morning, just as the park gates were being unlocked.
“…Both are horrible!” said the Leif look-alike…”
Leif Ericsson, a Norse explorer, together with his small group of intrepid fellow Viking seafarers, landed here around 1000 AD. They strategically chose this spot near the Straight of Belle Isle, within sight of Labrador. They called the place Vinland, the land where wild grapes grow. Setting up a sturdy encampment of turf-walled buildings, they explored for hardwood lumber, iron ore and arable land.
From the visitor center we followed a Parks Canada interpreter down the winding boardwalk toward the sea. He showed us the faint remains of the original sod buildings: the Leader’s Hall, labourer’s quarters, a women’s workshop and the smelting hut where a charcoal kiln produced iron from bog ore. But the terrain was unwelcoming—as perhaps was the indigenous native population—and after only a decade or two, the Vikings abandoned the site, burning everything as they departed.
“….I die at you, she said laughing….”
The interpreter’s talk ended at the ruins and, with somber thoughts, we continued down the trail to where the National Park service has artfully reconstructed a series of replica sod huts by the cold sea. The Norse may have been fierce warriors but they couldn’t have been very tall—I had to stoop as we entered the longhouse. The room was dimly lit by a smoky peat fire. When our eyes adjusted to the low yellow light, we noticed a man and a woman clad in Viking attire seated by the comfortable fire. The man, a Leif Ericsson doppelganger, whittled a talisman while the young woman wove fabric on a traditional loom. They explained in detail how the first Viking explorers had lived, eaten, slept and toiled here 1000 years ago, eking out a meagre existence on this inhospitable shore by the frigid north Atlantic.
Newfoundlanders are the friendliest, most outgoing of people, so when I asked the young woman if she lived nearby, her Parks Canada persona evaporated like ‘tick fog’ and the talk immediately turned to the upcoming weekend, her two hard-earned days off and fall berry-picking. “I was born just over that side of the ‘arbour. My father ran trawler ‘til the fish ran out.” (In Newfoundland ‘fish’ means cod. Everything else, haddock, flounder, plaice, etc. is known by its usual name.) She winked and said, “Growing up, it was always cold in the house. In winter me mom would open the fridge to warm the place.”
I then inquired about the merits of partridgeberry vs. bakeapple jam. We had been looking for souvenir gifts and both berry varieties were available at the Dark Tickle Chocolate store just down the road. “Both are horrible!” said the Leif look-alike, unable to resist joining in. Our new lady-friend disagreed and told him so in no uncertain terms. “Oh me nerves, he’s got me drove.” Apparently, partridgeberry-picking was number one on her weekend agenda.
In an effort to segue the subject I asked whether the town of Quirpon or Great Brehat—each just down the coast—were worth a visit. She and Leif chuckled at my accent. “I die at you,” she said laughing. Nothing will more quickly label you a tourist in Newfoundland as the mispronunciation of local place names. Quirpon is ‘Car-poon.’ Great Brehat is pronounced ‘Great Bra’. Happily, I didn’t inquire about the town of Ferryland.
“Where are youse from?” our Viking-ess asked. “Alberta,” we replied. “Alberta,” she continued. “I’ve got a brother in Ft. McMurray.” (I can report that we didn’t meet a single Newfoundlander who did not have at least one family member working out west. But, no matter where a Newfie might live, a trip ‘home’ is always in the works. Famously, it is a 63-hour drive from Ft McMurray to the Rock.)
I tried to get her back on Viking track—but to no avail. All pretense of the 11th century Norsewoman was abandoned. She continued, talking about her husband, the small family garden, the incessant rain. “And there was himself last night,” she continued. “Luh, standing in a downpour, coat wide open, staring at lord knows what, sopped to the skin and stunned as me arse.” Then she politely adjusted her bonnet and resumed weaving.
CBC radio had gravely informed us that morning that the Doomsday Clock had been moved to two minutes before midnight. The world was closer to self-destruction than it had been at any time since the Cold War. I asked her if she was worried.
