Tourism has been billed as the saviour of rural parts of Newfoundland and Labrador. With paper mills packing up and the fishery being battered by low prices, diminishing stocks and a higher dollar, there aren't too many options for small communities that are trying to stay vibrant. So, tourism is often touted as the way to bring new money into our bays and headlands.
To this end, the Western Destination Marketing Organization needs to be commended for organizing a series of festivals that broadens the short tourism season into the spring shoulder season. New events often have growing pains, but we were pleasantly surprised with the high quality and varied activities of two events we attended last year as part of Spring Fest in Western Newfoundland.
June is still a dodgy time for weather in many parts of the province, but it is prime time for iceberg sightings and makes good hiking weather.
The first Spring Fest event we took in last year was Spring in Your Step, based in Corner Brook and the Humber Valley.
As the name suggests, the main activities were related to hiking but also included workshops on geocaching and photography as well as cave tours and ziplining. There was even a walk on Woods Island, which included a boat tour as part of the package. Activities are organized from Friday to Sunday, with most of the hikes and other tours scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
This year, the event runs from June 3-6.
Since some events run simultaneously you can't do everything, but I fully recommend the hikes (especially the Coppermine Cape hike or the Old Man in the Mountain trail. Both offer great scenery and are part of the new International Appalachian Trail in Newfoundland.)
The zipline experience is a relatively new activity to this area and it is allows you to "swoop" across the Steady Brook Gorge suspended under a cable by a harness. It is a bit intimidating as you step off into the void, but you quickly realize that it is much safer than it looks at first glance and is an exhilarating experience.
Ice, ice baby
A few days later, we were heading north up Highway 431 (the Viking Trail) to the start of a new 10-day Iceberg Festival (June 11-20 this year) which is headquartered in St. Anthony.
We've seen icebergs in many places in Newfoundland and have even paddled around them in sea kayaks on several occasions. The summer before last, a cruise ship adventure took us to coastal Greenland to see where many of Newfoundland's icebergs originate. So, like addicts, my wife and I were coming to St. Anthony for our annual fix.
Although we had driven to the Tuckamore Lodge in Main Brook in bright sun, the next day we awoke to driving rain and gale-force winds. We phoned Paul Alcock, the owner of the Northland Discovery Boat Tours in St. Anthony, to find out how many icebergs and whales he had been seeing and to ask if he was sailing today.
"There are good icebergs all around and we have been seeing lots of humpbacks, but the weather today is terrible," he said.
"But I can rebook you for the sailing tomorrow morning instead, since the weather is supposed to improve considerably."
Our plan B involved getting reacquainted with Sir Wilfred Grenfell's life, which is superbly on display in the Grenfell Museum and the Grenfell house.
Grenfell stands out as the province's best known medical missionary and his impact on health care and the overall well-being of the citizens of this part of Newfoundland are immeasurable.
We also visited the famous Parks Canada Viking site and Norstead at L'Anse aux Meadows in the afternoon. That evening, we stayed at Valhalla Inn and had a superb dinner with music and a play at the award-winning Norseman Restaurant in L'Anse aux Meadows. Be sure to try their iceberg martini.
The next day, the sun struggled to break out and fortunately the wind had dropped off, so we made our way to St. Anthony for the morning boat tour. As soon as we started to leave the harbour, we were into small icebergs.
It wasn't long before Alcock sighted the first blow. Since the icebergs he planned on visiting were grounded, he decided to go for the moving targets - the whales.
He told us that whales are consistently found in these biologically rich waters just off of St. Anthony harbour and he brought us close to five humpbacks on this trip. Then it was off to see the three icebergs which had been grounded in shallower water several days earlier.
"We get a long iceberg season here and can frequently see bergs right up until early August," he told us.
That evening, we ate at the Lightkeepers Restaurant, which is well known as a popular land-based location for seeing whales and icebergs. Then it was off to hear two of Newfoundland's best known traditional musicians - Fergus O'Byrne and Jim Payne - who had just arrived from St John's. That night, we stayed at the newly constructed Grenfell Heritage Suites, which is a fine addition to the area's upscale accommodations.
The following day was sunny and warm and we started out with a superb interpretative walk with Michael Burzynski, a naturalist with Parks Canada. His venue was the unusual underground salmon river and we could see salmon getting ready to enter the dark cave waters. The salmon would re-emerge at the cave exit several hundred metres upstream - amazing.
We finished our trip with a stay at the Mayflower Inn in Roddickton and the next day headed to Conche, where you can create your own iceberg tapestry. At the interpretation centre, you can also see the 165-foot-long tapestry which several women have been busily working on since 2006. It depicts the history of this French Shore and when it is finished it will be over 200 feet in length - an impressive mix of art and history.
There was much more to see and do at the Iceberg Festival in the days ahead - talks on the science of icebergs, guided walks and workshops on how to play a traditional instrument like the tin whistle, or how to knit with one needle like a Viking. Unfortunately, we had to head back to Corner Brook, but we vowed to take in the latter half of the festival this year.
For more information on all of the festivals associated with Spring Fest, visit
Keith and Heather Nicol are travel writers from Corner Brook. They can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Northland Discovery Boat Tours
Valhalla Inn and Norseland Restaurant
Grenfell Heritage Suites
L'Anse aux Meadows Historic Site
Norstead Viking Village
Grenfell Museum/Grenfell House