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CANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART II - IN SEARCH OF THE NEWFOUNDLAND RAILWAY

CANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART II -  IN SEARCH OF THE NEWFOUNDLAND RAILWAY    

Text by Jack M. Turner, Photos by John C. Turner

    Train riding would now take a back seat for a week as we would travel by highway and ferryboat to Newfoundland, Canada's island province.  However, the railways would not be far from our minds as one of our objectives was to search for remnants of the Newfoundland Railway which was abandoned 20 years ago.  We didn't expect to find much and likened this to an archeological dig with a section of weed covered track found here and there and maybe a rusted train car hiding in a wooded area.

    We departed Baddeck, Nova Scotia at dawn as we had to check-in for the Marine Atlantic ferry to Argentia, Newfoundland by 7:00am.  The size of our ferry, the Joseph & Clara Smallwood was an impressive sight as we exited the main highway and made our way to the check-in booth.  The Smallwood was built in Lauzon, Quebec and entered service in 1990.  Her capacity is 1,200 passengers with the ability to carry 370 automobiles or 77 tractor trailer trucks or a mixture of both.  We drove onto the ship through the open hinged bow then at the far end of the bottom deck were directed up a ramp to park on the second deck.  The immense size of this ferry already was evident.

    A small tote bag was carried upstairs as this would be a 17 hour crossing (on most trips the 260 nautical mile crossing takes 14 1/2  hours) and access to vehicles would be closed during sailing.  After checking in at the purser's desk, we were given keys to the private cabin we reserved for the journey.  Our cabin was larger than a deluxe bedroom on Amtrak and VIA Rail trains and it contained four berths (two upper and two lower) which were set up for sleeping, a writing desk, a porthole sized window, and a bathroom with shower.  There was a limited number of cabins on board and ours would be put to good use for several sleep periods.  

    Other passengers settled into a variety of accommodations: dormitory sleeping berths, a general seating area resembling train coach seating, fully reclining seats similar to VIA Rail's old Dayniter seats, and lounge seating at tables.  With a passenger load this trip of under 300, there were no space issues.  Outdoor deck seating also was available but the chilly air temperatures of the Gulf of St. Lawrence made this less than desirable except for short stretches.  

    Mealtimes aboard the Joseph & Clara Smallwood were enjoyable as the ship offered a cafeteria serving hot and cold meals.  An ice cream stand was popular during the afternoon and evening and a lounge complete with regional folk singers attracted a good following.  Recent release movies played throughout the journey in the general seating area and there was a video arcade for the younger crowd.  With all these activities and the opportunity to sleep easily, the day passed surprisingly fast. 

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The harbor at North Sydney, Nova Scotia as seen from our Marine Atlantic ferryboat.
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A lighthouse standing at the entrance to the harbor near North Sydney.
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A model of our ferryboat Joseph & Clara Smallwood.
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Comfortable seating is available on Marine Atlantic ferries.

    During the evening the islands of St. Pierre appeared on our port side.  These islands are still a part of France and were a sign that Newfoundland lay ahead.  Our arrival in Argentia came at about 1:00am and within 20 minutes we were on the road heading for St. John's, the provincial capital.  The sight of a long string of cars on the highway at that late night hour was strange yet comforting as they signaled that we were not alone in the wilds of Newfoundland especially in light of the numerous warnings to beware of moose.  Thanks to ample sleep aboard the ferry, the two hour drive passed quickly and we arrived at the Courtyard by Marriott in St. John's, our base for the remainder of the night as well as the next night.  The front desk clerk was expecting us and greeted us with a warm smile and within minutes we were settled in.

    The Courtyard by Marriott was a perfect place to stay as it is new, has excellent rooms, and an outstanding location on the harbor.  Across the street are several small shops worth a visit and an attractive park is just a block down the street.  A short drive takes one to the prosperous looking downtown area where multiple stores await the eager shopper.  The morning light revealed a beautiful harbor view from the window of our mini-suite which helped prepare us to view the sights.

