Category: Canada

Useful tips and tricks for travelling in Canada, including what to see and do.

Fundy-mental

Overnight we’ve crossed the international border, docking in the early morning at Saint John on the Bay of Fundy. The port is right next to the town, so it’s only a short walk after disembarkation.

Great.

Not so great – it’s Canadian Thanksgiving and everything is closed. Everything.

We wander up steep streets into the middle of the city – again, mostly deserted. Eventually we discover the local market has opened specially to capture business from the tourists on Sky Princess. Annoyingly, there’s nothing we’re really interested in buying.

Perhaps worst of all, we can’t even score a local beer. Early return to Sky Princess.

Definitely not Yorkshire

Today we’re in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is nice. claiming to be ‘The World’s Friendliest Cruise Port’, we’re even greeted by a bagpiper down on the dock.

In the cruise terminal, a local guide directs us towards a bus that will take us out to a true dark tourism site – the Fairlawn Cemetery. This is the final resting place for the majority of victims recovered from Titanic. The range of ages and occupations is extremely interesting – as is the fact that some of the people still have not been identified.

Afterwards we take a walk to a local shopping mall. On the way we pass a much less well-known dark tourism site, the West End Cemetery. This unassuming black-fenced lot is the final resting place of 125 victims of the Halifax Explosion – an event that levelled most of the city in 1917. I doubt that any of the cruise excursions go past this relatively anonymous corner of the city.

Another bus back from the mall and we stop at the Garrison Brewery on the dock. This is a great excuse to try out one of their beer flights – and sample five beers at once. It certainly makes up for not trying any local brews yesterday.

Sinjins

We arrive in St John’s as the sun rises. Spectacular.

This is what having a balcony cabin stateroom is all about

Saint John followed by St. John’s – almost like the Canadians ran out of names for their cities. On the plus side, the ship docks right in the centre of town, so there’s no messing around when we decide to go ashore.

This time we decide to catch a bus to the outskirts of town. Why? So we can pick up some more soap at the ‘local’ Bath & Bodyworks store which is located in the Avalon Mall. The bus journey allows us to see some of the city – which looks remarkably like any other in North America.

We also stop at a Tim Horton’s to try the local fare. There is so much sugar I fear we will both have hypoglycaemic shock. I won’t be rushing to repeat the experience either. Later we learn that the Tim Horton’s restaurant closest to the dock ran out of coffee and could not meet demand from thirsty cruisers – so our trip out of town paid off.

Back into town and we stop into Broderick’s Pub – thankfully they have a beer from a brewery in town. Which is a good way to end the landside portion of the cruise.

Halifax and the Five Fishermen Restaurant

The first stop on our latest journey is Halifax, Nova Scotia. Having been here once before, we’ve already seen the number one dark tourism site, The Fairlawn Cemetery.

This time, we decided to stick to the centre of the city, specifically the Five Fishermen Restaurant. 

Along the boardwalk

Halifax has clearly chosen to capitalise on the cruise market. Every ship is greeted by a kilted piper, helping them to claim the ‘most welcoming port in the world’ title.

Disembarkation is smooth, and the cruise terminal has a very useful tourist information desk. You can ask these local experts anything – including which public bus to catch to any destination – and they will help you out with a free city map.

Leaving the terminal, turn right and start walking to reach the city centre. Once past the statue of Samuel Cunard (yes, he of cruise line fame), you will reach a boardwalk lined with trendy restaurants and varsity. Further down you can find food stands, handicrafts and a couple of museums – including a weird blue-and-white corvette retired from the Canadian Navy.

A picture of the retired Canadian Navy corvette anchored at Halifax boardwalk
An arctic paint job

Top tip: Lobster rolls are much cheaper here ($25 CAD) on the boardwalk than in any of the American states ($50 USD).

It’s all uphill from here

The Five Fishermen restaurant is not far from the end of the boardwalk – but it’s all uphill. And the hill is quite steep. 