“Why, not a bit. After all, with the half-hour time change here on the Rock, us Newfies got ‘til 12:30.”
I love Newfoundland.
Gerry Feehan, QC is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.
Special thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for supporting this series.
‘A big part of my life’: Orillia mourns hometown legend Gordon Lightfoot
Two men pay respects at Gordon Lightfoot’s Golden Leaves statue at Tudhope Park in Orillia, Ont., on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. Flowers were placed on the tribute after news broke that Lightfoot passed away at 84 years old Monday May 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Drost
By Sharif Hassan in Orillia
It didn’t take long for the flowers to appear at the statue of Gordon Lightfoot in his Ontario hometown.
The legendary folk musician, claimed by the City of Orillia as its “favourite son,” died of natural causes at a Toronto hospital on Monday at the age of 84.
Barely 24 hours later, Orillia residents stopped by the bronze sculpture of Lightfoot that stands in a city park to pay their respects.
Cam Gardy, who brought yellow flowers to lay at the base of the statue, said his mother went to school with the musician and would tell tales of how he’d perform for students.
“He has been a part of my life as I have grown up,” Gardy said, adding that while he never met Lightfoot personally, he had been to one of his concerts.
“Mr. Lightfoot is iconic, not only to the residents and the city but obviously to the people across Canada.”
Lightfoot put Orillia on the map, Gardy said, and was an “incredible ambassador” for the city.
“He always spoke of his town fondly,” Gardy said.
Joanna Bell, who brought a rose to place at the statue, said she cried when she woke up to news of Lightfoot’s death on Tuesday morning.
“Gordon Lightfoot was a big part of my life, my childhood,” she said, adding that she is one of seven siblings. “He was loved by all of us, and of course he wrote the most beautiful music.”
Lightfoot’s music brings to mind the beauty of Canada, she said.
“He is such a well-respected Canadian,” she said. “That is why I came today, I felt compelled to come.”
Heather Placken, who said she’s been a fan of Lightfoot’s for 40 years, said she only learned of the singer’s death when walking by the entrance of the Orillia park hosting his statue – an announcement had been posted by the entrance.
“I feel really honoured and grateful that I had the opportunity to see him here last summer,” she said.
Lightfoot was more than just a songwriter and musician, she said.
“Every song he has ever written and sang, it tells a story of something significant that everyone of us can relate,” she said.
“He was an amazing individual and for Canadians, to have somebody of that stature to look up to in the music industry is phenomenal.”
Lightfoot was born in Orillia in 1938, sang in a church choir as a boy and dreamed of becoming a jazz musician.
He later emerged from Toronto’s Yorkville folk club scene in the 1960s, and went on to record more than 20 studio albums and hundreds of songs, including “Early Morning Rain,” “Carefree Highway” and “Sundown.”
Orillia Mayor Don McIsaac said Lightfoot was highly regarded in the city.
“His homecoming concerts at the Orillia Opera House and appearances at the Mariposa Folk Festival have always been celebrated by Orillians as they welcomed him home,” the mayor wrote in a statement.
“Many of us who knew him will remember his soft-spoken demeanor, generous personality and infectious laugh.”
There are reminders of Lightfoot throughout Orillia, McIsaac said, noting that the singer’s name graces a city auditorium stage and a trail, while a bust of him sits at the Orillia Opera House, in addition to the sculpture honouring him in the city’s J.B. Tudhope Memorial Park.
“His deep roots in our city are woven into the fabric of Orillia,” McIsaac said. “Our community is mourning together along with the rest of the world.”
The city has lowered its flags to half-mast, the mayor said. Books of condolences for the music icon are available at the Orillia Opera House and Orillia City Centre.
A concert tour to celebrate Lightfoot’s music had been set to begin on Saturday, on the stage named after him at the Orillia Opera House. It will still go ahead, with the show’s creator saying she hopes it will serve as a celebration of Lightfoot’s music and life.