        Whale Watching and Touring Outside St. John's

    A half hour drive south from St. John's took us to Bay Bulls, a tiny fishing village located on a bay of the same name.  Here we boarded a tour boat operated by O'Brien's Whale and Bird Tours for a 2 1/4 hour tour of the Witless Bay Ecological Preserve that included the spotting of approximately 25 whales, many at close range as they surfaced for air.  Humpbacks, Minke, and Fin Whales were seen this day and all aboard agreed their expectations had been surpassed.  The tour also took us alongside an island where hundreds of Atlantic puffins and other shorebirds could be clearly observed.  Puffins are a favorite of most bird watchers as they possess colorful beaks and unique faces that endear them to everyone.  Newfoundland and Alaska have the two most plentiful populations of puffins.  An added bonus was a close view of a 75 foot tall iceberg that had been grounded in Witless Bay.  With about 90% of its mass below the water's surface, the twin-spired berg made an amazing sight as our tour boat circled around it.  We learned that this iceberg likely was formed approximately 12,000 years ago in Greenland and may have taken three years to travel to this spot.  Typically the icebergs arrive in May and finally collapse in mid-July. 
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A placid scene in the fishing village of Bay Bulls, Newfoundland.
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The first whale we spotted in Bay Bulls.
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A whale surfaces near Bay Bulls.
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This whale surfaced right beside our tour boat.

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Another whale is spotted from the O'Briens tour boat.
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A highlight of our tour was this 75 foot tall iceberg.
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Another angle of the giant iceberg in Witless Bay.
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TrainWeb author Jack Turner (right) with wife Christine, and son/TrainWeb photographer John enjoy the circuit around the iceberg.

    Our boat circled the iceberg several times to allow a look from all angles and the first mate kept busy obliging passengers' requests for photos in front of the towering iceberg.  Enhancing the tour were skipper Wayne Maloney who possessed an uncanny knack for finding whales and first mate/tour guide Darryl Boyd who provided commentary and musical entertainment in well timed doses.  Along the way we enjoyed the local folk songs sung by Darryl as they set the tone for our week in this maritime region.  Later in the day we returned to Bay Bulls for an excellent lunch at a restaurant operated by O'Brien's which stands across the road from the boat dock.  The O'Brien's tour is a must for any visitor to Newfoundland and for us it was the perfect introduction to the island.
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Colorful puffins are in abundance near Bay Bulls.
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Hundreds of puffins are seen up close from the O'Briens tour boat.
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Puffins burrow into the grassy hillside and roost on rocks overlooking the sea
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Waves crash upon the rocks while shorebirds fill the sky.

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One of O'Briens tour boats passes off the coast.
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A coastal view at Bay Bulls, Newfoundland.
 
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First mate Darryl Boyd (left) and skipper Wayne Maloney (right) following our tour.
                                 
    Our driving tour next took us farther south along the Avalon Peninsula to the Colony of Avalon.  Here George Calvert, who later came to be known as Lord Baltimore, established a fishing community named Ferryland in the 1620s.  The colony had a colorful history complete with what amounted to a hostile takeover, tax evasion, and in 1651 the deportation to England of another Englishman who had taken control of the colony along with all of Newfoundland.  After a brief stay at Ferryland, Calvert sailed southward, eventually founding what today is known as the state of Maryland.  Today visitors are welcomed to the recreated Colony of Avalon which features the original forge, well, cobblestone street, and planter's house as well as a reproduction of the kitchen and the kitchen garden.  An excellent interpretation center contains numerous artifacts uncovered during archeological digs that can be observed near the waterfront.        

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The view from Ferryland, Newfoundland.
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This lighthouse near Ferryland can be reached by driving on a narrow trail then hiking another half mile.
  
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An archeological dig at the Colony of Avalon.
                              
    Back in St. Johns, we caught up on our sleep,  relaxed at the Courtyard by Marriott, and visited a couple of the nearby shops.  A display case in the hotel lobby was worth inspection as it contained a variety of cruise ship china spanning several decades.  We decided to stay in for dinner which was a wise decision as the food from the hotel's Smitty's Restaurant was delicious.  Our final major attraction to visit in the area was Signal Hill National Historic Site, where Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901.  Signal Hill stands 525 feet above St. John's harbor offering an unparalleled view of the narrow passage leading to the harbor as well as the St. John's skyline.  From atop Signal Hill we could view one of the peninsulas to our south which actually is the farthest east point in North America.  Cabot Tower stands atop Signal Hill and commemorates the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's sea voyage to Newfoundland.  Nearby along the entrance road are two other worthwhile attractions, the park service visitor center which houses artifacts telling the story of Signal Hill and Johnson Geo Centre which explores geology and the ecological resources of the region.

