The Bashas Conquer Newfoundland

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Dec 23, 2010 6:20 PM
Chris and Joe Basha

By Janice Stuckless

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." - St. Augustine

It took 12 years, four pickup trucks, four campers, all-terrain vehicles and boats to complete their odyssey, and now Joe Basha and his wife Chris have an appreciation for Newfoundland that many of us will never know. They may be the first couple to have visited every community (some of them resettled) on the island portion of the province - 760 to be exact.

The Bashas, who live in Pasadena, decided to embark on this mission while vacationing on the opposite end of the country. They were on Vancouver Island, visiting their son. Joe was helping him build a garage on his property.

"After the garage was complete, we borrowed his camper and pickup and toured the complete island from top to bottom - from Port Hardy in the north to Victoria in the south," says Joe, adding that they also visited neighbouring islands.

"I then said to my wife, Chris, that we know more about Vancouver Island than we know about our home. It sounded somewhat crazy because we'd lived in Newfoundland most of our lives."

And so began a dozen summers of travel, crisscrossing the island, exploring bay by bay in the time they could spare. Chris works part-time for the provincial government and in more recent years Joe, while retired, had to return home for regular chemotherapy treatments for cancer at a nearby hospital. So for a week or so at a time, Joe drove the pickup with the camper in tow, while Chris marked off the communities on the map as they visited them. On average, they toured about 60 communities a season, covered about 30,000 kilometres in all and spent about $25,000 on gas!

"It was a long, adventurous and exciting journey," Joe says.

They met interesting people as they toured, including a woman named Mary Brown (just like the famous chicken franchise) in Fogo and, in Trinity, they met the third cousin of English poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). "Coleridge was author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I will never forget the author's name or the poem because when I was in Grade 9, I had to write out the poem by hand for skipping class," says Joe, himself a retired teacher. "It was a form of punishment. It was a very long poem and something I will not forget."

In Round Harbour, on the Baie Verte Peninsula, the Bashas discovered honesty and a faith in people that even they, as Newfoundlanders, were surprised to find. Chris was eyeing some hand-knit socks, mittens and a sweater, but the seller only dealt in cash and the Bashas didn't have enough cash on hand. As there was no ATM in town, Chris thought she'd have to leave disappointed. But the lady suggested Chris take the items with her and send her a cheque for the goods once they'd returned home to Pasadena - which, of course, they did.

"Can you imagine something like this taking place in another part of the country? This could only happen in Newfoundland," Joe enthuses. "What trustworthiness!"

During the ferry trips to more isolated communities, Joe and Chris witnessed a turtle, a school of sharks and two whales. On one boat trip, Joe was jigging for cod. He caught a small fish and threw it back. "Very soon after a huge bald eagle swooped down from the nearest mountain and picked up the fish I had just thrown in the water," says Joe, clearly amazed by the rare experience.

Twice - and only twice - the Bashas got lost on their travels, both times because of poor signage, Joe says. In Conne River, he took a wrong turn and ended up at a dead end. Two other couples happened to make the same mistake and ended up there with them. "There was no place to turn, so I had to disconnect the camper, and we had to turn it around by hand after cutting down about a half-cord of wood to make room to manoeuvre," Joe recalls. A similar thing happened in Herring Neck, in Notre Dame Bay, but he didn't have to cut down any trees that time. He says pragmatically, "I think you have to expect something to go wrong sometimes. That is what makes the trip so exciting. Also, it gives you something to talk about when you get home."

After 12 years on the road, Joe and Chris have plenty of stories to tell about Newfoundland. Their highlights include the white sandy beach at Doyles in the Codroy Valley, the way that Trinity reminds them of the "old west" of Hollywood movies, and the root cellars and puffins in Elliston. More poignant stops that Joe says are important to note include the Silent Witness Memorial near Gander, the site of the Truxton and Pollux sea disaster near St. Lawrence, the underground iron ore mine on Bell Island, and the gravesite of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell in St. Anthony.

The one place that seems to have affected Joe the most was Francois on the south coast. "It reminded me of parts of the Grand Canyon (without the water) in Arizona, parts of Wyoming, Glacier National Park in Montana, and parts of North and South Dakota and Colorado," he says. "Francois is one big hunk of beauty."

Joe and Chris finished their mission on the south coast, which was the most arduous of all their travels. "During the last week of our journey, we spent about 30 hours on different ferries," Joe says. Yet, this is also when they met the person who most helped them finish their great mission.

They were in Rose Blanche waiting for the ferry to La Poile, community number 760 - the end of the proverbial road. "Prior to travelling to La Poile, we tried to make arrangements for a bed and breakfast, but to no avail. Since it was the last stop on our tour, we were determined to get there at all costs, even if we had to sleep on the wharf or in the church," Joe says.

When the ferry arrived, Joe asked the engineer, who was from La Poile, about places to stay. He made some calls, but also came up empty. That's when their angel, Maxine Vautier, stepped in. She was getting off the ferry, heading home to Millertown. She overheard the Bashas' plight and offered the Bashas - total strangers - the use of her summer house in La Poile, free of charge. And a good thing, too. The Bashas were stranded for three nights in La Poile while the ferry was tied up due to a storm. That could have been an uncomfortable stay on the wharf!

On September 10, 2010, they had their photo taken with the Chairman of the La Poile Local Improvement District, Monford Organ, to officially mark the end of their 12-year epic adventure. But it's not the end of their travels.

The Bashas are already booking the Labrador ferry for summer 2011 when they plan to visit the last 10 communities, so they can say they've been to all 31 in Labrador. Beyond that, Joe says he and Chris are eyeing the last 17 American states that they haven't yet seen.

Joe says they are travellers who could never spend their retirement years in a cabin in the woods as so many other Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are more than happy to do.

"I don't have a cabin and now I never wish to have one. My wife and I would probably divorce if we had a cabin, looking at each other day after day," he quips. "We are used to the road now."

Click here to watch a slideshow of photos from some of the Basha's favourite places.