Overcoming the Winter Doldrums.

Winter 2008

Back in Newfoundland, the excitement I had during Christmas had reheated my desire to get out of the apartment and find some adventure.

The first weekend back, whiteout warnings were posted on TheWeatherNewtowrk.ca; but being from Southern Ontario, I hadn't yet developed a fear of these warnings and didn't let them hamper my travel plans.

I would learn awfully quick that these whiteout warnings weren't simply something to scoff at. I would find myself driving about 40 km/hr (25 mi/hr) on the Trans-Canada highway and also coming to complete stops while on secondary highways. I was actually scared and quite distressed; I just wanted to get through it.

It is a scary thing when you're driving along and suddenly you see nothing but white.

The whiteout conditions only became really apparent when I was very close to my destination for the day. Therefore, I stubbornly pushed through to Howley.

A small community of 241 people, Howley is just a few kilometers off the Trans-Canada Highway, situated at the end of Highway 401. It is in a relatively flat portion of Newfoundland and has quite a few lakes surrounding it.

It was these lakes that gave me a reason to visit Howley. As I looked at topographic maps, I noticed 3 train bridges over various lakes very close to town. Since the Newfoundland train system halted over 20 years ago, I figured that the bridges might be interesting to check out.

That was until I stepped out of the car.

Within the three minutes I got out to take the last 2 pictures; my feet, hands and face were all very cold from the whipping wind and the brutally low temperatures.

I decided to instead check out a building in town which looked like it was the former train station, turned 4-H club, turned vacant.

I parked my car about 10 minutes away and began to walk over when a truck pulled up and asked if I needed a ride. I told the man I was just walking around taking pictures and he told me I was insane; before moving along on his way.

After the trucks taillights disappeared around the corner, I realized even more just how cold it was. It wasn't unpleasantly cold...it was painfully cold. The temps were low enough on their own, but they were also complimented by a fierce wind which must have been at least 50 or 60 km/hr.

I circled the train station once and gave up, hustling back to my car and the warmth inside.

Since I liked the train station, the train bridges and the kindness of that man, I decided to support Howley. I stopped at the local lounge and sat down for a delicious poutine0 and a cold Dominion1. It was apparent the bartender found me a little odd, but she wasn't over the top with it. The locals were also confused about why I would visit Howley in the winter, but they were more fixated on their pool games and slot machines, then they were on this visitor.

The poutine was pretty good. My only complaint is in that I've noticed Newfoundland doesn't have quite the large poutine servings that Ontario or Quebec have. That being said, I would return to the lounge in Howley for another.

0 - Canadian delicacy - cheese curds, gravy & fries.
1 - Newfoundland delicacy - beer. Maybe my second favourite Newfoundland beer - except I hate how they proudly display 'for Newfoundlanders only' on the box.
Then again, it's good marketing as the mindless peasants get excited about that and guzzle it down.

Finishing up my poutine and my Dominion, I returned to the 401 and to the Trans-Canada Highway.

Adios Howley!

Since the winds had died down a bit, I decided to see what was on another nearby highway.

An offshoot of Highway 420; Highway 421 is 15 kilometers (about 9 mi) and goes through the community of Hampden (which you see above) and ends at The Beaches, Newfoundland.

The Beaches, Newfoundland.

Hampden has a population of 489, while The Beaches is so small it doesn't have a population listed on Wikipedia (I would guess it's about 100).

There wasn't a whole lot to either community, although I did see a personal first: a forgotten zamboni.

I couldn't tell if the arena to which the zamboni belonged was vacant or not. It sort of opened my eyes that I may never see a small town closed hockey arena2, as there isn't much upkeep in an arena and even a small community wouldn't have to 'give up' on one.

2 - A personal dream of mine.

To hell with this. Whiteouts, small fishing villages...zambonis!?!

I'm going home.

The day wasn't a complete wash though; I decided to stop at the Newfoundland Liquor Commission and found out that they have Sam Adams! What?!

The only thing though, is that ours has Swedish writing on it (for some unknown reason) and that we get the 'seasonal brews' about 2 months late and keep them 5 months later. My friend Ahntz from Massachusetts had a good laugh at this and suggested that Massachusetts ships up all of its unsold seasonal stock for us Canucks to drink.

Possibly. Although I still don't see how Sweden fits into the equation.

[End of Weekend 1]

The next weekend, I decided to try and do something about the fact that I had been itching to bike for months now - caused by not having indoor skateparks nearby and having to endure 3 months of winter by this time.

I pondered the nearby structures which I could possibly make some type of setup inside, then decided upon the Crematorium in Stephenville. It seemed like the best option because its design would limit the snow blown inside and there was already wood there.

The lack of a good parking spot led me to parking about 10 minutes away and having to carry my heavy bicycle to the building.

Once inside, my plans were thoroughly shot down. Snow was blowing into the building and all of the wood I was hoping to use, was frozen together and also, frozen to the floor. It would be possible to make something here, but you would need to start before the winter.

All things considered, the amount of work required didn't seem worth it to make a janky setup in a building an hour from my home.

As with the last time I was in Stephenville, I decided to drive a bit so I could see some things instead of wasting the trip and heading home.

Nearby, Highway 462 stretches north for 20 kilometers (~13mi) through the communities of Point Au Mal and Fox Island River. The two are listed together in the 2006 census as having a combined population of 198.

