The polar bear perched above the craggy cliff side, her magnificent white coat a stark contrast to the dusty red and burnt orange tapestry of foliage blanketing the autumn tundra.
A hush fell over our zodiacs bobbing in the water a careful distance away, with the motors cut to minimize any disturbance. When the nanuk had first been spotted by a bear monitor an hour earlier, plans for a waterfall hike were nixed so as not to disrupt this fragile environment in the Torngat Mountains along Canada’s Labrador coast, a place that sees almost no human footprints and where animals lay claim to the land.
Perhaps satisfied that us intruders had no intention of encroaching on her spot of shoreline, she settled into the brush and watched with indifference, giving us silent permission to glide past her into the beckoning canyon.
Moments like this are just some of the extraordinary experiences that await on the journey from Greenland to Newfoundland, with Adventure Canada.
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Adventure Canada cruises
Adventure Canada offers small-ship expedition cruises to some of the most remote places on earth, including the High Arctic, the Faroe Islands and untouched fjords in Greenland, Iceland and Atlantic Canada.
Operating since 1987 and now run by the three children of one of the original co-founders–Cedar Swan, Alana Bradley-Swan and MJ Swan who essentially grew up exploring the polar regions–the Ontario-based company has a strong focus on family ties and connecting people to places.
“Every experience is a little bit different, but always with the aim of having the place come to life through people,” explains Cedar Swan, who serves as CEO. “To connect people to people, and people to place, and often that leads to connections within one’s self as well and some self-examination and how people perceive and look at destinations.
“I think that’s a common thread throughout all of our expeditions, that what we really try to achieve is that every expedition is unique, it’s not a cookie cutter experience.”
Indeed, you won’t find luxury spas or flashy casinos onboard the hardy Ocean Endeavour (the chartered Adventure Canada ship), which is more accustomed to navigating around ice floes than pulling up alongside glitzy yachts in palm-fringed harbours like many of its cruising counterparts.
Instead the focus is on active experiences, curating an exceptional group of local experts for the expedition team, and onboard programming designed to educate and inspire.
“Our ship doesn’t really require much infrastructure, so we’re not tied to any kind of amenities that a community might have which I think really opens up a lot of other doors,” Swan says, of the benefits of this small-ship experience which accommodates just under 200 passengers for a more intimate setting.
Cultural components of Adventure Canada tours
During our 15 day Greenland & Wild Labrador: A Torngat Mountains Adventure sailing, we learned about life in Greenland from the country’s first female prime minister Aleqa Hammond and scampered over two-billion-year-old basaltic dykes with a geologist from the Geological Survey of Canada.
Inuit educators taught us how to use sinew thread to sew seal skins, and served up traditional foods like tuktu (caribou), arctic char and maktaaq (whale skin).
We watched in awe as Inuk archeologist Lena Onalik meticulously documented the sod house depressions, cairns and gravesites we came across–some likely belonging to her ancestors.
Swan says the experts are all hand-picked, and Adventure Canada looks to pack the onboard program with as many different opportunities for the guests as possible. “My brother [MJ] always says ‘we don’t want the people who read the book, we want the people who wrote the book.’ That’s the quality that we’re looking for.’”
Finding those people is often a years-long process, and a big part of Jason Edmunds’ job. Edmunds has been with the company since 2010, and is married to Cedar (the couple has two children, who were also on this voyage along with most of their extended family).
A proud Inuk, Edmunds grew up in Nain, NL, a place which many of the expedition team call home and where we enjoyed a one-day stop to watch high-spirited Inuit games and throat singing.
He says the often isolated places Adventure Canada visits are less about the destinations themselves, and more about the cultural experiences that can be created in those communities.
“Usually we start to build our programs based on relationships,” Edmunds tells me, as we sit in a cozy corner on the top level of the ship while his daughter and niece strum a ukulele on the floor nearby. “I think it’s absolutely vital when you’re talking about regenerative programming that those programs are built with regions that aren’t visited.
“Because right now there’s this idea that people want to go places, versus a holistic approach of ‘we want to bring people here’ and that people live there. We want people to see it.”
Highlights of Greenland & Wild Labrador: A Torngat Mountains Adventure
Aside from the cultural components, there are plenty of physical activities along the way.
During our first day in Greenland we kayaked through the glassy Kangerlussuatsiaq Fjord, nudging away the floating ‘bergie bits’ and ‘growlers’ chunked off from icebergs with our sunshine-yellow paddles. A seal lounged on an ice-floe up ahead, unfazed by the deep rumble of a glacier calving behind him.
In the middle of the night, we were roused out of our cozy beds for a front row seat to one of nature’s greatest spectacles: the Northern Lights dancing overhead, with emerald, pink and violet hues lighting up the night sky.
In Torngat Mountains National Park–one of the country’s most inaccessible spots, reachable only by boat or plane–we didn’t see another soul for days. The soft morning light brought mesmerizing sunrises over the towering peaks and fjords, lighting up the hillsides where we spotted polar bears, a brown bear and caribou.
Hikes led to dramatic lookout points, thundering waterfalls, and sod house depressions at Ramah, a former mission site, where the glistening heads of seals slipped in and out of the water as we paddled around scree slopes and rock formations.
Humpback whales and dolphins frolicking in the waves greeted us while sailing near Battle Harbour, and as we edged down the coast toward St. John’s we sang folk songs around a campfire at Terra Nova National Park and explored the remains of an 11th century Viking basecamp at L’Anse aux Meadows, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In Hebron we learned about the devastating forced relocation of the Inuit community, and the generational trauma those government programs and residential schools have caused among Indigenous peoples.
Fittingly, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation fell during our trip, with many passengers donning orange shirts in solidarity as we listened to stories of both heartbreak and redemption.
Edmunds says bringing guests into these communities is about much more than the economic benefits–it’s a form of reclamation.
“Often in the news…people’s perception of Indigenous communities is based on biased, often inaccurate and negative leaning, but that’s not how the communities feel about their own communities,” he says. “This idea that we can share it, and we can properly educate, it’s actually really great.”
Embarking on a trip like this is not your typical vacation and may not be right for everyone; instead, it’s all about the idea of transformative travel. Swan says she hopes guests take away a connection in whatever way is meaningful to them.
“We do this because we love it,” she says. “It’s more than a business to us, it’s really a passion of everybody involved with Adventure Canada to have these kinds of collective experiences and to get out into nature and to really care about something.”
Adventure Canada offers the Newfoundland & Wild Labrador: A Torngat Mountains Adventure itinerary once per summer, with pricing from $8,995 to $18,595 USD per person based on double occupancy.
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