A leisurely drive through the small communities that dot the shoreline of Iceberg Alley in spring and early summer practically guarantees an iceberg sighting or two. And if you get really lucky, you won't need to bother hopping aboard a tour boat or peering through binoculars for a better view. Below is a selection of photos of some of the biggest bergs we've ever received.
A tour boat gets an up-close look at a massive berg that floated into Long Point, Twillingate, NL in July 2007. Submitted by Lisa Hull of Orangeville, Ontario
Spotted off St. Anthony, NL. Submitted by Joan Oliver of Newfoundland
According to the submitter, this is "the biggest iceberg ever in our bay!" Submitted by Norma Sacrey of Ming's Bight, NL
Alex & Joanne Coffin of Tillsonberg, Ontario took photos of icebergs at Goose Cove during their vacation 2011 summer vacation.
Huge bergs that visited the Greenspond area make the houses dotting the shoreline look like miniatures! Submitted by Cindy Blackwood; taken by Frank E. Blackwood
Tourists and locals alike were amazed at how close this iceberg came to the shore in Summerford, Newfoundland. Submitted by Angela Leyte of Regina, Saskatchewan
Folks came out in droves to view the monstrous icebergs that floated into Quidi Vidi Gut in 2012. Submitted by Tracey Sheehan
What this iceberg lacks in above-water length, it sure makes up for in height. Submitted by Arlene Talbot of Englee, NL
The submitter points out this berg looks a little like a cruise ship; we're betting it's not nearly as cozy, though! Submitted by Joyce Morgan of Port de Grave, NL
Downhome's Grant Loveys recently visited the workshop of a man we've dubbed the "Shoal Harbour inventor." Oliver Vardy spends his days thinking up and constructing new and unique musical instruments. Perhaps the most unique is an invention that Oliver calls the Melody Chord Harp. It is essentially a combination of guitar, harp and lap steel, with elements of each instrument working together in a totally new way. Its five individual sets of guitar strings are each tuned to a particular chord. Parallel to these strings is a single string that can be plucked with the thumb and a metal slide, providing a haunting melodic accompaniment to the strummed chords. It's a strange little machine, but it sounds wonderful.
Watch and listen as Oliver strums a tune.
For the full story on the Shoal Harbour inventor, see the May 2013 issue of Downhome.
Big waves, whales, icebergs, seabirds, moose – you get the picture. In the May 2013 issue, we explore some of the very best places to spot icons of Newfoundland and Labrador. Below is awesome video footage of some of our iconic treasures.
On windy days, the shores of Middle Cove Beach on the Avalon Peninsula are lined with folks eager to see amazing wave action. But in 2010, some wave watchers got a rude awakening from Mother Nature when a rogue wave washed ashore on Middle Cove Beach. Check out this YouTube video of local news coverage of the phenomenon.
While the waters of Witless Bay, as well as Twillingate and Southern Labrador, provide almost guaranteed whale sightings in June, July and August, tour operator Ocean Quest takes whale watching to a whole new level with its "Close Encounters" tour.
In a province where two communities (St. Anthony and Twillingate) lay claim to the title "Iceberg Capital of the World," folks eager to see and photograph these glacial wonders are right to come here in search of them – and each spring and summer they do, in droves. But a group of tourists visiting Twillingate in July 2008 got an extra special iceberg sighting, as a giant berg foundered and fell into the churning waters before their very eyes.
We scoured YouTube for cool video footage of a moose - and this tourist's close encounter atop Gros Morne Mountain was, we felt, the most impressive. (Warning! Some mild foul language in this video - and who can blame her?)
Residents of Buchans, Newfoundland will likely remember this very special 1980s episode of CBC's "On the Road Again," hosted by Wayne Rostad. The quality of the video isn't the greatest - but the quality of the story makes up for it!
*Note: For long-time readers of Downhome, the magazine's illustrator, Snowden Walters, used Clarence the Caribou as inspiration for a series of cartoon sketches that appeared in The Downhomer in the 1990s. Click here to check them out.
Our province's heritage breed are known as hardy workers, used to plough fields and haul logs. But the Newfoundland pony featured in the video below, owned by passionate pony promoter Liz Chafe of Cappahayden, Newfoundland, is blessed with a rather unusual talent - we're fairly confident he'd make for stiff competition on any soccer field.
