Labrador History - 6.3 HOMEWARD BOUND

Dad and I planned to drive partly through Canada and partly through the United States, so “Mr. Chips” got all his immunization shots. We crossed on the ferry to Port Angeles in Washington State, drove through the Olympic Peninsula to Seattle and across to Spokane through the Snoqualmie Pass, where we encountered our first snow. We spent the first night at Coeur d’Alene, where I had stayed on my way west. There were some patches of ice on the parking lot outside our motel and when I let Mr. Chips out to do his business before going to bed, he ran across the parking lot then skidded on the ice and looked very surprised. He had never seen ice before. That was something he had to get used to in Forteau!
Next day we went as far as Calgary and spent the weekend with Brenda and Bob, where little Debbie was quite excited about Mr. Chips - she chased him everywhere. The roads were icy on the prairies at times, but we pressed on; taking turns driving and once drove all night. We reached Ottawa the following weekend, and stayed with Pauline and Gerry Franks again. Their two boys also made quite a fuss of my puppy.
We ran into heavy snow in the Maritimes but otherwise the trip was uneventful until we reached Newfoundland. Crossing to the Southwest tip of Newfoundland on the ferry at night, we landed at Port aux Basques next morning. There were some ice flows in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and, during the voyage at night, we could hear them scraping the sides of the boat. My Dad wrote a letter a few weeks later about this and his account is interesting:
“As you will observe by the address above we arrived here at Forteau intact, or almost so. Not to mention a few bruises and other minor ills. The coast to coast portion of the trip could hardly have been improved upon for this time of the year Our real troubles began after we left Sydney N. S. and soon after we had landed at Port aux Basques, Newfoundland on the C.N.R. motor ferry on the morning of Friday March 17th. The ferry normally crosses during the night, as she did on that occasion following a somewhat stormy crossing, or so they told me! I slept very peacefully through it all.
“However after a good breakfast aboard ship we drove over the gangplank in bright sunshine with a scattering of snow falling. The entire mountainous countryside was blanketed with several feet of snow, snow-plowings were piled on either side of the roads, the road itself being covered to a depth of four or five inches. However nothing daunted, we took what we were assured was the TRANS-CANADA HIGHWAY This we soon found was merely the name without much of the reality. We headed out for Corner Brook (some 150 old-fashioned miles distant) but not for long, I fear one lingering mile out we had to fit the skid-chains and one hour later we hit the blizzard, the father and mother of all blizzards, and a fifteen foot snowdrift, being by then only five miles distant from Port aux Basques!”
Only five miles out of Port aux Basques we were confronted by a large bank of snow blocking the highway. I thought we had taken a wrong turn, but didn’t see how we could have done so. We were close to a Marconi radio station so we walked across the snow to ask the operator where we had gone wrong. I asked him if we were on the right road for Corner Brook.
“Yes,” he replied, “But it has been closed for the past five days!”
As we returned to the car, puzzling why someone (of the ship’s crew) had not warned us before we left Port aux Basques, the blizzard struck. Within minutes a real winter storm blew up and the building we had just left was barely visible. As Dad said later,  “Throughout all this time the wind was gusting up to 100 miles per hour in its wildest gusts.” At first I ran the car engine but had to stop that because of the danger of exhaust fumes.
“What shall we do?” Dad asked.
“We’ll have to wait for a break in the storm,” I replied, “and n make our way back to the Marconi station.”
I was used to storms in Labrador and fully realised the danger were in. We prayed together, asking the Lord to give us such a reak in the storm, and waited. The wind was really strong, swirling the snow all around us, and Mr. Chips decided he had to go outside. I got out of the car with him, and waited while he crouched down in front of the car and shivered - poor little dog. He must have wondered what kind of place he had come to!
A short time later a bit of a break in the storm allowed us to abandon the car and get to the safety of the Marconi station. We were glad to get into the warm building, and the operator welcomed us, kindly allowing us to stay with him for the rest of the day. I cooked us all bacon and eggs on an oil stove. The relief operator came out from Port aux Basques in his truck that night, behind a snowplough that opened the road for him. This allowed us to get out, for the operator, who had taken us in, transported us back to town in his truck. We had to leave our car where it was that night, as the engine was full of snow and it was still too stormy to dig it out.