Above is the community of Fox Island River - the large building at the end being some sort of ship warehouse for the marina (this marks the end of the town). The highway was mostly forest for the first bit, until it flattened out into the landscape seen above, with flat marshy lands, houses, the road and the sea.

The roads are mostly empty at this time of year, but I was still dutifully paying attention to where I was going. This is because I was looking at that cold sea, the absence of a dividing handrail and pondering the loss of control and the car splashing into the ocean.

Behind the marshy lands were the Table Mountains; which made the communities quite scenic as well.

Since I had already seen the nearby Port-Aux-Port peninsula, I decided to head back to the warmth of my apartment.

[End of Weekend 2]

Another weekend and the same desire to get out of the apartment and the work-sleep-work-sleep routine.

I had found a nearby 'ghost town' on a map, but that was all I knew about the location.

Since it was so close, I figured it would be worthwhile to head out and see what I could find out about the place. I realized that it would be better in the summer, but I was edging to get out of the apartment.

The town of Goose Arm, the 'ghost town', is about 20 km (~13mi) directly north of Corner Brook. Looking at maps, it looked like maybe you could get close enough by driving on the logging roads north of town.

I was surprised at just how nice these roads were (see the above picture), but according to my GPS, they weren't bringing me within any reasonable distance of Goose Arm. I came to a point in the road where I was getting close, but any further and the road was getting just too rough for the old car to continue and I would have to retreat.

Option #2 was to drive Highway 440 to Cox's Cove, which is about 35 km from Corner Brook. From here, there looked to be some sort of trail which went east into the woods and to Goose Arm.

I had bought snow shoes so that I could do this, envisioning that I would suddenly be able to strut all over the wintry land because of the snowshoes. This would be the solution to the winter doldrums - winter snowshoeing to some of the nearby ghost towns.

That plan fell through as soon as I got off the snowmobile trail and went thigh deep in the snow. The snowshoes weren't rated high enough for my weight and I could go no further.

My frugal self returned the snowshoes the next day and restrained from buying more expense ones.

Driving back after my snowshoe-fail, I came upon Cox's Cove Elementary, which looked a little run down.

Parking the car, I had a quick look around the building before discovering that it was now a private residence.

Why am I telling you this? Well as I got back in my car, I found that I was quite stuck. I HATE asking for help, so I hurriedly rocked the car, to no avail. I then tried digging out a bit, rocking a bit, digging a bit, rocking a bit; until the local minister came over and asked if I needed a hand.

I conceded and told him that I did. I let him get in the car and I pushed with all my might, again to no avail. He told me to hold on and that he would go get some fellers to come up. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later, 5 guys on snowmobiles show up and even with 6 grown men pushing the car, it was still slow, slow, slowly pushed out of its rut.

Without their help, I would have probably been there a good couple of hours. I definitely have to thank them.

A parting shot looking out from Cox's Cove.

It really is a picturesque little village, I just haven't returned since this winter.

There is a really attractive, small, charming, small town arena there though; so I might end up making it back again this upcoming winter.

[End of Weekend 3]

Another weekend and another little trip.

I knew of a nearby school I wouldn't mind checking out, but it is ridiculously secured - I'm talking double boards, 14 screws per board sealed.

It doesn't really need any help in security, but I found Mother Nature lends her hand to Newfoundland buildings in the winter as well. That is a full size door in the above picture and short of spending an hour moving snow, you aren't opening that door.

My school plans quickly thwarted, I drove around the area and came upon an old bridge in Nicholsville. There were signs boasting about how they were going to demolish the old bridge, so I decided to park the car and get out.

Walking around, I spotted snowmobile tracks atop the snow beneath the bridge. I found the easiest way to the river was through a nearby yard where two men were working in their garage.

Walking up the drive, I asked if I could go through their property and the homeowner had no problem with it.

As I walked back, the homeowner, the older of the two men, struck up a conversation. He was wondering what I was up to, to which I explained that I simply liked taking pictures and more specifically, of older structures. He then went on to tell me an interesting story, "I used to live in a cabin across the river, up a few miles; used to have to boat across or sled in the winter. Then in 1940, the British came along and built that bridge you were taking pictures of - you understand right? Because Newfoundland didn't become part of Canada until 1949; so the British built it." I nodded, he continued, "So I was born before that bridge, they built it when I was 5 or so; and now, now I'll outlive it."

I asked when they were going to tear it down and he replied that they were already trying to and that their excavator broke through the river ice about a month back - which we both found amusing. I thanked him for letting me cut through his land and we bid adieu.

(By the way: I flew over as recently as June and the bridge was still there.)

[End of Weekend 4]

I even took to the Corner Brook streets to take pictures in an attempt to squash my cabin fever.

Taking some pictures around Corner Brook at night was alright, but I feel like the Brook is so small and absent of interesting subjects, that I try and not overdo it - thinking I'll evaporate the small amount of photogenic subjects that Corner Brook has.

Anyway, that is that: my attempts at trying to find excitement in the winter of Newfoundland.

People say you need to ski or snowmobile or snowshoe to keep sane during the winter here - but this stubborn old mule wasn't having that.

Although I don't know if I could keep sane through a second winter.


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