A map showing the walking route from the Halifax Cruise Terminal to the Five Fishermen Restaurant
The walk from the Cruise Terminal to the Five Fishermen isn’t too bad really

Thankfully it is Sunday so there’s not much traffic or pedestrians around, making it quite easy to get around with the mobility scooter.

Why visit the Five Fishermen Restaurant?

The Five Fishermen Restaurant isn’t all that much to look up, but it has a unique place in dark tourism history. Back in 1912, this shiplap building was occupied by Snow & Company Undertakers. In the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic, this was where victims were processed – either to be sent back to their families or for burial in the Fairlawn Cemetery. 

The Five Fishermen Restaurant in Halifax, Nova Scotia
The Five Fishermen Restaurant used to be a funeral home

Five years later, the undertakers was again overwhelmed after the infamous Halifax Explosion which killed nearly 2,000 local people. Photographs published in the Halifax local newspaper of the time show coffins stacked in the street as undertakers rushed to deal with the sheer number of dead.

Unsurprisingly, some claim the Five Fishermen is haunted…

Back to the ship

Thankfully, the journey back to the ship is all downhill. Better still, there’s a Tim Horton’s on the way. We stop in for a doughnut and milkshake each, shocked again by the amount of sugar in each – far more than we get in the UK branches!

Despite the constant rattling and bumping being quite uncomfortable, we opt to make the return trip along the wooden planked boardwalk. Along the way we spot a seal just off shore, stealing fish from a local fisherman. He seems quite amused, like this is not the first time he has had this problem.

We also manage to grab a geocache (GCZ4QV) near the cruise terminal, dropping off the travel bug we collected in Puerto Rico last year. Oops.

Did we get passport stamps in Halifax?

I asked at tourist information whether we could have passport stamps. The helpful gent behind the desk says that normally you can get one from the immigration/post office. But they are not open on Sundays. 

So no, we did not get our passports stamped.

Overall

Halifax is a perfectly pleasant city and well worth a visit if you are in the area. Linda says she would be tempted to make a specific trip to visit, particularly when she’s fully mobile again.

You don’t see that every day…

A picture of the helicopter doing the late night medivac
The view from our balcony last night.

There was an emergency medivac late last night and the helicopter flew right over our balcony. You have to admire the skill of the pilot, the bravery of the two medics who were winched out of the helicopter – and hope that the patient is making a good recovery.

Cruising into Corner Brook

Our arrival into Corner Brook was delayed by several hours because of last night’s medivac and the detour required. We finally dock around 11:30am.

This will be our last dockside disembarkation for a while and using the gangway from Deck 4 makes the process very simple. There’s a few huts set up on the dockside selling souvenirs made from moose antlers and the like. A gang of local people is handing out tourist maps and helping herd cruisers towards the free shuttles into town.

Having checked the map before departure, we decide to do the 15 minute walk ourselves. Immediately we encounter a few issues, such as the huge ‘gap’ in the road bridge which is large enough to trap a mobility scooter wheel. Thankfully we spotted it before Linda hit it. We also discover that the many drop kerbs are very poorly maintained, making for an uncomfortable and bumpy ride.


Top tip: Mobility scooter riders may like to take a cushion to help make the bumpy journey a little more comfortable.


Corner Brook itself is a quaint little town, pleasant but not entirely remarkable. I asked one of our fellow cruisers if this was like traditional small town America. He agreed, before adding, ‘but the people are more polite.’

A view of the road into Corner Brook
The somewhat uninspiring view as you walk into town

There are a handful of hiking trails and a couple of caves to explore – but not much for those with accessibility issues. We can’t get up the hill to check out the Captain Cook memorial for instance. 

Instead we visit Remembrance Square outside the town hall to look at the War Memorial. It’s a little unusual, featuring a caribou flanked by a World War I soldier and another from the Afghan War. 

A picture of the Corner Brook War Memorial
The Corner Brook War Memorial

Afterwards, we take a trip to the roof of the Corner Brook town hall – three whole storeys above street level. There is a rooftop garden, some views across the town and the Humber Arm. There’s also supposed to be a geocache here, but it has gone missing and not yet been replaced.