The driver of the truck dropped us at the door of a lodging house in Port aux Basques where, fortunately, we were taken in - dog and all. The house was full of stranded travellers, including three truck drivers who were trying to get to St. John’s, and a number of children who really made a fuss of Mr. Chips. He was very popular with everyone. The owners of the house made us very welcome.
By Saturday afternoon the weather had cleared and the road opened far enough to let us dig out the car. All told we were in Port aux Basques for five days before the road was opened through to Corner Brook. One vehicle left before the road was properly open and got stranded and the occupants had to be rescued by the
R.C.M.P. We did not try it until we were sure. On my own I would probably have been tempted to go earlier, as I was thinking of poor Mona anxiously waiting for my return so she could go ahead with her wedding plans but, wisely, Dad would not hear of
it. I think he was tempted to go back to B.C. but did not want to leave me in the lurch!
At last the road was open. We set off the following morning, with snow chains, taking most of a full day for a trip that would normally be done in three or four hours. When we finally got to Corner Brook I contacted Ernie Dellandrea, one of our preachers, who was staying at the Gospel Hall. He kindly invited Dad to stay with him for the night at the little apartment there, while I stayed with a family I knew, and who lived nearby.
The next day I got the car registered in Newfoundland, paid my sales tax and dealt with other business matters. Ernie promised to look after the car until it could be shipped North to Forteau on the coastal boat in the spring, when navigation opened. As Dad put it:
“This was the end of our road journey. There we had to leave the Consul, until June when the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Strait of Belle Isle will be opened to shipping, until then they will be icebound and ice-berg haunted. Only then can the Consul complete her long trip to Labrador to struggle mightily, and she will, against the hazardous road conditions which will confront her in the province.”
That night we set off for Gander by train, hoping to connect with the Grenfell Mission’s plane and go on to St. Anthony. It was a cold, frosty night when we boarded the “Newfie Bullet”, as the train was affectionately called; settling into our berths, we tried to get some sleep. In the middle of the night, however, all hope of a1 trouble free ride evaporated, when the train came to a grinding halt. Two freight trains ahead of us had derailed and were stuck in the snow! It was not until 7:00 am. next morning that the gangs, who worked all night, managed to clear the line and (finally) the train was under way again.
We began to wonder what else could happen to us on this trip!
Despite the problems, however, we arrived safely in Gander about 11:30 a.m. and, checking in at the airport, were told that M.I.T, the Grenfell Mission plane, was due to leave shortly. That was good news! We saw that the Lord was working things out for us after all. “All things work together for good to those who love God.” [Romans 8:28]
Dr. Gordon Thomas, the Grenfell Mission’s Chief Medical Officer, was on the plane, together with a number of other passengers. (Mr. Chips travelled inside my coat.) On the way to St.
Anthony we diverted to Harbour Deep because of an emergency call from Miss Annie Rhodes, the nurse there. While not common, a plane could be diverted at anytime for an emergency, often while in flight. Nurse Rhodes was attending a woman in labour and wanted Dr. Thomas to see her patient, who was having difficulties. Harbour Deep, an isolated fishing village on the east coast of Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsular, is situated between hills and is not an easy place in which to land a plane. Our pilot, Peter Crooks, did an excellent job, his skill impressing my Dad, who himself was a pilot and understood the navigational difficulties.
Once safely in Harbour Deep, Dr. Thomas examined the patient in the nursing station, and promptly sent for my help. Miss Rhodes was allergic to penicillin and, since that was what the patient needed, he sent for me to give it. After the baby arrived safely, we were under way, once again, to St. Anthony.
In St. Anthony, we stayed in rooms in the staff quarters at the hospital until the Saturday afternoon, when we left on the final leg of the great trek! The plane took off from the pond at St. Anthony to take us to Forteau, but the winds were too strong and we had to turn back! Finally, on Monday, we made it and landed on the ice on the Bay, right in front of the nursing station, to receive (as Dad put it) “a rapturous welcome from Mary’s many friends.”
At last! But I rejoiced too soon, for Mona, meeting us at the plane was holding my nursing bag. Dad got off and stayed with Mona and the rest at the station, but I continued on the flight to Red Bay for clinic. Talk about getting back to the stuff right away!