Rock on the waves
Here we are in Trinity Bay on the east coast of Newfoundland, touring the set
for Random Passage, the international mini-series based on the writings of Bernice
Morgan about life in a typical fishing outpost in the early 1800s. Our guide,
Fred Rex, has walked us through the sod-roof houses, church and schoolroom,
past grazing sheep and down to the fishing stage and fish flakes, sharing his
knowledge of the area, the fishing industry and the film business. Born in the
nearby town of Port Rexton and schooled in St. John’s, Rex knows about
the hardscrabble lives from the stories handed down through the generations
— and he knows first-hand the stories of the filming of the award-winning
series in 2000 starring Colm Meaney, Adife McMahon, Deborah Pollitt and Daniel
Payne. But just as he’s wrapping me in a replica of a woolen cloak that
would have been worn two centuries ago to ward off the dampness and the chilly
gusts from the sea, his audience turns as one and gasps — a large iceberg
is perfectly framed in the window of the hut almost as if a director has ordered
its ghostly appearance.
Although the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador is recognized as the
greatest iceberg theatre in the world and known as Iceberg Alley, it’s
unusual to see one in early August. This late in the season, the last of the
bergs have normally melted away — late May to early June is the target
date for iceberg hunters.
This mountain of ice we’re seeing here today probably calved from a
glacier in western Greenland more than a year ago, and the ice itself may be
more than 15,000 years old.
The appearance of the berg is all the buzz over dinner that evening at the
luxurious Fishers’ Loft Inn, whose restaurant was chosen by the 2007-2008
edition of Where to Eat in Canada as one of the best in the country.
The fixed menu for the pre-theatre crowd certainly supports that accolade: the
food comes from local sources — the ocean, freshwater ponds, nearby meadows
and the kitchen garden — and is a beautiful balance of fresh, interesting
flavours, from the cauliflower and blue cheese soup and organic greens with
lime vinaigrette to the main course of roasted Atlantic salmon with mushroom
risotto. We still find room for the chocolate torte with blueberry coulis, solely
for its healthful properties, of course: Newfoundland’s wild blueberries
contain more antioxidants and are healthier for you than any other kind in the
Fishers’ Loft Inn is an unexpected delight. A collection of buildings
on the hills above Trinity Bay’s rugged coastline and overlooking the
old harbour of Ship Cove, the four-and-a-half star inn is popular with visiting
movie stars. Dame Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey stayed here during the filming
of The Shipping News; Andrea Martin, Mary Walsh and Cathy Jones have
been guests as well — in fact, my room on the second floor of the Hilltop
was occupied by Martin on her last visit.
Fishers’ Loft is ideally situated for our plans to explore the Trinity
Bay area. A 15-minute road trip after dinner takes us into the Rising Tide Theatre
in Trinity proper. This renowned theatre company has portrayed the culture and
character of Newfoundland for more than 30 years and is famous for its New Founde
Lande Trinity Pageant (the pageant meanders through the lanes and around the
town. Proper footwear is highly recommended!).
But tonight, our show is inside the Arts Centre. The back of the stage has
been opened so the trees and rough shoreline form a natural backdrop to an incredible performance of No Man’s Land, based on the book of the same name
by Kevin Major. The story of a generation of young Newfoundlanders wiped out
by treachery in the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel during the Great War is considered
the greatest tragedy in Newfoundland’s history, and there are few dry
eyes in the audience when the curtain comes down.
The next day, we hit the Skerwink Trail, a five-kilometre loop a 10-minute
walk from our home base at Fishers’ Loft. Travel & Leisure
magazine named it one of the top 35 walks in North America — and it’s
no wonder. Sea stacks rise majestically out of the water; one is called the
Music Box because of the music created by the wind blowing around it. Kittiwakes,
gannets and great black-backed gulls swoop overhead. Eagles and ospreys are
a common sight here, but they elude us today as do foxes and whales. But the
views over Port Rexton and Trinity are well worth the two-hour hike.
All too soon, we pack up our bags and head down to St. John’s. But I
vow to return; perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll see whales on my next
Photo ©Brian Ricks