Back on the street, we continue up Main Street, taking in the atmosphere and checking out the local shops. It’s remarkably hot and sweaty, so when we get to the end of the street, we head back for the ship.

Thankfully we’re back on board by the time a major thunderstorm breaks over the town. There is thunder, lightning and torrential rain – much to the joy of the local taxi drivers who are making a fortune ferrying cruisers back to the ship.

To be honest, Corner Brook doesn’t have enough to make it a major tourist destination. But that’s part of its charm. We’ve enjoyed our brief stay and would be tempted to return one day – when Linda is fully fit again.

Did we get a passport stamp?

I asked about passport stamps at the Town Hall, much to the bemusement of the two receptionists. No, no passport stamps.

Skipping St Anthony

One of the problems with visiting ‘wilderness’ destinations is that they are rarely suitable for people with accessibility issues. So when we anchored outside St Anthony this morning, we faced a dilemma.

St Anthony is a very small town, population circa 2200, located in the extreme north of Newfoundland (so small it only has one Tim Hortons restaurant). It’s a functional place with little of interest for tourists other than unpaved hiking trails across the rugged landscape. There are just three geocaches nearby, none of which are mobility-scooter accessible.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided not to disembark. There is simply not enough to do in town to justify the hassle of tendering into port. And it seems we made the right decision.

A picture of Linda and Ben with St Anthony visible in the background
This was as close as we got to St Anthony – but the view of the whales was better from the ship anyway

Tender nightmare

When visiting a small port, the queues to catch a tender from ship to shore tend to be quite long. Usually, you collect a ticket and wait until your number is called. By about 10am the queues have shortened and tickets are no longer required.

Not so in St Anthony. Today we were still hearing announcements for tender tickets and queues at 2:45pm. And the last return tender was scheduled for 5pm. We could see the queue for people hoping to return to ship from our balcony – fellow cruisers claimed it was a two-hour wait. Anyone leaving the ship this afternoon would have had a matter of minutes on shore before having to come back.

What is there to do in St Anthony?

  • Iceberg and whale watching
  • Coastal hikes and walks
  • Grenfell House, former home of St Anthony hospital founder Sir Wilfred Grenfell
  • Some generic shops

Unfortunately, even the Newfoundland and Labrador tourist board struggles to promote the St Anthony.

For a town with little to offer, this seemed far more trouble than it was worth. Sorry St Anthony.

Staying onboard Island Princess

Rather than add to the madness, we spent the day sat on the sun loungers in the Lotus Pool area on Deck 14. This allowed me to catch up on some work and make good progress on my third novel, Misrepresented.

Better yet, we were able to watch whales frolicking off-shore as we relaxed, which was very cool.


Top tip: A pair of binoculars is a cruise essential. Without them we would not have been able to watch the whales or to fully admire the beauty of the Newfoundland landscape.


Apeman BC70 binoculars

Linda spent a long time researching binoculars before buying me a pair of Apeman BC70 binoculars. These are compact, lightweight and can be easily thrown into a backpack for travelling on- or off-shore. The Apeman BC70 seems to be hard to come by these days, but the same model is available under various brandnames – including OYU like the ones shown here.

These are excellent for whale watching, iceberg viewing and scanning coastlines and city skylines.

Well-worth a few dollars/pounds.

Bad news after leaving St Anthony

As we pulled away from St Anthony, the Captain made a ship-wide announcement. Our next two ports, Qaqortoq and Nanortalik, have been cancelled because both harbours are blocked by icebergs. Our ship will not be able to get into port safely.

In a change of itinerary, the Captain has negotiated a visit to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, instead. It’s a 900+ nautical mile journey almost due north, travelling at just 10 knots.

We’ve never been to Nuuk, which is cool, but I doubt it has the same tiny village charm of the smaller ports. We had been really looking forward to our return visit.

But as one of our fellow cruisers noted, ‘It’s an adventure!’. Given that the captain has never been to Nuuk either, I think he may be right.


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