I caught the original flight, and I arranged to have Dad rescheduled on a flight later that morning — easy fix. I used my free time on arrival in St. John’s to play some guitar by the cliffs overlooking Bell Island. It was a beautiful scene, nestled in the tall grass with a guitar in my hand and Ocean breeze in my hair. I was proud to be there, inspired about the journey to come. Wondering why no-one else was in this beautiful spot. On the walk back to the car, I noticed a sign — “Sewage treatment plant”. My terrible sense of smell did me a favour that day.
My plan for our trip was for us to cruise the “Rock” of Newfoundland while listening to Allan Doyles story about growing up in Petty Harbour, just outside the capital. Turns out told some great stories, and both my Dad and I loved it. It served as the backdrop to every bit of our exploring — local stories of growing up in a unique part of Canada from a legendary Canadian musician. If he told the story of a song, we could stop and play it as we drove. Any time I took too long of a break for music, Dad would ask me to put back on the “Doyle Stories”.
I’ll never forget waking from a nap, sleeping in the car on the pier of his hometown of “Petty Harbour”. Doyle has launched into a story of getting thrown in the ice cold harbour with his goalie gear on for hitting another player in the balls with his goalie stick — a cheap shot. Rules are rules, so his friends threw him right in the lake. Freezing, but proud, he played out the shinny game soaking wet and shivering. My Dad had a good laugh.
This trip was eventful — we caught the sun rising on the most eastern point of North America and became authentic Newfies through a “screech” ceremony. Watch cliffside as some innocent puffin was eaten alive by a few seagulls, contemplating our revenge plans as we enjoyed a fresh beer in the Dildo brewery. We hiked 6km of cliffs and epic vistas one of the worlds best trails, and stopped in at the Gander Arena to get a sense of the legendary community that housed 7,000 stranded travellers during 9/11.
We were introduced to ugly sticks in Twillingate shortly before we danced and sang our way through the worlds most sober shed party, which we slept off as a hurricane shook the rafters that night. We hiked and boated our way to some fjords on the west coast, massive cliffs looking down on us as we marvelled at some hikers risking the elements to hike the route. That evening, we enjoyed a local musicians show “Anchors away”, filled with accordions, antics and classic Newfy humour and charm. We marvelled at aviation history and touched a piece of the world trade centre on the 18 year anniversary of 9/11, enthralled with first hand stories of a local that helped the thousands of strangers that were routed there.
We enjoyed cod tongues and fish balls as we listened to local stories and music through the country side. Heard tragic stories of families lives lost at sea from a host, and stepped foot where it is said cabot first made landfall in the New World. I vividly recall my father swapping stories with a Newfoundlander roughly his age — my fathers of farming the land, and the Newfies of farming the sea. Both of Irish heritage, they were cut from the same cloth. Living off the land, or living off the sea, with the joys and hardships that come with a self-sustained lifestyle.
It was a fulfilling trip, we were lucky to do it together. Two vivid moments stand out, and they are more to do with spending quality time than they are being in a new place.
First, is eating a nice paper bag lunch riverside with the sun low. Quiet, simple, father and son sitting on a rock by the river.
Second is hearing some stories of my Fathers life. Some are funny and joyful, others tragic and painful. But all part of a life well lived, and it was an honour to better understand the mosaic of his life.
In a sense, these stories shaped both his life, and mine.