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Stores across the street from the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in St. John's.
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The Courtyard by Marriott, St. John's.
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St. John's Harbour and downtown St. John's seen from Signal Hill.
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St. John's Bay and the entrance to St. John's Harbour from atop Signal Hill.

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Cabot Tower stands at the top of Signal Hill.
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Downtown St. John's features colorful storefronts.

        Heading North in Search of the Newfoundland Railway
 
   Departing St. John's we found the first remnant of the abandoned Newfoundland Railway at the Railway-Coastal Museum.  This museum is housed in the copper roofed train station that dates to 1903 and resembles many mid-sized Canadian cities' train stations.  Outside the museum stands a display of three or four passenger cars and an engine that operated on Newfoundland Railway's passenger trains.  Forty-five minutes later we ducked off the Trans Canada Highway and took a side road to Avondale where we found the small Avondale depot which has been turned into a museum.  Two CN passenger cars along with CN diesel engine # 925, a Terra Transport caboose, and a snow plow stand on a short stretch of rail beside the depot. One of the passenger cars now serves lunch on certain days of the week and a miniature train offers short seasonal rides.  

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The Railway Coastal Museum occupies the former train depot in St. John's.
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Preserved passenger train equipment stands outside the museum in St. John's.
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The restored depot at Avondale serves as a rail museum.
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A miniature train offers seasonal rides at Avondale.

    The Newfoundland Railway used narrow gauge tracks to cross the island in an arched route that traveresed the north and central parts of the island en route from St. John's to Port-aux Basques.  Eventually the line was taken over by Canadian National and, in its final years, Terra Transport.  In addition to the main line, there were several branch lines serving some of the peninsulas that jut out along the coast.  Time would not permit us to explore all of the branch lines and look for spots such as Trinty Loop where the railroad looped over itself on its way to Bonavista.

    When we began planning for this trip, it appeared that three or four days in Newfoundland would suffice as our Atlantic Canada map made the island appear to be just a bit bigger than Prince Edward Island, Canada's other island province.  Fortunately, further study of a map sent by the Newfoundland tourism agency made me realize that the province was actually quite large; it had been shrunk to a smaller scale on the Atlantic province map in order to fit.  Even our scheduled six days were not enough to cover every piece of real estate we would have enjoyed visiting.  The drive from St. John's to Port-aux-Basques on the southwest coast was 905 kilometers (about 11 hours) not including side trips or sightseeing stops.

    As we resumed north along the Trans Canada, John spotted some railway equipment a couple hundred feet from the highway at Clarenville.  Here we discovered CN engine # 900, a coach, and caboose standing beside the wooden depot that was marked as home of the Masonic Lodge.  As we made our way  northward we found a couple of nice railway bridges crossing rivers and the edge of scenic harbors.  Chance findings such as these appeared throughout our journey and we wondered how many other unremarked remnants of the Newfoundland Railway await other railfans and historians.

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A beautifully preserved set of Canadian National equipment behind the restored depot at Clarenville.
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One of many Newfoundland Railway bridges that remain standing.  This one is between Clarenville and Port Blandford.

    Our stop for the evening was in Port Blandford at the Terra Nova Golf Resort, a wonderful lodge located just south of Terra Nova National Park.  This property caters to golfers as the resort has two beautiful golf courses but it also is a tremendously convenient stopping point.  The view from our room was stunning with a clear vista of Clode Sound with hills forming a backdrop to the water.  A nice swimming pool and attractive grounds including a trail to the waterfront made for good alternatives to golf.  The cart trail for the 18 hole Twin Rivers golf course takes golfers over two salmon rivers and includes its signature 18th hole where golfers tee off over a set of waterfalls.  The 9 hole Eagle Creek course is also popular as it winds along Clode Sound and often allows views of bald eagles.  An evening drive through this small community revealed a few more traces of the railway in the form of short trestles over creeks flowing into Clode Sound.  This community has a very small population and dining choices are limited to the hotel restaurant or a roadside sandwich shop.

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The front of the Terra Nova Golf Resort in Port Blandford.
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The view from our room overlooking Clode Sound.
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The Salmon River cuts through one of the golf courses at Terra Nova Golf Resort.
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Looking toward Clode Sound from the Twin Rivers course's 1st hole tee box.

