Sep 11, 2008
|A drive out to Cape Spears - Thursday, September 11
I’m not one to dwell on 9-11, but today is the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attack, and we are in a place where people opened their hearts and their homes to the thousands of air travelers that were stranded here, many of them from the United States.
Today in St. John’s, firefighters held a memorial service for the hundreds of American firefighters who lost their lives. People here remember 9-11 with sadness, but a lot of that sadness today is for what America has become since 2001.
Canadians have a long history of friendship and respect for America, but today they are wondering what has happened to their friend. As a conservative people who have a deep respect for the rule of law, secret prisons, military tribunals and torture are atrocities no civilized country would engage in. That their nearest neighbor is even discussing such things is profoundly disturbing to them.
It’s appropriate that these issues should come up today, because this is the day we are going out to Cape Spears. Cape Spears is a point of land that juts out from the east side of the Avalon Peninsula, and when you are standing at the end of Cape Spears you are standing at the easternmost point on the North American Continent. Looking out to sea, everything familiar is behind you. Ahead there is nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see. It’s easy to see why ancient mariners feared that if they ventured out too far they might fall off the edge of the world.
Today we know that won’t happen, but we have other fears that challenge our courage and our character. If we sail far enough east we come to another continent, and beyond that another. Continents that want a share of the world’s wealth and resources. That reality threatens to push our way of life off the edge of the world. How we respond to it will define who and what we are - and the jury is still out.
On the way to Cape Spears we stopped at Saint John’s Railway Coastal Museum. It is housed in an old depot that sits at the end of the harbor, just past the ship yards and dry docks. It once was the only link to the rest of the island, and today that story is told in words and pictures, and with some beautiful models and displays. Being an island, sea travel was as important a part of the equation as rail travel, and the ships that coordinated with the railroad are given a lot of attention.
One of these was the Caribou. Not the one we sailed on from Sydney to Port aux Basques, but it’s predecessor built in the 1920’s. The original Caribou served the provinces for many years, until she was torpedoed off Port au Basques one night in 1942 by a German U-boat. She was carrying several hundred people, crew and passengers, and only 101 were rescued. The rest were lost at sea and ’Remember the Caribou!’ became a Canadian rallying cry for the rest of the war.
From the museum we drove out to Cape Spears. This is one of the places I’ve most been looking forward to seeing, and we were not disappointed. The day was windy and clear, and the sea was that incredible blue that makes it look like an expressionist painting. We walked the shore walk, past the WWII batteries to the easternmost point. There a nice man guiding a tour took our picture for us, and we stayed a while to just take in the view and think about what this place represents.
Afterwards we walked up to the old 1833 lighthouse. It is very much like the Bonavista lighthouse, built in the British style of the day with the keepers quarters built in a circle around the tower. Here the light has been removed and you can’t go up in the tower, but it is still interesting, and the view of the coastline, and Signal Hill are stunning.
It was getting late and we spent the next hour driving south along the eastern shore to Tors Cove, where we found a nice RV park that has a spectacular overlook of the offshore islands. There are five and collectively they are the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve for seabirds. Here again we found that no two communities are the same. If you want to see all of this island you have to go to each and every place on it. You can’t skip one and say, “Oh it’s probably just like the last one we saw.” It isn’t!
After five weeks on Newfoundland we still continue to be amazed and enthralled by the beauty and diversity of the land, and by the friendliness and sincerity of it’s people.