Revisiting the Kyle
Story and photo by Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe
The car I was driving steered obediently as I drove the stretch of almost empty highway in the direction of a sign that read TCH West. This was the last leg of a necessary and important journey for me. It was 1999, I was 50 years old, and feeling a restlessness that was all encompassing. For the past 34 years I had lived in Nova Scotia, having married a member of the RCMP whose career took him to many different places in that beautiful province. Nevertheless Newfoundland was forever in my heart. This feeling of unease forced me to set out once and for all, by myself, to make a big decision. I needed to know if I really could leave the province of Nova Scotia with all its beauty, farmland, and the home of my children. I had many friends, worked as a Registered Nurse in a hospital where everyone knew everyone else, and I was well settled in a way of life. So, in the summer of 1999 I took time off work, tired and anxious for my life to change in some way. Little did I know then what remnant from my past would help seal the decision for me.
Once I made it back to the island of my childhood, someone mentioned to me in passing that the Kyle was sitting in the harbour at Harbour Grace and had been repainted and looked like she did when she ran as a coastal boat. The whole thing came as a bit of a surprise, because over the years I had looked upon the rusting hulk, the remains of a ship obviously, but had never known that it was my Kyle. And to find out it had been her, and that now she was looking as good as new, made we want to set out and see her for myself.
Growing up around the coast of Newfoundland in various communities I was certainly quite familiar with the coastal boats; they were an accepted part of our lives in the outports. Those boats, such as the Northern Ranger, the Baccelieu, the Burgeo, and the Bar Haven, to name just a few, were like today's air transports. They were necessary to carry goods and people from place to place and were an absolute necessity for the isolated outports of the Northern Peninsula and Labrador. When the steamer arrived everyone headed to the government wharf to watch the activity, the unloading of goods and passengers, and although we were warned as children not to dare go around the wharf, we still did it. We were just really inquisitive and wouldn't miss it for the world as we watched the activity from atop a grassy hill.
So, here I was 50 years later, still going to see the coastal boat, but in a slightly different way. In no time I was driving through Harbour Grace. The sun was shining, the flags were fluttering in the wind, and as I rounded the final turn I saw her in all her beauty. The painting of the hull had done wonders for the dear old Kyle in her retirement years. I felt my spirits soar.
You see, I had a connection with this ship; I was born in Marys Harbour on the Labrador coast in 1948, and it was this ship that came to the edge of the ice in Mary's Harbour, and took Mother and me on my first boat trip. Having given birth to me just a month before in the Nursing Station in Mary's Harbour must have made it a cold and uninviting ocean trip for my mother I am sure. We were going home to my father, a Newfoundland Ranger, who was stationed at Port Hope Simpson. My mother and I were taken to the Kyle in December, which was sitting in the frozen harbour, the biting winds almost unbearable. But that boat was the only way back to my father. And the Kyle took us safely to Port Hope Simpson.
Fifty years later, I found my eyes fixed on the proud old ship, valiantly trying to hold herself upright, her colours bright under the sun. My mind drifted back to that long ago boat ride. Where had Mother and I been on the boat? Were we cold? Sick? Was I a good baby? After thinking on such questions for an hour or more I made my decision, a decision that I have never regretted. I was coming home to Newfoundland.
The feeling of being where I belonged and where I should be had taken hold. There was an unmistakable drive to be back on the island where I grew up, where my roots were, where my family lived, and where my childhood memories kept me grounded.
The Kyle is still in Harbour Grace, and I will visit her again. But this time I will be on a different journey, a journey taken from a new home in Newfoundland, with the comfort in my soul of knowing I am where I need to be.