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Golfers tee off over this waterfall on the 18th hole.
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Sunrise as seen from our room at Terra Nova Golf Resort.

    Experiencing the Charm of Twillingate

    The following morning we made the lovely drive through Terra Nova National Park as the highway passed through forests of rich firs and balsams while tempting us with occasional views of Clode Sound and Newman Sound.  Beyond the park we pulled off at a scenic overlook above Gambo and enjoyed the panorama of Freshwater Bay and the town of Gambo below.  The remains of a Newfoundland Railway causeway and bridge spanned the sparkling blue waters at the headwaters of the bay and from our perch atop a hill, it was easy to imagine the arrival of the next train.

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A peaceful river flows past the visitors center in Terra Nova National Park.
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A Newfoundland Railway trestle and causeway entering Gambo as seen from an elevated highway rest area.

    We passed through Gander whose airport and accompanying air base have a rich aviation history.  The TCH was left at this point as we turned onto a side road bound for the charming town of Twillingate which was 102 kilometers (about 1 1/2 hours) off the main highway and well worth every minute.  The drive to Twillingate took us past numerous scenic brooks, along Gander Bay, and other sparkling bodies of water including Dildo Run, Friday Bay, and Main Tickle.  At the end of this drive Twillingate Harbour lay ahead with a healthy dose of boats either docked or moving across the water.  After a morning of driving we were ready for lunch and followed local advice to dine at the Cozy Tea Room and Bakery, a charming little eatery located on the ground floor of an attractive two story house.  Homemade soups, sandwiches, breads, and pies are the favorites here and we enjoyed delicious local fare - pea soup with doughboys followed by a slice of apple pie.  The tasty soup is a Newfoundland speciality and contains split peas, celery, turnips, onions, diced potatoes, and carrots as well as the dumpling-like doughboys.  While we dined, a steady stream of customers came in to purchase home baked breads, pies, and other baked goods.

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One of many coastal scenes on the drive from Gander to Twillingate.
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Cozy Tea Room, a favorite dining spot in Twillingate.

    Twillingate is known as the Iceberg Capital of the World and after lunch we boarded a tour boat operated by Iceberg Quest Ocean Tours for a two hour tour.  Captain Barry Rogers welcomed us aboard and we took a perch on the upper deck for an excellent view.  The tour first took us around Twillingate Harbour where a number of fishing boats were either docked or setting out to sea.  As in all of Newfoundland, lobster traps abound but these boats also were heading out in search of a variety of fish living in the waters of Notre Dame Bay.  From the harbour we could appreciate the charm of this 2,600 resident community as its shores were rocky in places and sandy in others.  Attractive coastal homes stood on hillsides along all sides of the "u-shaped" harbour.  The name Twillingate derived from the French word Toulinguet as to French fishermen who settled there in 1700 the area resembled a point of land by that name near Brest, France.  

    Leaving the inner harbour we passed Long Point Lighthouse which stands as a sentinel at the north end of Twillingate Island.  The open waters beyond the inner harbour revealed a coastline dotted with small rocky islands and jagged sea carved rocks upon which waves splashed to the rhythm of the sea.  We learned that Captain Rogers' ancestors first settled on one of these rocky islands which today are uninhabited.  Soon a couple of whales were spotted surfacing and disappearing into the frothy waters.  One of the beauties of tours such as Iceberg Ocean Quest is the opportunity to speak with the boat captain as you sail along.  We learned a great deal about the area's history and what it is like to live in this part of Newfoundland.  We were captivated by the story of a recent tour in which thick fog moved in and the captain heard a "whomp-a-whomp" sound that could be mistaken for failing engines.  As they neared an iceberg floating just off Twillingate, the fog cleared enough to determine the source of the unusual noise: a helicopter lowering coast guardsmen onto the berg to simulate a rescue mission.

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Twillingate Harbour. 
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A fishing boat leading the way out of Twillingate Harbour.  These guys may stay out for several days.
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A jetty protecting Twillingate Harbour
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One of many islands just offshore from Twillingate.  Our captain's ancestors lived on one of these islands.

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A lighthouse stands sentinel where Twillingate Harbour meets Notre Dame Bay.
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Small rocky islands dot the coast off Twillingate.

