When I set out on my Eastern Canada road trip, I set some goals for myself. And the first was to see a real, live moose in the wild. I had lived more than 65 years in this vast country, but somehow these majestic animals had always eluded me. Now I was going into moose country, camera at the ready: the moose hunt was on.
I was pretty confident of success. After all, my friend Dennis and I were going to be driving through two provinces known for their huge moose populations, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. (Fun fact: the moose on Newfoundland were originally imported from New Brunswick, but flourished so well that they became a local icon.) And the roads we’d be following would take us through perfect moose habitat, dense forests dotted with little lakes where moose like to feed.
Our spirits rose as we drove through Quebec and into New Brunswick, on highways where we were sometimes the only moving thing. There, on the roadsides, were constant signs warning motorists to watch out for moose — a serious problem in certain areas. Some signs had a moose hotline to call if you saw one playing in the traffic.
And some had graphic pictures showing the huge animals confronting innocent drivers.
But no matter how hard we looked, no moose appeared — not even a deer or two. We could have done better in Ontario, where deer are a common sight on country roadsides.
Still, the trip had just begun. Nova Scotia had little promise, but we were headed for Newfoundland. The Rock, as it’s called, has a stunning population of more than 100,000 moose, and their collisions with speeding cars are a leading traffic hazard. This was prime territory for a moose hunt.
Of course, while we wanted to see a moose, we didn’t want to see it too close — like crashing through the windshield. So we were happy to see special fences lining the highway as we drove up the island’s west coast, to keep the moose off the tarmac. Still, they were proof that the beasts were there. And as we stopped for gas to make the long trek up Newfoundland’s northern peninsula, it was comforting to see this fellow standing tall in front of the gas pumps.
On the way north, we spied another sign that moose were about: small gardens by the roadside, each surrounded by a stout wooden fence to keep out large mammals — apparently, moose have a taste for cabbage and carrots. So it was a disappointment when we reached St. Anthony, at the northern tip of the peninsula, without seeing one. Still, we were in prime moose territory, with lots of lonely country roads. It was only a matter of time.
We stayed at a motel deep in the woods, and I got up early each morning to scout the roadsides: no moose. We asked the owners: where’s the best place to see them? Pistolet Bay Provincial Park, they said — last time we drove out there, we saw 21 moose.
So off we went to Pistolet Park, located down a long country road surrounded by deep northern woods and edged with ditches where the moose like to graze. We arrived at dusk, the perfect time to see them emerge for their evening feed. We drove the road once. We drove it again. And as the darkness began to fall, we saw — nothing. At least we caught a lovely northern sunset on the way home, so the evening wasn’t a total waste.
Dejected, we turned south to visit Gros Morne National Park, one of the country’s great natural wonders. Surely, in this vast expanse of wilderness, we could find one measly moose. But despite a nine-kilometre hike into the woods, we saw nothing bigger than a squirrel.
Time was running out, and so was our patience. “Moose,” said Dennis — “what moose? I think it’s all a story to amuse the tourists.”
Things were getting desperate — I needed my moose, and I was willing to do what it took to get one. We drove into the nearest town, a place called Rocky Harbour. And that’s when I saw a sign on a restaurant on main street.
And there, finally, for the sum of $25.76, with a drink, my moose hunt came to a successful end. It was served in minutes, and tasted good — a lot like beef, though a little dryer. No danger of it coming through the windshield, either.
We kept up our moose hunt on the way home, driving up the New Brunswick coast toward Miramichi. But once again, the moose stayed stubbornly out of view — or maybe they were disguising themselves as fir trees. And slowly, our hopes faded altogether.
Back in Toronto, Dennis and I went for one last dinner before taking our leave. “Anything to drink?” the waiter asked. I ordered a Moosehead.