Newfoundlands can go home

The great Newfoundland Dog Trek of 1997

Ozzie Foreman wrote this piece for "Dog Owner's Guide" about the Great Newfoundland Dog Trek, an exciting and rewarding trip across Canada to participate in the 500th anniversary celebration of the voyage of John Cabot from Britain to Newfoundland. The Foremans took Redi and Spirit, their two Newfs, and Kitty, their American Staffordshire Terrier, and headed for the wilds of Canada to join the trek that began in British Columbia on June 1, 1997. The trek reached Newfoundland in plenty of time for the June 24, 1997 ceremonies — 130 Newfs strong!

Before the trip was over, the Foremans made new friends, demonstrated their breed's prowess at a variety of activities, and spent a few minutes with Queen Elizabeth and other dignitaries in town for the ceremonies.

Did I leave my phone number, credit card number, and date of arrival intelligibly on an answering machine, in French all those weeks ago? Even without knowing the French word for “zero”?

I was about to find out as I registered at Camping Des Voltigeurs campground deep in French speaking Quebec.

My husband, Rick; our brown Newfoundland Redi; our black Newfoundland, Spirit; and I were staying at Camping Des Voltigeurs as part of The Great Newfoundland Dog Trek, a recreational vehicle caravan on a pilgrimage to Bonavista, Newfoundland. The caravan of more than 100 Newfoundland dogs and their owners from across the United States and Canada was camping across Canada to be part of the Cabot 500 festivities commemorating the 500th anniversary of John Cabot's arrival in Newfoundland.

The message on the Camping Des Voltigeurs' campground answering machine was in French. I had studied six years of French in high school and college, but never learned a word for “zero.” I left a reservation request in French. Upon hanging up, I thought, “that was pretty bad. I'll call again and leave the message in English in case someone there is bilingual.”

As I checked in, the lady registrar said, “Your French was very good. My boyfriend took the messages from the machine, and he doesn't speak a word of English. He gave me your information, then said 'that odd lady called back a second time? This time I couldn't understand a word she was saying.'”

I guess my French wasn't so bad after all!

Calling all Newfs

Lloyd Nelson of Whitby, Ontario, was the organizer of the Great Newfoundland Dog Trek. He got the idea when he heard that a replica of John Cabot's ship the Matthew was being built in Bristol, England, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Cabot's coming to Newfoundland. The ship would sail from Bristol to Bonavista, Newfoundland, duplicating Cabot's voyage.

Nelson learned that six Newfoundland dogs served as mascots on the Matthew until the ship left Bristol. Due to British quarantine laws, those dogs could not come to Newfoundland, so Nelson thought that six dogs from his side of the Atlantic should be on hand to greet the Matthew when she sailed into Bonavista Harbor on June 24, 1997.

Nelson set out to locate other Newfs whose owners were interested in joining him on his journey to the province. He put out the call via the internet, and was overwhelmed by the response — 130 Newfs and owners would be assembled for the landing of the Matthew!

The trek began on June 1 when Mike and Vivien Fritz and their Newfs Moose and Tasha, departed from Seattle, Washington. They joined Rod and Joan Leach, their son Chad, and their Newfs Goofy and Maxi in Cranbrook, British Columbia, to begin the drive east across Canada. Along the way, the two families were joined by other trekkers at designated campgrounds. Rick and I joined in Oshawa, Ontario.

According to plan, Newfs and trekkers would promote the breed, demonstrate draft and water rescue skills, mingle with tourists, visit school children, raise money for dog-related charities, and march in parades when we arrived on Newfoundland. At the climax, trekkers in red and white uniforms with their dogs in their luxurious fur coats would form an impressive honor guard for Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, the President of Italy, the Prime Minister of Ireland, and other dignitaries visiting Bonavista on June 24.

All 130 dogs would line the walkway for the procession of dignitaries as they dedicated Ryan Pemises Park that morning. Nelson had the awesome task of selecting six dogs and owners to serve as the official honor guard when the Queen and dignitaries presided over ceremonies as the Matthew docked that afternoon. The question in the back of most trekker's minds was, “Will my dog be one of the chosen six?”

A Newf of a different color

Our Redi, the only brown Newf on the Trek, drew a lot of attention. Brown is disqualified in the Canadian show ring, and most Canadians had never seen a brown Newf. The Newfoundland Club of Quebec welcomed our caravan with a reception at Camping Des Voltigeurs with cake, coffee, balloons, and French comments about Redi's color. New Brunswick welcomed the Trek with a morning reception at the Visitors Center, serving coffee, donuts, a basket of large dog biscuits for very large dogs, and more comments about Redi's color. Sixty-eight of the Newfs walked onto the ferry at North Sydney, Nova Scotia, on June 18 with an audience of newspaper, Canadian Broadcasting Company, and British Broadcasting Company reporters present to cover the boarding. A rarity within a news making event, Redi charmed the reporters. Redi appeared on the 11 p.m. news; Redi and Rick were celebrities.