    About an hour into our tour, we rounded a rocky point and a magnificent iceberg came into view.  It was grounded in a small cove where it would likely meet its end in a couple of weeks.  The berg stood with two tall wings standing about 100 feet high and a smaller neck a bit shorter than that.  All these protrusions were connected just below the waterline.  One interesting characteristic of icebergs is their resemblance to other objects.  Some are said to look like houses or castles set adrift in the ocean.  Approaching this berg, one of the wings looked like a lion's head but the front view resembled a swan gliding across a pond.  This berg had shown up in the area in May and spent a period of time in Twillingate Harbour before the tide took it back along the shoreline out of sight of the town and harbour. "One day it was over there," stated Captain Rogers, "then over there the next day, then back beside our harbour, then it moved close to where you see it now."  Every new day brought suspense as the morning tour would search for the iceberg's location until one day it was gone.  This drama plays out each year as tides and wind conditions help the icebergs play a game of maritime hide and seek.  A few days after our tour, a television and print media advertisement for Red Bull energy drinks was to be filmed on location at this iceberg.  On our return journey we passed a hole-in-the-wall location where waves carved a large hole in the  rocky seaside ledge then another point where three rocks rose from the waters to resemble three ladies standing in the sea.  As the tour came to an end we smiled with the knowledge that this had been one of the highlights of our Newfoundland visit. We regretted that our schedule did not permit an overnight in Twillingate as the community had proved to be both secnic and filled with hospitable people.
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Waves crash upon the shoreline north of Twillingate.
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A 100 foot tall iceberg near Twillingate resembles a swan.  Note the height compared to a nearby cliff.
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This closeup taken from the top deck of our tour boat shows the immensity of the iceberg.
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Captain Barry Rogers steers the Iceberg Quest II during our coastal tour.

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Captain Rogers poses beside the tour boat after returning to Twillingate.
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A small public beach alongside Twillingate Harbour.

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Lobster traps and other fishing gear at a boat dock in Twillingate.
                             
    We retraced our route across Twillingate Island and along the top of Chapel Island to Boyd's Cove where we diverged from the route we followed in the morning.  Route 340 follows Loon Bay, Indian Arm, and several other inlets in its scenic path to Lewisporte.  As was the case throughout our visit to Newfoundland, we would have enjoyed taking any number of side roads leading into little coastal villages had time permitted.  Nevertheless, we were getting an excellent view of the province's highlights with our itinerary and we would leave with no regrets.  We ducked into Lewisporte in search of preserved Newfoundland Railway equipment we heard about during our boat tour.  After searching in vain for a few minutes, we resumed our southward drive along Route 340 and my wife Christine shouted out: "Over there!"  On our left stood the Lewisporte Train Park with picnic tables and a set of railway equipment on display.  The combination of concentrating on the road and the late afternoon hour had caused me to miss this and had she not been a great spotter, I would have driven right past.  The display included a CN snow plow, CN engine, Terra Nova Transport coach, and a CN caboose.  Once more we marveled at how many signs of the Newfoundland Railway we had found.  A quick check of our rail maps indicated that Lewisporte was on a short branch line of the Newfoundland Railway that survived into CN operation.  By late afternoon we pulled into Grand Falls-Windsor, population 14,000, for a night at the Mount Peyton Hotel.

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A snow plow leads a set of preserved railway equipment at Lewisporte Train Park.
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A Terra Nova Transport coach.
 
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The Lewisporte Train Park is a popular roadside picnic area.
                                       
Gros Morne National Park and Western Brook Pond

    The Trans Canada Highway takes a leisurely route west of Grand Falls-Windsor, heading west then north, then southwest in its trek toward western Newfoundland.  The undulating land provided pleasant views of attractive hillsides, lakes, streams, ponds, and lots of lush green trees as we made our way past the West Brook Ecological Preserve, south of the Baie Verte Peninsula, and along Sandy Lake, en route to Deer Lake where we stopped for lunch before turning north on Highway 430.  At the south entrance of Gros Morne National Park we turned west on Route 431 and followed two lochs, East Arm and South Arm, that empty into spectacular Bonne Bay.  Near Woody Point we visited the Gros Morne Discovery Centre, an outstanding facility that explains the history, culture, environment, and geology of the region while offering picturesque views of Bonne Bay.  A few miles west of the Discovery Centre we encountered The Tablelands, a vast geologic area where various layers of the Earth's crust including the mantle can be viewed.  At points the landscape resembled a lunar scape with large boulders and brownish dirt everywhere emulating the moon.  North of the Discovery Centre we found the cute Wood Point Lighthouse surrounded by a green meadow and wildflowers overlooking Bonne Bay.