Actors & Re-enactors
The folks acting at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site have to reach far back in time to get into their characters. In reconstructed sod huts Viking re-enactors mimic the Norse ways of life that played out here more than 1,000 years ago.
Watch this video and come along for a tour of the Point Amour Lighthouse, the second tallest lighthouse in Canada, located at L'Anse Amour, Labrador.
Placentia-native and master boat builder Jerome Canning details the province's historic boat building tradition in the following video. With the help of the Wooden Boat Museum in Winterton, Newfoundland, locals with knowledge of the now rare art form are passing the tradition to younger generations.
Parks Canada cameras follow along as Inuit descendants visit the homeland of their ancestors, known now as the Torngat Mountains National Park.
Watching waterfalls cascade down over high cliffs surrounding this 16-km glacier-carved, land-locked fiord in Gros Morne National Park, you'll think you've been transported to another time.
The puffins of Elliston usually prefer to stick to a small island a short distance from the headland - but this one decided to wander over for some close-up camera shots!
From our vantage point, Newfoundland looks very small. The Gaff Topsails, hundreds of square kilometres of stunning west coast land covered in snowdrifts so immense they resemble dunes, is just a small white smudge on the province’s grey-green face – like a spoonful of sugar dumped on a slab of speckled granite. Newfoundland’s innumerable ponds are, from here, no more than a collection of icy spots connected by threads of river winding chaotically around hills and plateaus and other formations too tiny to make out. In the distance, a thin strip of land extends like a finger: the entire length of the Burin Peninsula jutting into the sea, everything slightly pinkish from the sunrise. The sun too is visible, and the Avalon Peninsula, and even the curve of the earth. And there in the corner, the black nothingness of space. From this perspective, everything looks small.
John Hennessey, Amarnath Mukhopadhyay and I are 125,000 feet up, in the lower quarter of the stratosphere, nearly 40 kilometres above southwest Newfoundland. But we’re also in a quiet study room at the Queen Elizabeth II Library at Memorial University. We’re looking at a picture John and Amarnath took on February 16, 2013.
How did two university students take a picture from 125,000 feet in the air? The answer seems deceptively simple: they tied a camera to a weather balloon and sent it into the sky. But the real story is much more complex. It begins last year in a medical science lab.
“John came to me one day, we were working in the lab,” Amarnath says. “He had seen this video online of a couple of teenagers from Ontario who had done a similar thing, sent a Lego man into space. He mentioned there was no one in Newfoundland who had done this before. The reason was that the weather is so rough here and the chance of the equipment falling into a river or the ocean is really, really high. We thought it was a cool idea and decided to give it a shot.”
Amarnath Mukhopadhyay and John Hennessey with some of the equipment used during their space flight.
Behind the scenes
Together they researched exactly how things would work, meticulously planning every step: how they’d get the camera up into the air, what type of balloon they’d use, what to fill the balloon with, how to take the pictures and, perhaps most importantly, how to get the camera back. John purchased the camera, a GoPro Hero 2 (a very hi-tech, very small camera normally used for mounting on helmets and other objects in extreme environments, which can record high-quality video and take still photos), the balloon (a 1,500-gram Totex weather balloon that can carry 200 cubic feet of gas) and a GPS system that would allow them to track the balloon’s progress and locate the landing site. They also used special high-altitude ballooning software called “habhub” to plot the course the balloon would take.
Then, after six weeks or so of number crunching and material tests, they were ready. Their first launch took place in Pasadena.
Watch the first launch, from Pasadena, N.L. and footage taken during the flight
“We went out on September 29 and launched the balloon for the first time. It went relatively smoothly,” Amarnath says.
The balloon went up, the camera recorded the stunning footage and returned safely to earth, in Millertown Junction. Success. John and Amarnath uploaded the footage to YouTube and immediately began work on the second launch. But this one would be different. “We got such good feedback from doing it the first time that we decided to do it again in the winter and get a nice view of a snow-covered Newfoundland,” Amarnath says. John adds, “We wanted to be able to show people the juxtaposition of Newfoundland when it’s frozen and when it’s not frozen. Because Newfoundland is 70 per cent covered by fresh water, in the wintertime it really does become a frozen land.”
