Canada 150, New Brunswick

This cross-Canada journey continues with excerpts from, “Big New Brunswick Dreams:”

Flat red and brown sand beaches run along the eastern coast of New Brunswick like a soft, broad highway from Charlo on Chaleur Bay to the Confederation Bridge on Northumberland Strait. In the official guidebook, these shallow shores of the gulf are described as having the warmest water north of Virginia, and this boast is repeated five times in the ensuing pages, lest anyone doubt the joys of a New Brunswick summer vacation. As we amble one stretch of this shore, I watch sandpipers scutter at the edge of small, curling waves, which, as they break, form chains of white foam that chug earnestly down the beach…miniature reminders of the locomotives that once steamed through the endless spruce forests of the New Brunswick interior. But it is the seagulls flitting above the beach that particularly grab my attention. They put me in mind 0f…Richard Hatfield’s years in office…I am thinking of the futuristic, gull-winged sports car his government financed to the tune of twenty-three million dollars in a vain effort to bring new industry to New Brunswick and help diversify its economy…

Ironically, Premier Hatfield brought a crate of fresh Atlantic salmon to New York with him for a dinner at the unveiling–a product that was symbolic of New Brunswick’s and the Maritime’s dependence on resources, the very condition the Bricklin was intended to help overcome. Wild salmon are in trouble now, too, but they have lasted much longer than the glitzy Bricklin, which fluttered to ground in September 1975, when the company went into receivership…

…we take an isolated road from Doaktown to Bouctouche, back on New Brunswick’s coast…At the intersections of Highways 116 and 126…we come upon several vehicles parked at the side of the road. A cluster of men is gathered around a makeshift stand with several dozen birchbark horns about fifteen inches long hanging from it. We approach the garrulous, moustached vendor, an Acadian dressed in an old camouflage jacket and green pants. They’re moose horns, we learn. Business is brisk, because next week is the annual three-day hunt.

“Here, try one,” the vendor says, and Dot blows gustily, but she produces nothing a moose could possibly mistake for anything other than heavy human breathing.

“You’ve gotta blow like you’re taking a hard shit,” the man explains. Dot tries again and does manage what might pass as the call of a very sick animal. “I sell them to people from all over. I sold one to this guy from England. Next year he comes back. I see him crossing the road, looking mad. ‘That horn you sold me, it’s no fucking good,’ he says to me, and then he grins. Like, there’s no moose in England, eh!”

We’re at Bouctouche now, not far from Petitcodiac. This is the birthplace of New Brunswick’s most famous industrialist, K.C. Irving, who, starting with a car dealership and gasoline bar, built a giant energy, lumber, and media empire. Our destination is the nearby La Dune de Bouctouche, a twelve-kilometre-long sand dune that stretches down the coast and shelters behind it a salt marsh that ‘s rich in flora and fauna. The entire dune is part of the Irving Ecological Centre, a provincial park developed by the family’s commercial empire, which began in the region…Walking along this gift from the Irvings, I’m reminded that New Brunswick’s economic history is not all about fish, lumber, and failed industrial projects. Oil refining in Saint John is one of the big engines of the provincial economy today, courtesy of K.C. and his successors.

Still, it’s Richard Hatfield I’m thinking about again, even as I enjoy this ecological legacy of the Irvings…As the Bricklin fiasco showed, he dared to dream and to dream big. I even like the fact that in the most serious of the scandals that brought him down he wasn’t just busted for possession of marijuana, but for having it in his luggage as he boarded a plane he was to share with the Queen and Prince Philip. Hatfield didn’t do things quietly and carefully. He was open, imaginative, and bold. He had faults, but he also had sass and class!

The recipes accompanying this chapter are: “Home-Smoked Salmon”; “Smoked Salmon Pasta”; and “Fiddleheads.”

