Master Photographer Spike Bell Captures
the Warm Spirit of the Cold Atlantic Province
Story by Ryan Percy
Photography by Spike Bell, M.Photog. CPP MPA
It all started with an advertisement on television. A 30-second-long video that highlighted the beauty of Canada’s youngest territory.
“It was the greatest ad I’ve ever seen on TV,” Spike Bell says about when he first saw it. “Iceberg scenery, whales, people and kids. It was so well put together with kids running up a hill and beautiful scenes of a cliff. My wife Christine loved that, so we got our money together and said let’s do that.”
Spike Bell is a retired member of the Royal Canadian Navy, having served during the Korean War. After retiring from the navy, he took up photography. Over a long career he photographed historical figures like Rosa Parks and former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Bell’s work led to him even being awarded medals by the Governor General.
Now retired from the photography business for the most part, Spike and Christine have been more thoroughly enjoying their time together. However, with so much time on their hands now, they are always looking for something to do.
They booked a twelve-day excursion with McCarthy’s Party Tours, a family-run Newfoundland and Labrador based tour company that offers guided trips of the province. It was a twelve-day event that would see them travel across the coastline of Newfoundland, into Labrador with expeditions to numerous places of scenic beauty.
“We flew from Windsor to Toronto to Deer Lake,” Spike says with a laugh. “Air Canada was on the ball for once, and it was airbus all the way. Once we got there, it was a van to Corner Brook. Beautiful places to stay, and they had the best rooms and food the next day then off we went.”
Spike and Christine joined 34 other Canadians who came from as far away as Victoria for the trip.
The first days were spent at Gros Morne National Park & UNESCO World Heritage Site and then L’Anse aux Meadows. The latter was the point where Leif the Lucky settled down with his viking adventurers and would later make contact with the indigenous inhabitants of North America.
This last point is something Mark McCarthy, president of McCarthy’s Party Tours, says makes L’Anse aux Meadows one of the most impactful World Heritage Sites when it comes to the shared history of humanity.
“As humans came out of Africa, we hear some went east to Asia and some went northwest to Europe. They occupied those lands and some went across the ice to the Americas,” Mark says. “When the Vikings landed in Newfoundland and met the indigenous people, it meant the circle of Earth had closed for the first time as we met our relatives again.”
From there the couple and their fellow tourists took a boat over to Labrador, during the time they were able to not only see the beauty of the landscape but also one of the joys of coming there during the summer.
“I asked our guide, where are the icebergs?” Spike says of when they were on their boat ride. “He says ‘you’ll see them’ and he was right, they were everywhere. They float and then they get hung up on a ridge or rock and sit there and gradually melt. So you need to be there at certain times, since they’re not there year round.”
But with Newfoundland and Labrador being so tied to the Atlantic itself, the icebergs were not the only things relating to the water they viewed.
Along the way the group saw plenty of lighthouses, the weather blanketing the island in a misty haze which persisted but did not dampen their spirits.
From there they went to Red Bay Basque Whaling Museum and were able to come face to face with the history of the whaling industry that sent untold gallons of whale oil back to Europe.
“The museums are beautiful,” Spike says of how history is preserved in Newfoundland. “The museums we went into that were run by the government are first class, beautiful and clean.”
But museums and icebergs weren’t the only things to be seen and experienced during their almost two-week-long excursion.
During their trip there was also ample time to observe the wildlife, both on land but primarily by sea.
“We got to see the whales,” Spike says with a smile, holding a photo he got of a whale just barely coming out of the water. “The tour boat guys are pretty good and cut the motor and slowed us right down for the whales. They didn’t come diving out of the water, but sort of just swam alongside us.”
On top of whales, they were also taken on a boat tour to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve where they were able to view the many birds that make the sea cliffs their home.
While they had been engaging with the Newfoundland and Labrador locals throughout the trip. Spike points to the importance of the pride the people take in their culture, but also their opening and loving hearts.
One of the best examples of that came in St. John’s.
“I started to walk downtown and my legs started acting out,” Spike says. “And Christine goes over to a cab and asks if he’d bring me back to the Sheraton. He says absolutely and brings me back with her riding with me. He told her he’d take her back downtown at no charge. That’s the kind of attitude these people have.”
Mark McCarthy, points to the limited size of tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador as one of the reasons trips there tend to work so well but also are why the people of Newfoundland and Labrador seem so inviting of tourists.
“One of the things that helps the whole process is we’re still a small tourism destination,” Mark says. “There’s limited accommodations, so there’s limited amounts of people that can actually visit, so the tourism doesn’t get overwhelming. That’s for both the people who are visiting and the people that live there. It leads to a really healthy flow of people.”
Despite there only being a small flow of people, Spike says he and his wife are excited to go back. Though, they would prefer to take a trip at a slower pace next time to explore areas they hadn’t before.
“The people are so nice, I said to Christine maybe we should go back,” Spike says. “I don’t think we want to put the money down to do the whole tour again. But that whole trip, every day we had fun and it was a lot of laughter back and forth joking with each other. We’ll never forget it. It was beautiful and I could not think of even one thing that was wrong with the trip.”