It was like an enchanted forest with a winding path strewn with burdens and bumps. But at the end of the arduous journey was a precious gem.
At least that’s how I saw it when my parents and I visited Big Falls near Deer Lake on a hot June day in 2009. To get there we drove on a dusty and endless dirt road (are we there yet?) and then, once out of the car, swatted and swallowed scores of hungry mosquitoes, which surely didn’t ease my mom’s aching joints as she hobbled with determination to the falls. It felt like a pilgrimage – it was a pilgrimage.
It had been one of my grandfather’s favourite fishing spots in the 1930s, where my mom played in her youth, and where she and my dad went during their courting days. This was a sacred place of roaring falls, dancing salmon and patient fishers poised to catch their fill. For me, that precious gem at the end of our journey was the exquisite delight that my parents felt when they found this place once again.
It took 43 years to return to that place. My mom, Jean, was born in Corner Brook (daughter to Lyle and Margaret Lang). She met my dad, Jack Jans, when he was stationed there with the RCMP. They got married in 1959 and had three kids. In 1967, we were transferred to Nova Scotia, followed by many other places throughout Canada. Life happened and time passed, so much so that we didn’t return to Newfoundland as a family again until Mom and Dad decided to go back for their 50th wedding anniversary. Along with them, they took their three grown children.
The Jans family on their 2009 journey to Newfoundland
Base camp for our visit was Steady Brook, just outside Corner Brook. Our days usually began with a hearty hike to the falls. And then off we’d go, all five of us piled into the Crown Vic, to explore the towns where we used to live, like Corner Brook and Stephenville. Plus we took jaunts along the coast to places like Trout River, Bottle Cove, Woody Point and Gros Morne.
Memories gushed and flowed for a full week. As a young Mountie, Dad patrolled big tracts of land in and around Corner Brook, so out came his tales – and with them, a lot of laughing. Mom showed us the places of her youth, like the hill where she went skiing, the swimming hole where she and Dad swam, the Majestic Theatre and the Glynmill Inn.
At the end of each day, we’d return to Steady Brook, guided by the ancient Humber River, cradled by the big, beautiful, rolling mountains. In fact, it was the land that held the strongest memory for my mom.
For me, this visit to the place of my birth was such a profound gift – one that gave me a glimpse into the lives of my parents when they were young. I learned about their world before I came to be, how challenging it must have been in their early days. It led me to appreciate even more the sacrifices and choices they made for their children.
It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been there for so long, because all that is true and precious about Newfoundland had been born to me. Songs and stories shaped my imagination about the land as I grew up, but now I was able to touch the sacred of this place – the embrace of the land, the character of the trees, the warmth of the people and the ache of the ocean. They took hold of me. Thank you, Mom and Dad. Thank you, Newfoundland.