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One of the outstanding views in Gros Morne National Park.
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A river seen from Highway 431 near Lomond, Newfoundland.
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The same river flowing into a loch.
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Gros Morne Mountain rises across the loch

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Panorama of Bonne Bay seen from the Gros Morne Discovery Centre.
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The Tablelands presents a lunar like landscape where the Earth's mantle can be seen.
 
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Woody Point Lighthouse overlooking Bonne Bay.

    Back on Route 430 we entered the main section of Gros Morne National Park and climbed along the east side of East Arm with Killdevil Mountain and Gros Morne Mountain on the opposite side of the highway.  A stop at the park vistor centre gave us more information and perspective about Gros Morne which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Five minutes later we arrived in Rocky Harbour where we would stay at the Fisherman's Landing Inn.  Rocky Harbour is a strategically located town of just over 1,000 residents.  On summer nights the population is increased by guests at its handful of motels.  A walk along the waterfront boardwalk overlooking the harbour is a must at sunset as the views of the setting sun can be magnificent as was the case this night.  A couple of miles away the light of Lobster Cove Lighthouse blinked against the coral colored sky as twilight painted the sky a cocophony of colors.  The 40 room Fisherman's Landing Inn offered at door parking, clean rooms, and a quiet setting for the night.  Another convenience was the motel's laundry room for which there was no charge to guests.

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Fisherman's Landing Inn was an excellent lodging choice in Rocky Harbour.
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Sunset from the boardwalk in Rocky Harbour.
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Lobster Cove Lighthouse can be seen at the end of a peninsula across the harbor.
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The Rocky Harbour sunset paints the sky with a mad splash of color.

    Following breakfast in the motel dining room, we drove north along the coast past Sally's Cove and Martin Point to the parking lot for the Western Brook Pond Boat Tour.  The 2 mile walk to the boat dock passed through forested areas with fir and various other trees, coastal bogs flanked by wild iris and other plants, a large lake, and a savanna-like area that one could imagine to be in Africa.  When we reached the dock we were at the end of a 16 kilometer long lake, the longest in Gros Morne National Park.  The lake is basically an inland fjord, an oxymoron as fjords open into the sea.  Once upon a time this fjord did open into the sea before eventually becoming land locked.  Western Brook Pond was carved by glaciers over a billion years ago and the boat tour takes two hours to navigate its winding path between towering cliffs to the headwaters of the pond.  The view was constantly changing as the sheer walls of rock lined both sides of the fjord.  Patches of snow remained in areas where shade prevented melting while at other points evidence of rock slides was present.  Waterfalls, some as high as 2,100 feet, rained water over the side of the cliffs at many points along the tour and the boat was able to pull within a few feet of the base of one of these.  A moose and her calf were spotted close by along a small sandy beach; amazingly this was our first moose sighting of the trip.  Among interesting tidbits we learned from our tour guides was the story of how the tour boats were transported to Western Brook Pond a few years ago.  As the fjord no longer connects to the sea, the boats had to be brought in by helicopter then assembled onsite.  The airlift was necessary as the boggy ground was not able to support the weight of the boats.  During the summer, Bon Tours operates the Western Brook Pond tour several times a day as well as several other tours covering various parts of Bonne Bay not far from Rocky Harbour.



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The sheer rock walls of Western Brook Pond.
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Our tour boat offered close views of this magnificent waterfall.
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16 kilometer long Western Brook Pond winds between numerous mountains.
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Some of the mountains are covered with lush vegetation.

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The Western Brook Pond boat tour provides ever-changing scenic vistas.
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One of the largest waterfalls along Western Brook Pond.
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The fjord's path through the mountainous region can be traced in this view.
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Jack, John, and Christine enjoy the view from the stern of the tour boat.

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A 2,100 foot high waterfall cascades over a cliff.

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A moose and her calf wander along the shore of Western Brook Pond.
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Our tour boat guide and captain following the tour.


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The two boat fleet of Western Brook Pond Tours.


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Wild iris plants line the edge of a small lake that we passed on the hike to the boat dock.
                              