To purchase a copy of Roaming The Big Land, please visit:

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Canada 150, Nova Scotia

Crossing from Newfoundland to the mainland, here are some excerpts from “Cruising The Scotia Coast:”

…the tartan of Nova Scotia…has large squares lined in gold representing the province’s Royal Charter, and thin bands of red for the royal lion. The dominant colours, though, are green and blue for the forests and seas that circle the province; narrow white lines depict the surf that relentlessly pounds the southern coast. I’m always happy to visit the charming ports of Nova Scotia, even though my ancestors didn’t land at Pictou in 1773 aboard the Hector. On the waterfront at Pictou, the “Birthplace of New Scotland,” you

can see a full-size replica of this famous ship. Along the harbour road, banners displaying Scottish tartans hang from the lamposts, and the stores sell enough enticing Scottish regalia to empty the sporran of the tightest Highlander.

What I like best, however, are the fishing villages of the rugged southern coast. We’ve visited them from Yarmouth to Isaac’s Harbour, enjoyed their quiet, unspoiled embodiment of bygone years, and admired their stately homes and tempting shops, their simple, weathered wharfs covered in skin-flecked nets and traps, the little fishing fleets clustered like school children waiting to be let out past the sheltering, rocky cliffs to a sea of constantly changing hues. I love as well the curving white sand beaches, backed by dense spruce wood forests, whose trees drip with old man’s beard…

…to understand the province’s evolution–where it has been, where it is going…so far as rural, small-town Nova Scotia is concerned, the tiny Fisherman’s Life Museum at Jeddore Oyster Ponds…provides part of the answer, for the history of the family that occupied this little white frame house


for over a century traces a common thread…A fire is on in the wood stove, and since there are no other visitors at the moment, the two guides invite us to warm ourselves at a table near it…They provide oat cakes and tea from the pot that is always ready on the stove. Sitting and chatting like invited guests of the family, we learn how James Myers established himself here in 1850 and, as was typical in the coastal communities of the time, worked as an inshore fisherman, rowing his one-man dory out to sea to hand-line cod and haddock. …then, in 1907, he passed the farm to his youngest son, Ervin.

Following the pattern of other industrious rural folk in the twentieth century, Erwin not only fished, but turned to the province’s other classic resource, timber, to supplement his income. In the winter he worked as a cook in the lumber camps of the Musquodoboit Valley, and for several weeks each year he would head north to Northumberland Strait to join the fishermen there for the lobster season. Like other rural Nova Scotians, the Myers lived a tough subsistence existence eked out from the natural resources around them. Arguably, however, Ervin and his wife, Ethelda, had to work even harder than others, for in their little white house with the dark green trim they raised thirteen daughters!

It is noon, and we are at the Citadel for the firing of the canon, a tradition in the city that dates back to the mid-1800s…

From the Citadel, you look down on a modern city full of high-rises and glass, but also on old monuments to the city’s important role in Canadian history. It is, however, the harbour and the adjacent Bedford Basin to the west that command attention, intertwined as they are with so much tragedy and triumph…It is in the narrows between the harbour and Bedford Basin…that the Norwegian freighter Imo collided with the Mont Blanc on the morning of December 6, 1917. In flames, the munitions ship drifted toward Pier 6, and then exploded…setting fire to a wide swath of the north end of Halifax…Two thousand people were killed, nine thousand were injured, and six thousand lost their homes. It was the most violent man-made explosion before the dropping of the first atomic bomb…

Better remembered is Bedford Basin’s vital role in the supply of the European allies in the Second World War, for it was in this body of water, thirty-five kilometres long and up to 3.2 kilometres wide, that the convoys gathered before their perilous crossing of the Atlantic…All in all, twenty-four Canadian warships and almost 1,800 servicemen were lost in the battle of the Atlantic, while seventy-three ships of the merchant navy were sunk, and 1,500 crewmembers died.

Into the mist my guardian prows put forth,

Behind the mist my virgin ramparts lie,

The Warden of the Honour of the North,

Sleepless and veiled am I!