At every public appearance spectators turned out to see the Newfoundland dogs. The most common questions were “Where's the brown one?” and “Why is he brown?”

Rick facetiously answered, “We were up all night dying him” and then he explained that brown Newfs are not disqualified in the US.

Canine paradise

After a five-hour ferry ride, the dogs ended their pilgrimage by setting foot on the land that had spawned their ancestors and shaped what they are today. I did not observe any dog kneeling down to lick their ancestral soil, but within a few days it became evident that this was where they belonged. They ran across the sand and rocks, climbed into boats, and swam in the Atlantic. The west coast greeted us with rugged mountains, capped with snow that does not melt until August. The coasts are sprinkled with rustic little fishing villages that smell of fish. Wooden houses painted in bright hues of pink, turquoise, blue and purple dot village hillsides. Newfoundland has no snakes, skunks, poison ivy, fleas, ticks, or heartworm — a true canine Utopia. Most residents of Newfoundland were very cordial; and, amazingly, had never seen a Newfoundland dog in person.

Bonavista or Bust

“Bonavista or Bust” read the big sign in the back window of Emmy Stevenson's minivan. She was driving with her niece, nine-year-old Amelia, and her two Newfs, staying at bed and breakfasts instead of camping. On the evening of Saturday, June 21, the Trek rolled into Paradise Farm Trailer Park, at Bonavista. The Great Newfoundland Dog Trek had reached its destination on Newfoundland's east coast. Campsites offered a spectacular view of a pond where moose came to feed at twilight. Trekkers could walk on vast spongy tundra beds and view the icebergs in Bonavista Harbor.

Though the calendar said “June,” it was very cold.

That night, we dined at one of the best restaurants in the area, Bill's Bar and Grill, to sample another Newfoundland tradition, a Jigg's Dinner. The dinner comes from the old comic strip, “Maggie and Jiggs” and is composed of the foods in Jiggs' favorite meal. We were served salt beef (very similar in taste to corned beef, only saltier), boiled cabbage, cooked turnips, carrots, potatoes, bread pudding, and peas pudding (another traditional Newfoundland recipe).

Later that evening, Nelson told me that he was considering Spirit and me for the position of second alternate for the Queen's Honor Guard. The next day Spirit and I had to take the “Queen Test.”

The Queen Test

A group of Newf-owning natives had insisted that three of the six dogs in the Queen's Honor Guard live on the island, and they informed Nelson that their three were chosen. Trek dog positions were now down to three.

All dogs considered for the three positions had to pass the “Queen's Test” — they must be obedient, a good example of the breed, and totally non-aggressive to dogs and humans. An 11-year-old student from Bonavista's Matthew Elementary School had been selected to stand with each Honor Guard dog. Dogs, owners, and children were evaluated on how they interacted.

The first trekker Newf chosen for the Honor Guard was Pat Coffee's Belle, the number one conformation Newf bitch in Canada. Belle's selection left two spots open for the honor guard and one or two spots for alternates.

Second position went to Sandee Lovett of Michigan and her Landseer Newf, Polaris. Lovett and her husband, Mike, were the leaders of the Midwest trekkers, and worked exceptionally hard to make the whole Trek pleasant for everyone. Their dogs never tired of greeting people and giving cart rides to children.

The third position went to Pauline Buchan, from Collingwood, Ontario, and her Newf, Jack. Pauline had a stroke when she was 23 years old, which left her paralyzed on her left side. As Pauline put it, “I guess I represent the handicapped owner, and her Therapy Dog.”

Spirit and I became the first alternate to replace a designate if something went wrong, and we were assigned Michael Bradley as our elementary student.

The royal visit

Arrangements had been made for school buses to pick up the trekkers at 9 a.m. The weather had turned colder, with a 40 miles-per-hour wind blowing a cold mist. The shivering trekkers and school children waited. No bus came. At 10 a.m., heartier trekkers decided to walk the four miles into town. At 10:30 a.m., one of the shuttle bus drivers took pity on the remaining trekkers. The Newfs had to board a crowded school bus, then sit on the seat beside their owners. When the 130 Newfs arrived an hour and a half late, Canadian security guards hastily arranged them along a pink gravel foot path. They placed Spirit, Michael, and I in the middle of a roped-off path where two paths crossed.

Within five minutes, the royal motorcade approached and stopped. Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and other dignitaries walked straight up the path toward me, turned, then were seated for the park dedication ceremony. I had just aimed my camera when Queen Elizabeth II walked within eight inches of me. She looked elegant, wearing a mint green felt hat with a very wide white hat band. The hat was secured with four mint green hat pins. The Queen wore a beautiful knit mint green coat with multicolored threads running through it. The coat did not appear to be warm enough for the cold blustery day.

