Archive for March 2011

First impressions of Newfoundland (and seventeen grocery bags of dirty laundry)

March 20, 2011

A view of cliffs overhanging the ocean.

Here’s the top 5 things I’ve learned after living in Newfoundland for two weeks:

1. There’s weather here like I’ve never experienced anywhere else in Canada.

I’ve lived in several Northern Canadian towns, and before now, I thought that anywhere around the Great Lakes in Ontario experienced the wildest snow, wind and rain storms. But the weather in St. John’s is like no other place I’ve ever been. You know the expression, ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes?’ Never more true than here. It comes out of nowhere, a clear, sunny sky, moderate winds turn into gusts around 25-50 kms/hour, and the heaviest – I mean, this stuff weighs a tonne – snow on earth. Last Monday I turned on the radio and heard the words “school closures” but didn’t think they could possibly be talking about St. John’s. Sure enough, my daughter’s fourth day at her new school was canceled. Not a drop of precipitation in the air. I took the kids to a movie. By mid-afternoon, there was a heavy snowfall happening. Still, it didn’t seem that bad. Until the next morning, when my rental van was stuck in the thickest, stickiest slush I’ve ever tried to shovel. Luckily, a kind man from across the street helped to dig me out. Which leads me to #2.

2. Never underestimate the kindness of strangers in Newfoundland.

Seriously, that man didn’t have to help dig me out. Neither did our landlord’s parents have to stock our rental home with some basic essentials, milk, juice, margarine, fresh muffins AND homemade jelly. My gosh, can you imagine anyone in Toronto doing something like that? In that city, the tenants would move in and get a restraining order for the weirdo landlord trying to stalk them. No, people here are genuinely friendly. They even SMILE. Finally, I’m living somewhere, where other people smile even more than I do!

3. Another new experience for me: the English language (I think?) spoken by some Newfoundland natives.

I couldn’t understand a word the man said, but he shoveled that brutally heavy snow out from under my tires, I gave him  my biggest grin and said a million thank-you’s, he mirrored my smiles and gave a high five and away we went! So, despite the fact that you may not understand the Newfoundland dialect, a thank-you and a smile goes a long way.

4. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to hearing the CBC news at the bottom, rather than the top, of the hour.

It seems quite fitting that Newfoundland is a half-hour “off” the rest of the world. This is a place where no one is in a big hurry. Good thing, because with the intersections their forebearers created in this city, if anyone tried blasting around the way they do in other capital cities (picture Montreal, where drivers don’t even adhere to red lights, let alone speed signs), there’d be an accident about every 5 seconds. Yes, everything here is a little “off” and a little slowed down from any other place I’ve ever lived. But in a good way. A delightfully, down-home, endearingly good way.

5. I think I finally realize what “Where ya to?” means. Where ya from. Or maybe it’s, where ya living? Where it is? Where ya going? Something like that. Once I’m more certain, I’ll let ya know.

So we arrived in St. John’s on Friday, March 4 after 17 nights on the road. That was two nights of hotels in Thompson while our house was being packed up; another in Winnipeg; then Thunder Bay; next was Wawa (although we had hoped to make it to Sault Ste. Marie that night, but after fueling up in the town of the giant goose, we were about to pull back onto the highway when the road block was just going up….due to weather. Luckily, we got a great room – a cabin with a fireplace! – and enjoyed an evening together as a family while the snow gusted around us outside). We spent three nights with each of our parents in Southern Ontario. Two with my brother and his family in Montreal. One stopover in New Brunswick before landing in Nova Scotia for the last of our family visits for this trip, with my aunt and uncle and cousins (who greeted us with fresh lobster – welcome to Atlantic Canada, aaahhhh yeah!). One night there turned into two, once we realized there was only one ferry option still available that week.

By that time, my husband was getting very anxious to get to St. John’s, as his assignments were piling up while we were on the road. We hadn’t booked the ferry yet because of all the weather delays. The only tickets available were for the overnight boat. We’d hoped to take the daytime one, to see the view over the ocean; as it turned out, I don’t think we would have seen much anyways, as the weather was foggy all week.

That night, we rocked and rolled across the channel from Sydney, Cape Breton to Channel-Port aux Basques, NL. I can’t even imagine the size of the waves that caused that giant boat to sway so. I lay in my bed in the cabin, worrying that my son would roll out of the top bunk, while trying not to roll on my baby who was sharing a mattress with me.

In the end, we were glad we’d taken the overnight ride, because the next day’s drive would have been deadly had it not been daylight. We drove through Wreckhouse, where winds are known to gust up to 200 kms/hour. They weren’t so strong that day, but it was certainly wild. Every time we crested a hill, the road became more slippery and ice-covered. As we descended into valleys, the trans-Canada seemed to thaw.

Our last night on the road was in Grand Falls. By then, the baggies of dirty laundry were piled in the truck, and we were so excited to empty the vehicle for the last time.

And now, living in a furnished rental, our belongings in storage, it’s a humbling experience of existing without all the things we’ve gathered over five years of home ownership. I have mixed emotions about this old home, more than 100 years of history. I’ve always wanted to live in an old home, but it does come with it’s price. The other day I said to my daughter, it kinda smells like old man armpit in here. She laughed and laughed. I cleaned and cleaned, and finally gave up, listening to the creaks and echoes, hoping to hear the stories these walls could tell.