GIBSONS, BC – Swiss author and journalist Bernadette Calonego brought her Northern Peninsula insights to the west coast this past week in Gibsons, British Columbia.
Calonego gave a presentation on the lifestyles and landscapes of the Great Northern Peninsula at the west-coast town’s public library on Wednesday, Jan. 24.
“I showed slides about daily life in Newfoundland, from fishing and the kinds of fish that are harvested on the Northern Peninsula, the significance of berry picking, moose, whales, and traditional things like ice fishing or going to the woods in the winter to get firewood,” said Calonego. “Just to give an impression of how life is in a tiny outport.”
She also read excerpts from her novel "Stormy Cove" – a murder mystery set in a small Newfoundland fishing outport. The book was influenced by Calonego’s own experiences living on the Great Northern Peninsula, which she still does for a good portion of each year.
“[The book] is a way to learn about the area,” she said. “A lot of my experiences are in there and a lot of the area’s history is in there too.
“They were interested; it’s an exotic place where not many mystery novels are set.”
Calonego spends her winters away from the windswept coastlines of the Northern Peninsula and works as a journalist in the much milder winters of British Columbia. Calonego says it’s given her the fortune of having the best of both worlds.
Opportunities to speak about her work give her the chance to showcase the unique world of Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly her part-time home on the northern coast.
“To me, the Northern Peninsula is quintessential Newfoundland,” she said. “There are many beautiful places in Newfoundland, but for me the north is wilder, more authentic, almost archaic. Its isolation from everything makes it so different from other places.”
Calonego’s presentation drew a packed room of 32 people to the library, including many Gibsons locals and others interested in going to Newfoundland.
Many asked travel-oriented questions around accommodations and campgrounds. An elderly German man in attendance described the first time he had seen the island of Newfoundland on his journey to Canada, and the lasting impression it made on him.
“Many years ago he came by ship,” said Calonego. “It took a very long time and everybody had gotten sea sick. But then they saw the first shore and sight of land – and it was Newfoundland.
“He saw icebergs and he saw whales and he was absolutely stunned. He said he would never forget that sight.”
Calonego also detailed history of the area, such as the French shore and the way that culture has survived through outport names and other customs.
She spoke about the challenges, particularly the rough winters and polar bear sightings that come when the bays freeze over. She says people were also interested in learning about how children live in the area and how they go about attending school.
It turns out Calonego has not been the only person out west talking up the Northern Peninsula recently. In early January, she attended a separate presentation on Newfoundland from a geologist who had also spent time on the Great Northern Peninsula. Over 60 people had attended that presentation.
Calonego says it shows there is great interest coming from people to learn more about the province.