“My band and I were huge fans of Gordon Lightfoot. The reason that we created this concert is because his music has impacted all of our lives so much,” Leisa Way said in an interview.
“He’s just shaped who I am as a Canadian, certainly growing up in northern Ontario, and now it will be very emotional for all of us.”
Way said the concert, called Early Morning Rain: The Legend of Gordon Lightfoot, had premiered for three weeks in February 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic meant it had to stop.
She said she hopes Saturday’s concert will be a special event for the residents of Orillia.
“There’s nothing that Gordon Lightfoot would love more than knowing that audiences are getting together in theaters and singing along to all of his songs,” she said. “I think he’ll be smiling down on us.”
– with files from Maan Alhmidi in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2023.
Antiquities, plucked from storeroom, on Roman Forum display
Archaelogical findings are stored in plastic tubs in the antiquities storeroom inside the Roman Forum in Rome, Wednesday, April 19, 2023. The pieces today on display at the Forum were part of the myriads of findings still kept in the Colosseum storehouse that is not open to the public. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
By Frances D’emilio in Rome
ROME (AP) — Hundreds of remnants of ancient Roman life — including colored dice, rain gutter decorations depicting mythological figures, and burial offerings 3,000 years old — have long been hidden from public sight. Until now.
For the next few months, a limited number of visitors to the Roman Forum, Colosseum or Palatine Hill can view a tantalizing display of ancient statuettes, urns, even the remarkably well-preserved skeleton of a man who lived in the 10th-century B.C. All the exhibits have been plucked from storerooms in the heart of the Italian capital.
Indeed, so many artifacts are kept in storerooms that “you could open 100 museums,” said Fulvio Coletti, an archaeologist with the Colosseum archaeological park. On Wednesday, Coletti stood at the entrance to a “taberna,” a cavernous space which had served commercial purposes in ancient Roman times and belonged to the palace complex of the 1st-century Emperor Tiberius.
Three such “tabernae” now double as exhibition rooms for once-hidden antiquities. To give an idea of just how many more artifacts are still not on display, curators stacked enormous see-through plastic tubs, chockful of discoveries from some 2,000 years ago and bearing minimalist labels like “Ancient Well B Area of Vesta,” a reference to the temple in the Forum erected to the goddess of the hearth.
One display holds row after row of ancient colored dice — 351 in all — that in the 6th century B.C. were tossed into wells as part of rituals. Also in the exhibit is a decoration from a temple rain-gutter depicting a bearded Silenus, a mythological creature associated with Dionysus, the wine god.
Some artifacts are displayed in showcases custom-made by archaeologist Giacomo Boni, whose excavations in the first years of the 20th century revealed dozens of tombs, including many of children. Some of the tombs dated from as far back as the 10 century B.C., centuries before the construction of the Roman Forum, the center of the city’s political and commercial life, when the city’s inhabitants dwelt in a swampy expanse near the River Tiber.
In one display case is the largely intact skeleton of a man who was a good 1.6 meters tall (about 5-foot-4 inches), on the taller side for his time, in the 10th century B.C. He was buried with some kind of belt, whose bronze clasp survived. Found in his tomb and on display are a scattering of grains, remnants of funeral rites. Layers of mud, formed in Rome’s early days, helped preserve the remains.
The director of the Colosseum’s Archaeological Park said staff were working to make an inventory of artifacts kept in more than 100 storerooms, whose contents up to now have been accessible to academics but few others.
“We want in some way to make objects come to light that otherwise would be invisible to the great public,” Alfonsina Russo, the director, told The Associated Press.
“We’re talking of objects that tell a story, not a big story, but a daily story, a story of daily life,” Russo said.
Every Friday through July, visitors can admire the antiquities pulled out of the storerooms during 90-minute guided tours. The “tabernae” are small exhibition spaces, so only eight visitors can enter during each tour. Reservations are required, and visitors must buy an entrance ticket to the archaeological park. Park officials indicated they hope the initiative can be extended or renewed.
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