    With our final boat tour complete, we drove a short distance north to Cow Head to explore a bit more of the western coast of Newfoundland.  The Northern Peninsula, where the Vikings first landed near St. Anthony, would be another region worth exploring if a couple more days were available.  This time we turned back south and headed to Lobster Cove Lighthouse where visitors may tour the lower level of this working lighthouse inluding the former light keeper's residence.  The view from this location was beautiful and numerous trails in the area offered pleasant walks through meadows and forests.  After one last pass through Rocky Harbour, we travelled back through Gros Morne National Park to Deer Lake where we turned southward for our final night in Newfoundland.

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The coast between Cow Head and Baker's Brook.
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Lobster Cove Lighthouse is a popular stop in Gros Morne National Park.
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The town of Rocky Harbour as seen from Lobster Cove Lighthouse.
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The highway descends along the edge of East Arm, an extension of Bonne Bay.

    About 20 minutes past Deer Lake we found Marble Villa which contains condominium suites overlooking the Marble Montain Ski Resort near the community of Steady Brook.  Our spacious accommodations were welcomed as they offered a separate bedroom and living room, two televisions, and a full kitchen.  Outside the living room's picture window the ski lifts to the top of 1,791 foot Marble Mountain were plainly visible.  The mountain receives an average of 16 feet of snow annually which makes it Newfoundland's favored ski destination.  The resort's base lodge stood just a short distance away from our building which would be convenient in winter.  There are 35 ski trails with names such as Kruncher, Hot Dog, Cruiser, Blow Me Down, Twister, and Corkscrew at Marble Mountain.   The lovely grounds included a nice playground for children with a wooden replica train and a replica boat making perfect play areas for kids.  The resort is located in the Humber Valley whose namesake river is right across the highway.  A 6 mile drive took us into Corner Brook for dinner and a look at Newfoundland's second largest city with a population of 20,100.  Including the entire Humber Valley area doubles this population figure. 
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Marble Villa, our stopover in Steady Brook, is a condo style lodge that caters to snow skiers.
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Several ski runs are visible behind Marble Villa.

 
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The playground at Marble Villa includes a wooden train for kids to enjoy.
                                     
    Following dinner we searched for the historic railway station operated by Railway Society of Newfoundland.  Much to our surpise, the museum was open until early evening.  Located in Humbermouth, just outside Corner Brook, this site features a restored railway station and several pieces of Newfoundland Railway rolling stock.  Historic photos of the last passenger train (nicknamed the Newfie Bullet) and a collection of conductor's hats are displayed inside.  The railway's only remaining steam engine # 593, leads a static display train consisting of a box car, baggage car, coach, dining car, and sleeper Twillingate.  On another track one finds a snow plow, diesel engine, and caboose.  All equipment may be toured by visitors who also will enjoy the display of conductor's hats and photos inside the depot.  Other signs of the Newfoundland Railway were found in the form of bridge supports in the Humber River and other streams between Corner Brook and Steady Brook.
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Newfoundland Railway's lone remaining steam engine, # 593, is displayed outside the Humbermouth station.
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A display case inside the depot museum contains conductor hats and model rail equipment.


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Sleeping car Twillingate.
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A section made up for sleeping inside the Twillingate.

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Inside a Newfoundland Railway coach.


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Inside a Newfoundland Railway coach.
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The dining car appears ready to welcome passengers to dinner.
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The narrow gauge tracks are still in place at Humbermouth.

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One of many surviving CN narrow gauge engines we found in Newfoundland.
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A snow plow is displayed at the museum in Humbermouth. 

Departing Newfoundland

    Our final day in Newfoundland started with a visit to Tim Horton's, the iconic Canadian doughnut shop chain which had a store close to Marble Villa.  A half hour south of Corner Brook we turned west and visited the Port-au-Port Peninsula standing between Port-au-Port Bay and St. George's Bay.  After passing through Stephenville, we again found remnants of the railway in the form of abandoned trestles over various rivers and streams.  As we pulled into Port-aux-Basques another railway museum stood beside the highway and we had left just enough time for a look at the museum, gift shop, and adjacent set of equipment that included a snow plow, Newfoundland Railway diesel engine # 934, a couple of tank cars, a wooden box car, sleeper Port-aux-Basques, two baggage cars, and a caboose.  An S-2 motorcar is preserved inside the museum along with other railroad relics.  Passenger trains operated to and from Port-aux-Basques on schedules that connected with the ferries to and from North Sydney, Nova Scotia. 