Rudyard Kipling on Halifax

The recipe for this chapter is for Fish Chowder.

To order a copy of Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada, please go to:

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Canada 150, Newfoundland

Roaming the big land from east to west, the birthday journey starts in Newfoundland, with excerpts from the chapter, “Salty People:”

Dot and I fly into St. John’s through a storm, sitting in the tail of the plane. As we approach the airport out of thick grey clouds, the steep, barren cliffs of the Avalon Peninsula suddenly materialize, an unbroken, undulating shield of rock protecting the interior from waterborne intruders–though not from airborne “round-trippers” like us, who have come for a look at the oldest settled region of Canada’s youngest province. The plane’s tail gyrates like a new, untested midway ride as we drop low over the runway, and the ninety-kilometre-an-hour wind adds a new, terrifying twist to our final descent as we slam hard onto the tarmac, rain splattering against the windows…

“Welcome to Newfoundland,” Mary says as she greets us at our bed and breakfast…”

“Good to be here. I didn’t think we were going to make it, the way we were tossed about.”

“Ah, everybody has to take a swipe at us, even the south wind. That’s what it’s like living on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic.” Fog, wind and rain–they define St. John’s as much as cod tongues and scruncheons. The local hockey team wasn’t named the St. John’s Fog Devils for nothing. And now I really do believe that in the great gale of 1846 the St. Thomas Garrison Church moved six inches on its foundation.

Unlike Charleston, with its famous “rainbow row” of colourful yet elegant harbourfront homes, there is no official stretch of jelly beans in St. John’s, but the houses, street after street of them, paint the hill in bright pigments that contrast starkly with the surrounding barren cliffs, lending the city a warmth that matches the character of its people. In the distance we can see the bald slopes of Signal Hill and the Cabot Tower. We gaze in awe out to the open Atlantic through a small gap in the cliffs. John Cabot (perhaps), Captain James Cook, Horatio Nelson, and Captain Bligh all sailed through these narrows. During the Second World War 10,000 merchant ships entered the protected waters of the harbour via this passage, naval escorts made 6,000 trips in and out of St. John’s…”When we got to Newfy John,” the sailors used to say, “we were coming home…”

I’m studying the provincial map now, trying to decide where we should go to get some sense of life in the outports. But how to choose from the legion of enticing places that say so much about the history and character of Newfoundland and Labrador? There are some that are simply fanciful, like Venison Tickle, Parson’s Pond, Sop’s Arm, Lushes Bight…Dildo Run, Hares Ears Point, and Jerry’s Nose. Others speak of hardship, tragedy, and misadventure: Cape White Handkerchief, Deadman’s Cove, Confusion Bay…Snakes Bight, Blow Me Down, Hungry Hill…and Job’s Cove. Still others have an optimistic ring: Hopedale, Fortune Harbour, Little Paradise…and Heart’s Desire. And finally there are names that are wonderfully ambiguous, like Comfort Bight, Little Seldom, Low Point, and, everyone’s favourite, Come by Chance…

…we hike from Bauline East along the coastal trail to La Manche. The stony path takes us through woods of balsam and elderberry until at last it reaches the coast again, and spectacular views unfold to the sea far below us. We descend the wrinkled slope by wooden steps to a suspension bridge

over the La Manche River, where, at last, much to our surprise, we arrive in a deserted outport. In January, 1966, huge waves destroyed the suspension bridge that linked the village to Bauline East, and all the residents were resettled. Now all that remains is the stone foundations of their homes, perched on the cliffs in grassy clearings overlooking the narrow mouth of the river. It’s an eerie site, and for us a moving glimps of the isolation and hardships of outport life in days gone by. In 1999, the East Coast Trail Association built a new suspension bridge to link La Manche once more with the villages to the north. Beside it is a plaque with a simple quotation from the Scottish poet Thomas A. Clark: “There are things we will never see, unless we walk to them.” True of Newfoundland. True for all of Canada.

