Theatre and adventure in Gros Morne

Keith &
Keith & Heather Nicol
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National Park holds more wonders than ever imagined

The plan was to spend the weekend in Cow Head and see four plays that were being presented by Theatre Newfoundland Labrador (TNL) and also explore this area during the day with a variety of outdoor activities.

We couldn’t have chosen a better place to mix culture and adventure than this northern part of Gros Morne National Park.

We left our home in Corner Brook around 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 9 under light winds and sunny skies.

Since we planned to see the play “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” that night we made a stop at the site (just north of Sally’s Cove) where the S.S. Ethie was wrecked in a vicious December storm in 1919.

A set of stairs leads you down to the beach and although the sea has eroded most of the S.S. Ethie, a few pieces of the hull, the boilers and engines are still visible along the shore.

It turns out that the play “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” is 17 years old this summer and was the play that launched TNL’s programme in Cow Head, according to director Jeff Pitcher.

So we were looking forward to seeing TNL’s popular presentation about the events that led to the Ethie’s demise. But before that we had an ocean trip of our own with Long Range Adventures at St. Paul’s Inlet, just a few minutes south of Cow Head.

We had heard about the harbour seals at St. Paul’s Inlet for many years and twice had paddled around St. Paul’s Inlet trying to find them ... but with no luck!

So for this trip we decided to contact Long Range Adventures (longrangeadventures.com), which regularly guides sea kayak trips in this area.

“We have seen seals on every trip so far this summer,” Daine Hewlin told me over the phone, so we booked a spot on his 1 p.m. tour. We joined their half-day paddling excursion (with several other visitors from Ontario and Switzerland) and we hadn’t paddled out for more than 10 minutes when Daine said he could see harbour seals.

Before long we were paddling right up to them. Daine, in fact, seems to know these seals by name since they let him get remarkably close.

This is one of the only places in Western Newfoundland and perhaps in all of the province where you can regularly see seals up close in a sea kayak.

In addition to many seals we also saw dozens of terns and even two caribou trotting along the shoreline. Not bad for a two-hour tour.

You can paddle a single kayak if you like or if you are new to kayaking a double is the way to go since they are very stable and safe.

This tour is ideal for beginner-intermediate paddlers since this part of St. Paul’s Inlet is often protected from wind and wave action.

That evening we saw TNL’s play about the “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” and could see why it has had a

17 year run.  The dinner theatre venue at the Shallow Bay Motel was completely full (be sure to book ahead) and we enjoyed a top notch fresh cod dinner served by the cast.

This performance gives the backstory to the reasons why the Ethie sailed that night as well as what life was like along this coast over 90 years ago.

We learned that it was through the captain’s skill in running her into one of the only places where they could possibly make it ashore and a great deal of luck that no one was lost despite the very stormy waters.

Evidently a baby was saved by being transferred to shore in a mail bag. Following that show we walked over to the Warehouse Theatre to see “The Oracle of Gros Morne” which is a multi-layered play by Berni Stapleton about the demise of the cod fishery with the larger message about the declining health of our oceans. This play is well staged and although it has a serious undertone there are comedic moments as well.

Sunday, July 10 was wet and windy so our planned hike around the “Head” at Cow Head and bird watching along the sandy beach at Shallow Bay was shelved in favour of doing some indoor activities.

We started by visiting the excellent museum at Cow Head and then, since we were seeing “Tempting Providence” that evening, we went off to see the Nurse Bennett House in Daniel’s Harbour.

This is a half-hour drive north on Highway 430 and be sure to watch closely for signs since it is easy to drive right on past the community with the new bypass.

The Nurse Bennett Heritage House provides guided tours which gave us many insights into this remarkable woman who has been called the “Florence Nightingale of the North.”

We particularly liked the story about the kitchen table which also served as an operating room. The legs were evidently carved by the famous fiddler, Rufus Guinchard, in exchange for a pulled tooth.

That evening we saw the TNL performance about Nurse Bennett and we could understand why it has now played to more than 63,000 people on several continents.

It has masterful staging (it is hard to believe how many uses a white table cloth can have) and  well presented. This is a “don’t miss” play and even though we saw it six years ago, it seems even better now!

After that play we saw “Stones in his Pockets” which suits Cow Head to a tee since it is about a film company coming into a small Irish town to do a movie shoot — much like what TNL does when they invade Cow Head every spring and summer.

It had the audience totally engaged and the two actors have a real challenge playing the roles of 15 people.

TNL is performing seven plays this summer and seeing a play about the area you are visiting really adds to the visitor experience.

When we travel we like to hike, beach walk or go sea kayaking by day and then if possible, listen to traditional music or take in a local play in the evening and Gros Morne National Park is ideal for this in the summer.

For more information on TNL’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival schedule or to book tickets to a show see- www.theatrenewfoundland.com or call 1-877-243-2899.

 

Contributors Keith and Heather Nicol are avid explorers of Newfoundland from their base in Corner Brook. Keith can be reached at knicol@swgc.mun.ca.They also have

a popular travel blog at: http://keithnicol.blogspot.com/

Organizations: Nurse Bennett Heritage House, Warehouse Theatre, Gros Morne Theatre

Geographic location: Cow Head, Ethie, Newfoundland St. Paul Corner Brook Sally Ontario Switzerland

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