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Gerry Feehan takes us to North America’s Oldest European Settlement

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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.

L’Anse aux Meadows is located on the remote west coast of 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.

The replica sod huts are very realistic and come complete with period-costume Parks Canada personnel.

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.

 

Arches Provincial Park glows at sunset.

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.

Exploring Gros Morne Newfoundland with Gerry Feehan

 

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Alberta

National Indigenous Languages Day celebrates with virtual celebration to honour strength and endurance of Indigenous languages and cultures

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March 31, 2021, Fort Chipewyan, AB – Cree and Déne elders and language teachers celebrate National Indigenous Languages Day in a virtual celebration. The day honours the strength and endurance of Indigenous languages and cultures.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort Chipewyan Métis Association, Mikisew Cree First Nation, in partnership with the Athabasca Tribal Council and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, are hosting the event.

“It’s important to preserve our mother tongue because it defines who we are,” said Chief Peter Powder of Mikisew Cree First Nation. “First language skills have been declining and this encourages the well-being and resilience of our rich culture and our identity.”

National Indigenous Languages Day was first celebrated on March 31, 1993. Since then, March 31st marks the day Indigenous language speakers, elders, knowledge keepers, and youth across the country live, experience, and learn in their first language.

“Language is central to identity, preservation of culture, worldview, the environment they inhabit, and expression of self-determination,” said Chief Allan Adam of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and President of Athabasca Tribal Council. “By learning and speaking an Indigenous language, you are doing your part in reclaiming and revitalizing Indigenous languages.”

Links to each virtual zoom session will be posted on the Athabasca Tribal Council Facebook.  Click here to go there now.

 

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Alberta

How the Railroads Shaped Red Deer

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A crowd gathered at the Red Deer train station to provide a sendoff for members of “C” Squadron of the 12th Canadian Mounted Rifles Regiment. Heading off to join WWI in May 1915. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives. P2603

Rivers, creeks and streams have shaped the land for eons, slowly carving away earth to reveal the terrain we know today. Much of the same can be said for the impact and influence that railways had in shaping the size and shape and even the very location of what is now the City of Red Deer. 

Prior to the construction of the Calgary and Edmonton railway, which started heading north from Calgary in 1890, what we now recognize as the bustling city of Red Deer was unbroken and forested land. The nearest significant settlement was the crossing for the C&E Trail of the Red Deer River, very close to where the historic Fort Normandeau replica stands today. 

Small town of Red Deer from along the Calgary and Edmonton Railway line looking north circa 1900. The Arlington Hotel and the CPR station can be seen. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives. P4410

 

Above left: The Canadian Northern Railway excavating grade along the side of North Hill of Red Deer, AB in 1911. Using the steam shovel Bucyrus and trains. Photo P782. Above right: Workers building the Canadian National Railway trestle bridge at Burbank siding near Red Deer, AB, 1924. P7028. Photos courtesy City of Red Deer Archives.

Reverend Leonard Gaetz whose land formed the townsite for Red Deer. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives. P2706

Navigating how to handle crossing the Red Deer River would be a significant challenge for construction of the railway route. Initially, the route was planned to take the tried-and-true path that had served animals, first nations people and fur traders for centuries, past the Red Deer River settlement. Yet just as the mighty river powerfully shaped the contours and dimensions of the land, the future site of Red Deer would be singlehandedly determined by Reverend Leonard Gaetz.

Rev. Gaetz offered James Ross, President of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway company,  land from his personal farmlands for the river crossing and the townsite for Red Deer.  Ross accepted and history was forever shaped by the decision, as what is now home to more than 100,000 people grew steadily outward starting at the C&E Railway train station. 

A steam engine pulling a passenger train, likely near Penhold, AB, sometime between 1938 and 1944. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives. Photo P3595.

The rails finally reached the Red Deer area in November of 1890 and trains soon began running south to Calgary. By 1891, the Calgary and Edmonton railway was completed north to Strathcona. Alberta gained one of its most vital transportation corridors and the province would thrive from this ribbon of steel rails.

CPR Station in 1910

Over time, the C&E railyards grew and expanded to accommodate the demand for moving more and more commodities like grain, coal, lumber and business and household items along with passengers. Those passengers were the pioneer settlers who would make Red Deer the commercial hub that it remains to this day.

Alberta-Pacific Elevator Co. Ltd. No. 67 elevator and feed mill, circa 1910. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives Photo P3884.

For nearly 100 years, the downtown was intimately connected with the railway in the form of hotels built to welcome travelers, grain elevators, warehouses, factories and the facilities required to service the locomotives and equipment that operated the trains. Tracks and spurs dominated the downtown area, especially after the advent of the Alberta Central Railway and the arrival of the Canadian Northern Western Railway (later absorbed into Canadian National railways).

Left: Aerial view of downtown and the railyards in1938. Note old CPR bridge over the Red Deer River along with the old CNR bridge that was demolished in 1941. P2228 Centre: CPR Track at south end of Red Deer, circa 1904 or 1905. P8060 Right: CPR depot water tower and round house in 1912. P3907. Photos courtesy City of Red Deer Archives.

 

Left: CPR downtown railyards in 1983. Photo S490. Right: Southbound morning Chinook train at the CPR station in the summer of 1939. P13391. Photos courtesy City of Red Deer Archives.

By the 1980s, the ever-present tracks and downtown railyard were seen as an industrial blight in the heart of the city that the railway created so funding was sought and plans were made to relocate the now Canadian Pacific rails from their historical home to a new modern yard northwest of the city. 

This was actually the second relocation of tracks from downtown as the Canadian National railway tracks were removed in 1960 which permitted the development along 47th Avenue south of the Red Deer River.

This massive project opened up the Riverlands district downtown to new developments which included condominiums, grocery stores, restaurants and professional buildings. Taylor Drive was built following the old rail line corridor and removal of the tracks in Lower Fairview meant residents wouldn’t hear the rumble of trains in their community anymore. 

Just as the waters gradually shaped the places we know now, the railways definitely forged Red Deer into the vibrant economic hub of central Alberta that it remains today. 

The 45th Street overpass across the CPR tracks. This was demolished in 1992. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives. Photo S8479.

We hope you enjoyed this story about our local history.  Click here to read more history stories on Todayville.

History of Red Deer’s Second Courthouse

Visit the City of Red Deer Archives to browse through the written, photographic and audio history of Red Deer. Read about the city and surrounding community and learn about the people who make Red Deer special.

My name is Ken Meintzer.  I’m a storyteller with a love of aviation and local history. In the 1990’s I hosted a popular kids series in Alberta called Toon Crew.

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