The recipes in this chapter are for “Jiggs’ Dinner” and “Spicy Cod.”

Roaming The Big Land is available from Penumbra Press at

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Canada 150, Introduction to “Roaming The Big Land”

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to Roaming The Big Land that provides a taste of the book’s flavour:

“It would be far-fetched to suggest that Canada’s age-old problems of regional and cultural cleavage can be overcome by sitting its people down together to share some meals and good conversation. But perhaps there is something to the notion that it would be beneficial to Canadian unity if all of its people could at some point in their lives strike out across–and up and down–our half of the continent, eating and talking along the way. Everyone should see first hand the effect the collapse of the fishery has had on small coastal communities throughout the Atlantic provinces

“and the impact of global warming on Arctic ecology.


“We should all have the chance to stroll the streets of old Quebec, the loveliest urban landscape in the country, at least once, and to discover for ourselves that the prairies aren’t as flat as conventional wisdom would have it. And at some point in their lives, everyone should gawk at the giant Douglas firs and red cedars of the British Columbia coast, trees that pushed above the dripping forest floor long before the voyages of Cabot and Cartier.

“This book is a collection of stories that are in essence a celebration of Canada. It takes the reader on a vicarious journey throughout the country in the hope that it will whet the appetite for experiencing Canada from coast to coast to coast. The stories cover every province and territory, and attempt in a very personal way to capture the essence of each…The picture of Canada painted here is not complete, for it is impossible in such a vast country to visit every city, town, and hamlet, to paddle every lake and climb every mountain, to get under the skin of every distinct community. But I hope the resulting canvas is reflective of the character and diversity of the country and offers a sense of its multifaceted identity.”

To order Roaming The Big Land Flavours of Canada, please go to

Winner Gourmand World Cookbook Award for culinary travel.

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The Weird Writer’s Waning Weekly Witticisms

Here is the answer to last week’s witticism #23:

Question: Why did the struggling author not cross the road?

Answer: He was at a dead end!

Wistfully, the Weird Writer’s Weekly Weak Witticism has wheezed its woebegone end.

Thanks to everyone who crossed the road on this journey and especially to those who submitted answers.

Now, watch for Canada 150, starting soon, a celebration of the country from coast-to-coast-to coast with excerpts from Roaming The Big Land: Flavours of Canada about every province and territory. There will also be images posted from our journeys, reflecting the distinct character of every region.

Winner of the Gourmand World Cookbook Award, 2011, in the category of culinary travel. Available from:

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Weird Writer’s Weekly Witticism # 23

First, the answer to last week’s question:

What happened when the car hit the author crossing the road?

Short answer: It was a write off!

Long answer: A witness overlooking the accident from a second STORY balcony, had to PAGE a doctor because it looked like the author was in a BIND likely having broken his SPINE!

Now, this week’s question:

Why did the struggling author not cross the road?

Please open the comment box to submit your answer. If it is commendable, you will be eligible to receive one of the author’s books of your choosing, autographed with a personal note, for only $15 Cdn., including shipping to any address in Canada. For other countries, please inquire. To arrange details, please email:

To learn more about the books on offer, please click on “Books” at the top of the page.

Sensational publications for silly puns!

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Weird Writer’s Weekly Witticism #22

First, the answer to last week’s question:

Question: Why do authors cross the road whenever they see a vegetable stand?

Answer: They’re always looking for a new market!

Now, this week’s question:

What happened when the car hit the author crossing the road?

Please submit your answer in the comment box below. If it is commendable, you will be eligible to receive one of the author’s books of your choosing, autographed with a personal note, for only $15 Cdn., including shipping to any address in Canada. For other countries, please inquire. To arrange details, please email:

To learn more about the books on offer, please click on “Books” at the top of the page.

Absorbing reads for appalling puns!

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