In a previous life, it was the longest narrow-gauge railway in North America and carried trains coast-to-coast across the island of Newfoundland for more than 100 years. Future King George V, the Queen’s grandfather, was a 19-year-old ensign serving in the Canadian Maritimes aboard the British warship HMS Cumberland and came ashore to hammer home the last spike in 1882.
When the last train pulled into Port aux Basques in 1988 to connect with the ferry bound for the Canadian mainland at North Sydney, eager trail blazers were already pulling up the spikes and rails to create what is today the most eastern portion of the 17,000-kilometre-long Trans Canada Trail.
By July 1, 2017 – on Canada’s 150th birthday – the Trans Canada Trail is expected to be fully connected for an unbroken 22,500 kilometres.
Winter is about to engulf The Rock and that means T’Railway Provincial Park is about to host its busiest season. “Ironically the trail is a lot busier in winter than at any other time of year,” said Rick Noseworthy, vice-president of the trail’s governing council.
Noseworthy, from Conception Bay South – known to islanders as CBS – has navigated the trail end-to-end eight times, often accompanied by his wife Frances riding beside him on their side-by-side, four-wheeler ATV.
Snowmobiles, horses, cross country skis, bicycles and hiking boots are common forms of transportation in this provincial park, but by far the most popular method of touring the park is aboard an ATV.
“You can move along at 30 mph and carry all your needs with you on an ATV at any time of year,” said Noseworthy. “We get a lot of different weather patterns here in Newfoundland, so you can’t always be sure there’ll be snow on the trail for snowmobiles.’
Like the Newfie Bullet, the historic cross-island passenger train, the trail runs through the heart of many of Newfoundland’s interior communities, which are “out of sight and sound of the sea.” Thus, there’s always services available nearby.
“In winter it’s mostly local outings on the trail. There’s lots of snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, even horseback riding,” said Noseworthy. “People from away can rent horses and snowmobiles in many towns.”
He doesn’t recommend renting ATVs however. “In most cases you’re going to be dropping off the ATV rental 900 kilometres from where you picked it up.”
In summer you’ll find dozens of trucks with empty ATV trailers parked in North Sydney on Cape Breton Island. Most visitors drive their ATV onto the Marine Atlantic ferries connecting Canada’s mainland to Newfoundland. They sail to Argentia near St. John’s on Newfoundland’s east coast or Port Aux Basques on the west coast and then drive for six days between the two principal ferry ports to sail back to Cape Breton.
Encountering moose is even more common along T’Railway Provincial Park than it is on the island’s highways, a notorious hazard. There are 130 bridges in the park, one of which is 282 metres long crossing the Exploits River near Bishop’s Falls.
Newfoundland’s narrow-gauage railway was 3.5 feet between the rails, where standard railways in Canada are 4’8.5” wide. Some of its rolling stock was sold to narrow-gauge railways in Bolivia and Chile and still operate today. Other pieces can be found in the magnificent stone railway station on Water Street in St. John’s, now a popular transportation museum depicting the island’s boat and railway heritage.
Check out this map of Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Parks and Reserves.