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The Humber River near Corner Brook.
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A Newfoundland Railway trestle near Stephenville Jct.
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A snowplow and Newfoundland Railway engine at Port-aux-Basques.
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Newfoundland Railway sleeper Port-aux-Basques is displayed in her namesake town.

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The railway's logo appears on the side of train cars in Port-aux-Basques.
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A caboose trails a baggage car behind the museum.
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The entire display consist at Port-aux-Basques.
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A railway painting on the outer wall of the museum.

 
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A motorcar is preserved inside the museum in Port-aux-Basques.

    The March 1964 Official Guide of the Railways carded two Canadian National passenger trains between Port-aux-Basques and St. John's.  Train # 2 was a triweekly passenger train that took about 23 hours to reach St. John's.  Number 2 and westbound counterpart # 1 connected with the ferry at Port-aux-Basques.  Train # 204 and westbound sister # 203 offered mixed train service which took over 32 hours to St. John's.  All of these trains made over 35 regular or flag stops during their trips across the island including Stephenville Crossing, Corner Brook, Deer Lake, Grand Falls, Gander, Gambo, Port Blandford, Clarenville, and Avondale.  Mixed trains also operated on branch lines to Carbonear, Argentia, Lewisporte, and Bonavista.  The December 1951 Official Guide listed one train, the Caribou, (train # 1 westbound and # 2 eastbound) serving the route on a 27 hour schedule with 8 section-1 drawing sleepers included in the consist.  Winter trips on this line could be an adventure with trains occasionally snowbound for days in remote mountain locales.  The same 1951 schedule showed ship connections to London and Liverpool, England from St. John's as well as various other Newfoundland connections between railway stops and Twillingate and other Newfoundland points.

    In late afternoon we boarded Marine Atlantic's ferry Caribou for the 5 hour, 96 mile crossing to North Sydney.  The Caribou was built in 1986 and honors the SS Caribou which was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-69 in the early morning darkness of October 14, 1942 during the North Sydney to Port-aux-Basques run.  Today's MV Caribou stands 179 metres long and can carry 1,200 passengers including 370 automobiles, 77 tractor trailers, or any combination of the two.  We drove onto the ship's second vehicle deck via the stern while other vehicles loaded simulataneously on the lower vehicle deck.  We would exit via the bow door at North Sydney.  The departure from Port-aux-Basques was scenic as much of the town was visible atop hills overlooking the enclosed harbour.  The light of a lighthouse guarding the entrance to the harbour could be seen for miles as we entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence and watched Newfoundland recede into the distance.  Our visit to Newfoundland had exceeded our expectations and for almost a week we had enjoyed the beauty, hospitality, and peacefulness of this remote land.  

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Marine Atlantic ferry Caribou arriving in Port-aux-Basques.
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Our cabin aboard the Caribou was larger than a railroad bedroom.
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Colorful homes line the shore in Port-aux-Basques as seen from the ferry.
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Another view of Port-aux-Basques from the deck of the Caribou.

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A lighthouse protects the harbor entrance at Port-aux-Basques.
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One of many comfortable seating areas on the ferry.
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The gift shop and front desk area aboard the Caribou.
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Passengers enjoy musical entertainment in the lounge.

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The cafeteria serves meals throughout the crossing.
                              
    The crossing passed quickly as we enjoyed a good meal in Caribou's cafeteria, rested in our cabin, enjoyed a movie in the general seating area, listened to music in the lounge, and bought ice cream cones from the shipboard ice cream stand.  Our arrival in North Sydney came at about 11:00pm and within a half hour we were on our way into Sydney for an overnight at the Barrington Suites Hotel.  The drive into Sydney actually took about 20 minutes as the ferry terminal is located outside of the city proper.  Our suite overlooked the harbour and despite the late hour, the view was outstanding.  The suite was appointed with comfortable new furniture and included a separate living room and bedroom along with many conveniences that made it the perfect place to stay.  In the morning we would enjoy continental breakfast then walk along the waterfront boardwalk behind the hotel before beginning the homeward journey.
    
 
[ CANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART I | CANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART IICANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART III ]

[ Other Reports by Jack Turner | Other Rail Travelogues | TrainWeb.com ]


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