When I wrote The Sailor and the Christmas Trees in 2012, I never imagined that I might someday see the spot in Newfoundland where the young John Hanlon went up a hill and cut down some trees to surprise his fellow shipmates on Christmas Day 1944.
Yet it happened. In June 2014, I attended the Association of Canadian Publishers meeting in St. John's, to represent the Saskatchewan Publishers Group (of which I am on the board of directors). My husband (and DriverWorks Ink publisher partner) Al came along on that trip, and we had some great adventures.
One of my favourite moments was when I looked at St. John's Harbour and imagined what it must have been like for John Hanlon - a Prairie boy from Brandon, Manitoba - who had enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War.
This is St. John's Harbour today.
The site for the Canadian docks was directly across from where we were standing.
That hill behind us is likely the one that John and three of his friends climbed to cut down some trees in November 944. They hid the trees on their ship for almost a month, as the frigate sailed with the convoy to England, and then headed back to Canada. On Christmas Day 1944, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, John pulled out those trees and surprised the rest of the crew as well as some small children on another ship, who were coming from England to find safety in Canada.
What a nice story and what a neat experience to see that hill for myself! I was deeply moved.
This photo on a boardwalk sign in St. John's Harbour shows a convoy preparing the leave St. John's Harbour during wartime.
A German submarine surfaced in the harbour after surrender in May 1945.
Here's a fun fact for ya:
The Newfies have their own lingo and their own names for Prairie folks like me and Al.
We were introduced as 'mainlanders'.
"Either that," said a new Newfie friend, 'or we call you 'come from away'."
Makes sense to me!
Signal Hill National Historic Park and Cabot Tower are among the most noted tourist attractions of St. John's.
There's along long line-up to drive up the hill, and only a few parking spots on top, so be prepared for a hike - up and down!
Beautiful views make this trek worthwhile. We saw our first-ever view of icebergs from the Hill in early June. A large chunk of ice had broken off a glacier in Greenland, we were told, and this was causing more icebergs to appear off the coast of Newfoundland than in a normal year.
A few days later, we took a tour on that boat to see the icebergs up close and personal.
These photos are the view looking back at parts of St. John's as we left the harbour.
As we approached the icebergs closest to the Harbour, we were surprised and a little freaked out to see two kayakers paddling IN BETWEEN the two pieces of this large berg!
See them? Follow my arrows.
A Coast Guard staff person who worked part-time on the tour boat told us this is a very dangerous activity since bergs may look stable but are constantly moving. Only one-tenth of an iceberg is visible above water. Imagine how big that thing is!
Mother Nature proved that point about 15 minutes later, as we circled the biggest berg from a distance...
...we saw a large crack on the one end.
Seconds later, that piece - as large as our house and weighing tons, because the ice is so dense - broke off and hit the water. It would have crushed the kayakers. "We'd be pulling their bodies out," the one Coast Guard worker said. He also told us that he had recently seen a man walking on an iceberg ... with his dog. Some people are just plain dumb.
Cape Spear is the most easterly point in North America. Next stop - Ireland!We saw it from the ocean, then visited it by land a few days later.
Icebergs may be dangerous up close, but they certainly have a beauty to them.
We stopped to admire a statue honouring those who have died in various battles.
Once again, I thought of John Hanlon, and the experiences he must have had fighting for our freedom.
This beautiful wall mural depicting some of the colourfulness of St. John's, Newfoundland.
Part 3 of my Newfoundland blogs.