“Let me guess,” she said. “I’m betting you’re here because the ferry schedule is all shagged up?”
She was right. I was trying to catch a ferry to Little Bay Islands, an isolated outport off Newfoundland’s north shore. My buddy was working hydro relief—covering for workers taking their summer vacations—and he’d invited me for a visit. But upon reaching Shoal Arm—the MV Hazel McIsaac’s departure point— I discovered three different liftoff times listed. None of which, it turned out, were correct. So after tiring of watching the clock tick by and still no ferry, I approached the first family I found, in hope they could help me understand what I was doing wrong.
“No, my dear, you have done nothing wrong. You’re not the first person to be stuck in Beachside for a night because [Newfoundland’s] Ministry of Transportation and Works is stunned as me arse. And it’s not just the ferry schedule they can’t get right—did you see the potholes in that rubble road you rode in on?
“But before you pay for a bed and breakfast, let me see what I can do. I think there is another way you can get to where you’re going, but I’m not sure, so let’s phone my sister in Little Bay Islands and ask her,” this kind woman said, already dialing.
She passed her phone along to me so her sister could relay further direction: “I know the schedules posted on the wharf say there will be another boat at 9 pm, but that’s not true, my love. That’s a lie. She won’t be coming. What you need to do is drive back to the Trans-Canada Highway, than go east towards South Brook before turning north again. You’ll want to follow the signs to Pilley’s Island, catch the ferry to Long Island, and then stay onboard until she takes you to Little Bay Islands [A route that’s not pictured on Provincial maps].
”But you better get going because it’s a 70-kilometre drive, and she leaves at 8:45 [pm]. But you don’t want to be driving too late or too fast because there are a lot of moose on that road—you’ve got enough trouble with Transportation and Works, you don’t need to be hitting no moose.” Frustrated that I had to not only backtrack over country I’d already travelled, but that I’d be arriving at my unfamiliar destination four hours late and in the dark, I did what I was told.
The next day I looked around Little Bay Islands, a cute community full of historic homes that, because their crab processing plant closed, has clearly seen better days. With only two students in the school, I found it funny to be in a town with as many churches (United, and Salvation Army) as children. I also noticed that the ferry does not actually deliver you to the community. It drops you on the other side of the island and then you drive to the tiny town, robbing locals of whatever energy a ferry’s arrival normally injects.
So whether you’re a Newfoundlander thinking of seeing more of your island, or a mainlander reading this column on the Internet, know that there are some supportive, welcoming people in Beachside, Shoal Arm, and Little Bay Islands. But that you don’t want to trust the information the Ministry of Transportation and Works provides, because they apparently don’t care about your intention to travel.