So, on the morning of February 16, John and Amarnath woke at five o’clock at the Corner Brook Comfort Inn and began preparing. “We thought about stepping right outside the hotel and launching it,” John says, “but we entered the data into the software and it said the payload would land right at the mouth of the Exploits Bay, which would have been dangerous because the bay is saltwater and would not have been frozen.”
Through a process of trial and error, John and Amarnath eliminated various launch spots, plugging data into the software and watching the course the balloon (pictured left) would take appear on the screen as a long green line cutting across much of central Newfoundland. Finally, they settled on Gallants, a small settlement roughly halfway between Corner Brook and Stephenville, as the crow flies.
John and Amarnath were excited as they went through their procedure – checking the gear, filling the balloon, securing everything. When they were ready, they counted down from 10 and let go. The balloon soared, swaying a fair bit at first, but eventually straightened out, and, for two hours 20 minutes, drifted along in the freezing, silent air, nearly 40 kilometres above central Newfoundland until it popped from the cold and the payload attached to a parachute coasted to the ground.
For the second time, the launch was a success. They used the GPS system to zero in on the payload, and eventually found it 182 kilometres northeast of the launch site, perched a few feet beyond the north bank of the Exploits River (pictured left). They say they were lucky; had the launch taken place in the summer or fall, the payload would have fallen directly into the river and been swept down into the falls.
Watch the February launch, from Gallants, N.L. and footage taken during the flight
Along for the ride
Two successful launches under their belt, the honour of being the first Newfoundlanders to send something into space, all that breathtaking footage, and the two still aren’t done. In fact, they’re ramping up. “We want to go higher and higher,” John says, “not only for ourselves, but also to educate the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, to entertain people with beautiful images of our province.”
Amarnath elaborates, “What we’re planning to do for the next project is aim for approximately 150,000 feet, whereas the last two balloons reached between 120,000 and 125,000 feet.” Doing that, however, requires more resources. They’re planning on using a balloon twice as big as the ones they’ve been using, one that can hold two tanks of hydrogen gas. They’ve purchased a camera that can deliver better footage. And they have a new idea: sponsorship.
“We’re asking companies if they’re interested in donating money. If they have a logo or something we can take up into the stratosphere over Newfoundland and Labrador, we’d be more than obliged to do it,” John says, noting interested companies can reach them through their YouTube channel (search “Newfoundland Weather Balloon” on YouTube or Google).
Already Downhome has signed on. Says company president Grant Young, “Our readers have taken Downhome magazine with them everywhere – tops of mountains, across deserts, under water. This is our 25th year as a magazine. What better way to celebrate than by attempting to reach for the stars?”
Downhome magazine in hand, John and Amarnath are preparing for the next launch, their biggest ever, scheduled to take place May 18, 2013.
For them, the sky is the limit. – Story by Grant Loveys
Our Navy at Work
Dear Downhome: My name is Master Seaman Donnie Tufts. I am originally from Petites, Newfoundland. I'm presently serving on a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf onboard HMCS Charlottetown in support of war against terrorism.
We got most of the 57 Newfoundlanders onboard together for a photo with the Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier, when he came to visit us for Christmas. Peter McKay, minister of National Defense, and Canadian Forces Chief Lacroix were also onboard to show their support for the troops during the holidays.
We all love reading your magazine and have quite a few being passed around throughout the ship. Keep up the great work.