Following the dedication, the Queen led the procession of dignitaries down our Newf lined path. She walked with Jolene Tobin, wife of Brian Tobin, Newfoundland's Prime Minister. They approached Sandee and Polaris. The Queen said, “Oh, a white and black Newf?”

Sandee replied, “Yes, he's called a Landseer after a famous English court painter.”

“Where are you from?” Queen Elizabeth asked.

“Grand Rapids, Michigan,” Sandee replied, “But Polaris was whelped in Ottawa, so he's 100% Canadian.”

One of our Matthew Elementary students heard the Queen say, “There's a brown one too,” referring to Redi.

Queen Elizabeth and Mrs. Tobin approached Rick. “Isn't he a pretty color?” Mrs. Tobin said to the Queen.

The Queen answered, “He's a pretty dog.”

“I hear they are trying to breed them not to drool?” asked Mrs. Tobin.

“I haven't seen one yet.” laughed Rick. The Queen smiled then walked on. Other dignitaries stopped to pat almost every dog on the head, and to talk to the owner.

Then there were seven?

After the dignitaries had exited, the Honor Guard Newfs, their owners, and their students were separated from the other trekkers and herded into a large ship construction building filled with singers, dancers, and other acts that would entertain the crowd until the Royals arrived and the Matthew docked. Present were only two native Newf owners wearing sashes made of the Newfoundland tartan. Pauline and Jack were missing. Jack had refused to get on the school bus. Spirit and I were now part of the official Honor Guard! Our second alternate stepped in to fill the third Newfoundlander position.

Only 73 feet long, the Matthew is amazingly small. The wooden gangplank is four feet wide at most. To think that three dogs, and six people would line each side as the Queen boarded was ludicrous. Instead, the Honor Guard lined the driveway down to the wharf where the Matthew docked. The Royal motorcade drove past Canadian Sea Cadets holding flags and seven Newfoundlands. The six chosen teams had been joined by our third alternate. No one seemed to notice that seven Newfoundland dogs greeted the Matthew.

Puttin' on the dog

The day after the royal visit, 130 Newfs and owners paraded through Bonavista, past the booths and carnival atmosphere to the wharf where the Matthew was docked, to receive a VIP tour of the ship. Each Newf climbed up the gangplank onto the ship with ease. The crew did not seem amused when Rick, holding Redi, asked, “Where's the poop deck?”

That evening, trekkers returned to a reception and dinner hosted by the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. The trekkers were given cans of Luxury Beef Stew dog food featuring a photo of a Newf head on the label. As if fearing that what is pictured on the label must be the contents of the can, Spirit refused to eat it.

June 27 the Trek moved on to Harbor Grace to march in another parade, then to St. Johns for Canada Day. A Super Dog Show featuring an agility demonstration by Companion Dog Trainers Ltd., then a fly ball demo and workshop, marked the end of the Great Newfoundland Dog Trek.

Amid sad good-byes to new-found friends, trekkers reminisced about the high and low points of the journey. My most thrilling moment was seeing the Queen. Rick enjoyed the celebrity of having the only brown Newf.

In 2001, St. Anthony, Newfoundland, will celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Leif Eriksson's landing. Perhaps the Norwegian Elkhound club would like to organize another trek to this event. Meanwhile, Newf owners eagerly wait to participate in the next Great Newfoundland Dog Trek; but, remember, it only happens every 500 years.

Adaptable, gentle giants

An instinctive life-saver, the web-footed Newfoundland dog served sailors and fishermen. The breed evolved as an integral part of the rugged island of Newfoundland's history. This gentle giant among canines is a striking dog bound to elicit admiring comments wherever he accompanies his owner. Sweetness of Temperament is the Hallmark of the Newfoundland. While most Newfs are black, recessive colors of brown and gray are acceptable by the American Kennel Club. Another color combination is the Landseer, named for the artist Sir Edwin Landseer. The Landseer Newf is a white dog, with a black head, black rump, and an evenly marked black saddle over the back.

Average males stand 28 inches at the withers and weigh around 150 pounds. Average females stand 26 inches, and weigh around 125 pounds.

Born as a canine seaman, the Newf was a standard piece of equipment on the fishing boats in Canada's maritime province that gave the breed its name. Fishing has always been Newfoundland's chief industry; the dogs hauled fishing nets out to sea and back to the boat and retrieved objects or people who fell into the sea. Equally at home in water or on land, the Newfoundland was large enough to save a drowning man or to break the ice as he dove into the ocean. The dog's moderately-long double coat has a downy inner layer for warmth, and an oily, water repellent, outer layer. The breed has completely webbed feet and swims with a breast stroke instead of a dog paddle.

At the end of a day's fishing, the catch was loaded into a cart, and the dog was hitched up to haul the load into town. Other Newfoundlands pulled wagons to deliver milk and mail throughout the island.

[More on Newfoundlands]

Ozzie Foreman

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