Channel-Port aux Basques, the Gateway to Newfoundland, has been welcoming visitors for 500 years. Originally settled by Basque fisherman in the 1500’s, who prized its ice free harbor. In 1881 construction began on the Newfoundland railway, which was completed in 1989. The ride took 27 hours and 45 minutes from St John’s. At Port aux Basques, passengers and freight took the “S.S. Bruce” to North Sydney, Nova Scotia. There they connected to other rail travel in Nova Scotia. In 1923, this company was acquired by the government of Newfoundland.
In 1986, CN’s Marine Atlantic added two new superferries, the Caribou and the Joseph and Clara Smallwood to become the mainstay of the Gulf fleet, replacing several older vessels.
15 km from the ferry dock is a turnoff to the south to Point Ray, the most southwesterly point in Newfoundland. This area had a Dorset Eskimo colony 2000 years ago, whose culture is found in many places along the coastline, but they mysteriously disappeared from the area around 700 AD, possibly by the same climate change that plunged Roman Civilization in to the Dark Ages.
This mountain, on the east side of the highway rises 518 metres (1700 ft) above sea level and is the start of the mountains that channel the “wreckhouse winds” along the west coast of Newfoundland and along the Trans-Canada highway. Winds have been clocked at 160 km/h (100 mph) in the area. Watch the weather alerts for this phenomenon.
This area was settled 200 years ago, by farmers from the Channel Islands (of Britain) followed by farmers from Scotland and Acadia. It is unusual to see good farmland from the Highway, but this are has been largely abandoned in the 1950s and 1960s when the youth left for work in other parts of the province, The Cape Anguille Mountains, to the west, were the site of intensive oil & gas exploration in the early 1970s, though none was ever found.
The South Branch of the Grand Codroy River is the southernmost salmon river crossed by the TCH, and gets its migration in early June, much earlier than other Newfoundland rivers. You may see twisted wind-shaped yellow birch “witch hazels” scattered along the road side. Their young twigs have a wintergreen flavour when chewed.
Crabbes River Provincial Park
Located by Route 404 and 405. This park offers good habitat for spotting a whiskey-jack, pine grosbeak, and maybe a great horned owl. The riverbed has a mixture of granites, sandstones, and conglomerates, and provides a difficult footing for visitors hiking along it.
Flat Bray Brook
This waterway is known as a salmon stream, but also supports an eel fishery. This also marks the point that William Epps reached the west coast on his epic 1822 first trans-Island trek.
To the east, is Steel Mountain, rising over 280 metres (930 ft), which forms part of the Canadian Shield with rock over 600 million years old. Interestingly, the path of the highway passes over is the youngest rock on the island, only 300 million years old, and there are large gypsum and salt deposits from ancient lagoons not far from the highway.
Barachois Provincial Park
About 150 km into this segment, this park is nestled at the base of the Long Range Mountains, and contains virgin forest and is home to the rare Newfoundland pine marten. The chipmunks seen are a recent (1962) introduction to the Island. This park is home to six species of woodpecker, including the uncommon arctic three-toed woodpecker. You can also find several species of orchids and the rare-in Newfoundland-black ash tree.
Hiking trails to the top of the mountains take you through caribou country, where a herd of 7000 may be seen. The lower trail is an easy boardwalk with a lookout. The upper trail climbs 340 metres, and has a panoramic view of St. George’s Bay, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Long Range Mountains. Round trip is 2 hours
St Georges River
When you pass Route 480 (from the south) and cross St Georges River which opens up into a wide bay to the west, (or you pass Georges Lake and route 402 from the north), the highway passes through a boggy area. The bogs can vary in thickness from 2 feet to 20 feet, and are home to picking berries like marshberries and bakeapples. You can also find several interesting carnivorous plants like the pitcher pant (Newfoundland’s provincial flower), sundews and bladderworts. Birds in these parts include the yellow throat warbler, Lincoln’s sparrow and the savannah sparrow.
Interesting Calcium Deposits
just south of Massey Drive are marl ponds (most on the south/east side of the highway), which have underlying white clay deposits, formed from the remains of freshwater mollusk shells.
Two miles closer to Corner Brook (after the route 450 interchange), the road cuts through a marble outcrop with black and grey bands of marble with pink and white calcite stripes.