A list of the Newfoundlanders onboard, in no particular order: MS Tufts, Petites; PO2 Buckle, Corner Brook; OS Penton, Fogo Island; LS Penton, Gander Bay; LS Dyke, Gander; LS Tiller, York Harbour; LS Lidstone, Stephenville; LS Parsons, Rose Blanche; PO2 Cobourne, St. Anthony; CPO2 Hayes, St. John's; LS Murphy, Marystown; PO2 Osborne, Little Bay East; Cpl Flight, Howley; MS Walsh, Bay de Verde; LS Corrie, Rose Blanche; MS Dunford, Francois; PO2 Pat Makey, St. John's; PO1 Parsons, Windsor; LS Alexander, Trout River; PO1 Buffet, Fortune; LS Cessels, Fortune; PO2 Colombe, St. Georges; PO2 Allan, Harbour Breton; LT(n) Chalk, Deer Lake; LS Kavanagh, Ferryland; Sgt Swyer, St. George; LS Fitzgerald, Avalon; LS Sparks, Georgtown; LT(n) Dale St. Croix, Riverhead; MS Seward, Port aux Basques; MS Rendell, Grand Falls-Windsor; OS Mooney, Placentia; LS Maidment, Little Catalina; PO2 Lock, Buchans; LS Griffin, Harbour Breton; LS Watkins, Indian Cove; AB Switch, Conche; PO1 Roswell, Corner Brook; LS Holloway, Port Blanford; LS Ellsworth, Pasadena; MS Decker, Reidville; PO2 Monette, Reidville; Cpl Vardy, Clarenville; LS Letto, L'Anse-au-Clair; OS McQuaid, Bay d'Espoir; Cpl Lafosse, Gande; AB Farrell, Corner Brook; Pte Gavel, Labrador City; Cpl Chippet, Leading Tickles; AB Lingard, Grand Falls-Windsor; Capt Thomey, Fort mcNewfoundland; OS Messeau; LS O'Keefe; PO2 Layman, Fogo Island; OS Musseau; and LS O'Keefe. Missing from photo are LS Parsons, Dover; SLT(n) Schmidt, Conche; CPO2 Young, Stephenville.
MS Donnie Tufts
(currently serving on HMCS Charlottetown)
On behalf of all of us at Downhome, thank you for the work you and your fellow troops do to preserve freedom for all Canadians.
Avondale's Old Mill
Dear Ron; I am enclosing a picture of the old water-powered mill in Avondale, Newfoundland. It was built in the late 1880's by Mr. William Lewis Clarke of Bristol, England and operated until 1892. On the day after the big fire devastated St. John's, a fire destroyed both the mill and the Clarkes's home.
Mr. Clarke rebuilt the mill that same year. He was married to Eliza Percey of Brigus and their son, Harold Clarke, operated the mill until 1948 when he retired due to ill health. He later sold the mill to John Mason of Avondale and for a time, it was operated by Leo Mason, the owner's brother. When it was no longer profitable, the old mill fell idle and remained so for many years.
Mr. Mason then leased the old mill to the co-operative society in 1983, which made plans to restore it as a tourist attraction. A federal government work project helped restore it, but the lease ended in 1991 and it went idle again. In June 1995, I purchased the land and building from Mr. Mason with great plans in mind. Less than a month later, the 145-year-old sawmill burnt to the ground.
Now I am planning to create an R.V. park and lodge with an interpretation/museum station to tell all about the mill in its day. I was hoping that your readers might see the picture and read my story about Avondale's old mill, and help me find pictures, information, artifacts or anything else relating to the history of the building.
Avondale, Conception Bay South, NL
If any readers can help Jackie find out more about the history of the old mill (pictured above) that burned down in Avalon, you may write to her at P.O. Box 224, Avondale, Conception Bay South, NL, A0A 1B0, telephone 709-229-6562, or e-mail email@example.com.
Who Got Grounded?
Dear Downhome: Here is a photo taken in Stephenville, Newfoundland, in what I think is 1976. In the photo is me in the arms of my father, Frazer. My twin brother, Jodi, is being held by my mother Joan. I was wondering if anyone had information on the wrecked boat in the background. I love this photo and any information would be great.
Mount Pearl, Newfoundland
According to my friends Leonard Ivany and Wayne Flemming (who were hired as watchmen to guard that ship from looting shortly after she ran aground), the vessel is called the Mardia Reefer. She was a freezer ship that was picking up fish. She arrived at the entrance to Port Harmon during a raging winter storm, came in on the wrong side of the breakwater and ran aground. The wreck happened, says Leonard, because the ship's captain refused to wait for a pilot to guide the vessel into the harbour and attempted it solo. Below is a picture of my son, Grant, and me taken the year of the wreck - it was sometime in the early 1970s, but I can't remember exactly when. I drove down to Port Harmon last year, and all that remained of the Mardia Reefer were several pieces of rusting iron on the beach beside the breakwater. If anyone has more information on the shipwreck, please leave a comment (see "Share your comments" on right).
How do you get techie geeks interested in wilderness hikes and outdoorsy types interested in computer science? Introduce them to geocaching.
Geocaching is a modern-day treasure hunt that spans the globe. Geocachers all over the world hide simple “treasures” in the great outdoors, use a global positioning system (GPS) to mark the coordinates, then post those coordinates online so other geocachers can seek out their cache.
Usually, a cache is a container filled with small toys and other inexpensive trinkets. When a geocacher uncovers a cache, he or she usually takes an item and leaves an item of theirs behind in its place.
But it’s not so much the trinkets that lure geocachers to locations near and far (some of which are obscure and difficult to navigate) – it’s the journey that leads them there and the thrill of the find that keeps more than 5 million geocachers on the hunt worldwide.
According to Geocaching.com, there are about 1.7 million active geocaches in the world at present – more than 4,700 of which are located in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Even Downhome has hidden a geocache somewhere in the beautiful wilderness of this province. (Head for the following coordinates to find it: N 47° 42.534'; W 52° 42.519'.)
Downhome's art director, Vince Marsh, finds the perfect spot to stash our cache.
And after scouring www.geocaching.com for what we feel are the most unique or scenic geocache locations, the Downhome editors have come up with our own list of favourites. So grab your GPS, lace up your hiking boots, and begin your own high-tech treasure hunt!
Cache Name: The Rolling Stone
GC Code: GC2DV2X
Coordinates: N 48° 39.383 W 053° 58.883
“This trip will take you in the woods behind the Town of Traytown to The Rolling Stone. The Rolling Stone is a large boulder that rolls in place but does not tip over. It’s a bit of a trip but nothing too difficult for those used to hiking.” – sunnichicki&Frosty
Cache Name: Witch’s Foot Cache
GC Code: GCAB63
Coordinates: N 49° 44.251 W 054° 09.458
Location: Joe Batt’s Arm
“A large footprint is embedded in a rock on Ethridge’s Point - the opposite foot is said to be located approximately one mile away on Hackett's Point. As legend has it, the witch that made this imprint stepped from one point to another and drowned while making the giant leap. If your foot fits in the Witch’s Foot, good news – you can reach the cache via broom and spare the hiking.” – Kittiwake Geocaching Network
Cache Name: Carmanville Cache
GC Code: GC9F54
Coordinates: N 49° 22.496 W 054° 16.485
“Cache is located at Carmanville Pond – a beautiful rustic trail, which affords an excellent opportunity for photographs and – if birdwatching is your thing – plenty of that, too. Carmanville is among the best places in Atlantic Canada to see birds.” – Kittiwake Geocaching Network
Cache Name: Logger’s Lookout
GC Code: GCVNAV
Coordinates: N 47° 54.951 W 055° 44.140
Location: Milltown-Head of Bay d’Espoir
“This is the area where early loggers cut and hauled timber to Jersey Point Landing for shipping. A great view of the area from here.” – Sue&Herb and Skills Link Group
Cache Name: Salvage Cache
GC Code: GC34ZB7
Coordinates: N 47° 42.390 W 053° 11.635
“A scenic hike ending with a cache full of goodies, a great view of the coast and Salvage Rock.” – Tetley269
Cache Name: S.S. Torhamvan Shipwreck
GC Code: GC1DGHR
Coordinates: N 47° 01.981 W 052° 52.715
“This cache is located on a beach near the remnants of the shipwreck, S.S. Torhamvan. The boiler and a small part of the vessel can be seen from the location of the cache. In 1926, the S.S. Torhamvan ran aground in dense fog in Ferryland, Newfoundland.” – The Broylers
Cache Name: The Heritage Well
GC Code: GC37R9W
Coordinates: N 47° 09.658 W 055° 18.619
“The spring was discovered in 1939 when families settled in the area to farm and was used by the residents until the early 1960s. Take some time to stop and read some more interesting facts about the well.” – NFCanadian
Cache Name: Cupids 400 “Rip Raps”
GC Code: GC2B250
Coordinates: N 47° 33.179 W 053° 13.761
“Located on top of a bluff known as Speckled Head overlooking most, if not all, of the Cupids 400 Venues and especially John Guy’s plantation. It also overlooks the abandoned community of Rip Raps where families of Noseworthys, Hurleys, Anthonys and Puddesters once lived.” - 30207
Cache Name: The Bonavista Lookout Cache
GC Code: GC1WH8D
Coordinates: N 48° 38.674 W 053° 06.086
“The cache is located near the top of a small hill that has view of the town of Bonavista. Please take a moment to enjoy the view.” – Newfiezedder/ BonavistaBiker
Cache Name: The Cribbies
GC Code: GCRC2X
Coordinates: N 47° 12.828 W 052° 50.556
Location: Tors Cove
“This picturesque area has fascinated artists and photographers alike. Scenes from here have graced the pages of magazines, Christmas cards, post cards and the artists’ canvas.
The Dictionary of Newfoundland English describes a cribby (cribbie) as a blind alley, courts or bye ways.” – ECT Hikers
Cache Name: Big Brook
GC Code: GC1TA7R
Coordinates: N 51° 31.675 W 056° 08.055
Location: Near Big Brook, Great Northern Peninsula
“This one is located near the resettled community of Big Brook. The area is a hiker’s dream and offers all sorts of wildlife…Great area for camping as well. From eye shot you can see the community that was relocated by the NFLD Government. There is a shipwreck to explore.” – Millymook's
Cache Name: A Star in the Starlight
GC Code: GC1WT67
Coordinates: N 47° 46.644 W 059° 13.128
Location: Starlight Mountain, near Tompkins
“This trail takes you through a beautiful wooded area, and eventually works its way to a spectacular summit. There are many lookouts on the way that offer tremendous views of the valleys and ocean in the distance. Once you reach the cache site you will be rewarded with the view of a secluded valley nestled in the mountain range.” – Superscapegoat and Adrian
Cache Name: Man In The Mountain Summit (IATNL)
GC Code: GC1H727
Coordinates: N 48° 57.038 W 057° 52.047
Location: Near Steady Brook
“According to local legend, the Spanish buried a treasure on Shellbird Island in the Humber River. If you look closely, you will see the face of an old man in a rock formation overlooking the island…This cache is placed at the top of the Man in the Mountain and it’s a about a 1½ -2 hour hike to the cache…There are great views of the Humber River, Shellbird Island, Marble Mountain, parts of the City of Corner Brook, and the Blomidon Mountains from several vantage points.” – 2quigs
Cache Name: The Gravels
GC Code: GCPXNM
Coordinates: N 48° 33.653 W 058° 44.377
Location: Near Stephenville
“This is on part of a trail system known as the Gravels…It’s a great spot for fossils, and look out for the hoodoos (unique rock formations).” – Blomidon
“Cache looks out over Quirpon Island…After you have found it hike to the top for a great view. Cache is under some alder bushes. This cache is close to the end of the International Appalachian Trial of Newfoundland and Labrador.” – Blomidon
Cache Name: Jean Lake Mtn.
GC Code: GCKF7F
Coordinates: N 52° 53.546 W 066° 53.266
“Great view of the Towns of Wabush and Labrador City, Wabush Mines and tailings areas of both IOC and Wabush Mines. Bring your camera and in late summer your berry-picking bucket. Hawks and other smaller birds are commonly seen. There is a nice place to enjoy a lunch at the crest.” – VO2WW
Cache Name: Tamarack Creek – TLAB
GC Code: GC1F0D1
Coordinates: N 52° 56.524 W 066° 54.049
Location: Labrador City
“At the right time of year you could expect to see some of the following, which have all been recorded as seen from in or around Tamarack Creek…The Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Willow Ptarmigan…” – VO2WW
Cache Name: Boney Shore
GC Code: GC1FMKJ
Coordinates: N 51° 43.768 W 056° 26.383
Location: Red Bay
“You can follow a beautiful walking trail to the cache. This shoreline gets its name for all the whale bones which were disposed of there. These bones are left over from years of whaling by Basque sailors during the 16th century. You can still find a few pieces of whale bone along the trail even to this day.” – Labrador wild man
Cache Name: Breathless!
GC Code: GC1FXKG
Coordinates: N 53° 27.842 W 060° 18.172
Location: Between Sheshatshiu and Happy Valley-Goose Bay
“The great view from here can only be referred to as BREATHLESS...the hike up will be worth it. A great place for some photos so do not forget your camera!” – Labrador wild man
Cache Name: Pinware River Park Cache
GC Code: GCQBW9
Ccordinates: N 51° 38.030 W 056° 41.479
Location: Pinware River Provincial Park
“Pinware River is one of the most beautiful rivers in this province, or Canada, or even the world…the area chosen affords a spectacular view of the estuary of this river. This is also a great area to base a fishing trip as Pinware River is world renowned for its Atlantic salmon and brook trout fishing.” – Forteau Falcon
Newfoundland is one of the remaining safe zones for the world’s honeybees, and that puts our fledgling industry in a sweet spot.
By Linda Browne
Their sudden appearance can send panicked arms flailing; their sting can elicit a stream of four-letter words from the gentlest of mouths; their quiet, steady bzzzz can make human hair stand on end. Like them or not, bees are everywhere – and that’s a very good thing.
Here’s some food for thought. Honeybees are not only responsible for providing us with that delicious golden serum that we use to do everything from sweeten our tea to bake tasty treats, they also help put food on the table. According to the Canadian Honey Council (CHC), honeybees pollinate one-third of our food crops – everything from fruits and vegetables to canola seed – the value of which is estimated to be more than $2 billion annually here in Canada. (In Newfoundland, bees pollinate everything from blueberries and cranberries to strawberries and apples.) Well-pollinated crops produce more fruit, and honeybees actually increase production by two to eight times. Their buzz has also been found to scare away caterpillars, which gobble up precious plants, flowers and fruit. They truly are among the hardest working, lowest-paid labourers out there and they continue to get a bad rap. (Kind of makes you want to think twice about grabbing that fly swatter or bug spray, doesn’t it?)
A Sticky Situation
While they might appear plentiful to the average person who takes the time to stop and smell the roses (literally), our prolific pollinators are in trouble. According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, beekeepers in the United States are seeing a bee death epidemic that is killing off as much as a third of their colonies every year.
Canada’s bees are not immune to this danger. In fact, the CHC says Canada has lost 35 per cent of its honeybee colonies in the past three years alone. (In this country, about 7,000 beekeepers maintain 600,000 colonies of honeybees.)
Americans frequently blame their bee problem on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – an unusual phenomenon by which adult bees abandon the hives, leaving the others to die. While scientists are still scratching their heads as to the exact cause of CCD, most believe it’s caused by a combination of things that weaken the bees and open the door for disease – everything from parasites and pesticides, to bees getting stressed out over the loss of habitat and the movement of their homes (some hives are moved thousands of kilometres so the bees can pollinate particular crops). However, CCD is just one small part of the honeybee colony decline puzzle.
Here in Canada, pests appear to be among the main culprits, particularly the varroa mite (Varroa destructor), which was first discovered in Canada in New Brunswick 22 years ago and has since spread across the country. The varroa feeds on bee larvae and adult honeybees and is considered one of the most dangerous pests since it weakens the immune system of bees, activates viruses and increases winter mortality of the colony. The tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi) lives inside the breathing tube of adult bees and also causes the colony to weaken.
Newfoundland and Labrador is actually one of the few places in the world yet to be infected with these particular mites. We’ve also never had an infestation of the microsporidian parasite (Nosema ceranae), which causes digestive disorders in adult bees and may impair their ability to fly. These three parasites are relatively big players in causing honeybee mortality throughout the world.
While the honeybee industry elsewhere is suffering the devastating effects of these mites, we’re in a sweet spot here in Newfoundland (there are no commercial beekeepers in Labrador) and our industry is growing.
Honey Hot Spot
So why is Newfoundland having such beekeeping success? According to Geoff Williams, it all boils down to our import regulations and location.
Geoff is a PhD student with the Department of Biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He currently works with the Swiss Bee Research Centre in Bern, Switzerland and his research focuses on Western honeybees (the kind we have here in Newfoundland) and their parasites.
“Most honeybee parasites are dispersed around the world by human movement, like illegal imports, or legal imports for that matter. So there are strict importation regulations into Newfoundland that have prevented these parasites, and then also the geographic isolation,” Geoff says.
“Many other colonies around the world have these parasites and in many cases chemicals are used to treat these parasites. It could be things like formic acid or other organic acids, or synthetic chemicals like pyrethroids. But in Newfoundland, there isn’t a need to treat for varroa or tracheal mite because it’s not there.”
Because of this, Geoff says, its possible for beekeepers on the island to adopt organic beekeeping practices that produce goods that can be marketed around the world.
“There’s been some recent studies showing that at least stored honey...has a lot of these residues of these chemicals in the honey. (Residue tests have looked at honey stored in the brood nest. The honey that we eat comes from boxes above the brood nest called “honey supers.” Beekeepers are usually careful not to have honey supers on colonies when they’re being medicated.) So without these residues, and let’s say if honeybees are foraging in wild conditions, not in areas where pesticides are being applied, they basically have a unique opportunity to have, sort of, organic products,” he says.
“I think there is a lot of interest in these organic, and natural, pure foods. And it really all depends on whether or not these other parasites are brought into the province and if the industry can survive. It’s so small. (The industry) is relatively fragile because of the climate. The climate probably isn’t the best for beekeeping because of the long winter and short forage season. But beekeepers in Newfoundland are definitely in a unique spot.”
That’s good news for people like Paige Marchant.
Paige and her business partner Andrea Skinner operate the Newfoundland Bee Company in Little Rapids on the West Coast, producing everything from honey to products that utilize the excess beeswax like soaps, lip balm, skin cream, muscle rubs, leather waterproofer and food-safe wood polish. They started out with just 15 colonies when they took over the business from Andrea’s father in 1998. Now, Paige estimates, at peak time they have just over 100 colonies – which are spread throughout the Humber Valley region, from Little Rapids to Cormack – and eight million bees. (The numbers fluctuate every year, depending on what the seasons have in store.)
“Really, in honey, I don’t think you could find anything more organic than what’s here, exactly for the reason that there are no chemical treatments in the hives,” Paige says.
“And not only that, but the agriculture on the island is very different than elsewhere, especially here on the West Coast – it’s mostly dairy. So they’re not growing crops and having to spray them...they’re growing hay mostly, and what the bees are going to are wildflowers or people’s gardens, which most people don’t spray, unless they’re growing something big.”
In addition to allowing honeybees to produce clean, pure honey, Paige says the fact that the province is relatively pest-free and has a low incidence of other honeybee diseases opens up a lot of markets for local beekeepers who might want to export their bees elsewhere.
“If they wanted to sell queens or packaged bees, it’s great because we can without too much trouble. So it’s good for that part of the industry,” she says.
“When you can show beekeepers elsewhere that the testing has proven that we don’t have these (mites), then it’s good because they might be interested in buying bees from here. We have looked into selling queens through a distributor in New Brunswick, but we haven’t actually done it.”
The Bees’ Pleas
While she’s pretty satisfied with the province’s import regulations for honeybees, Paige says the fact that the province does allow blueberry and cranberry farmers to import non-native bumblebees for pollination does cause concern.
“It’s not impossible that one or both of those mites can be found in bumblebees, and then there could be transfer,” she says.
“Frequently you’ll go out and you’ll see three different things pollinating the same flower. So they’re kind of rubbing up on each other and so something could move from one to the other...not only is it potentially bad for the honeybee operations or industry, it could also be bad for native pollinators that are here. Because there are native bumblebees and, of course, if they get those things, that’s not good for them either.”
While the provincial import regulations make no specific mention of bumblebees, or if the province has anything in place to minimize this risk, in an email to Downhome on this issue, the Department of Natural Resources stated: “The Wildlife Division of the Department of Environment requires a permit, with restrictions, to import non-native species such as bumblebees.” The department also said it is “proactive in working with industry and new entrants to ensure all safety precautions are taken to minimize the risk of introducing these pests. Other jurisdictions in Canada are also aware of our regulations and support our efforts to keep Newfoundland free from these pests/diseases.”
Lack of pests also means our bees are less grouchy. In 2009 and ‘10, Geoff and the department’s Agrifoods branch did a survey of honeybee hives and colonies in Newfoundland and found something very interesting.
“Lots of times we’ll have to go through frame by frame and the bees are getting mad and they’re trying to sting you through your suits and stuff. But in Newfoundland, for the most part, they were really gentle. They were like flies. They’d just come land on you and I think they’re just not as stressed as other bees (in) other colonies in other areas,” Geoff says, adding with a laugh, “so like the friendly Newfoundlanders, it’s the same for the bees.”