It was just after 7 am Saturday morning. I was snuggled in my bed staring at the clock. I had nothing planned, but an idea was forming in my head. With all the rain we have had this May, Grand Falls is probably living up to its name. It was going to be our first sunny warm day, and the thought of missing it prodded at me to get up. Decision made…. I was out the door within an hour.
I arrive in the busy downtown core. My GPS directs me to make a left at the light. I wait for the green advance arrow to indicate I can go, and I follow the other vehicles across a bridge. When I see a sign for the Chutes and Gorge campground I turn, knowing this is where I want to be. The campground will not be open for another week, but the park and paths are accessible year-round. I can hear the river roaring and I head toward the sound; a path into the woods leads me to a stairway and a landing.
Walking the trail upstream takes me to another look-off platform. I am impressed with the gorge. I was certain I had been here 30 years ago but this is not what I remember in my mind’s eye. I approach a wooden tower. Its gate doesn’t move when I tug on it, so I fiddle with the latch. It is indeed locked and I can’t gain access to the stairway. It appears to be a landing platform for a zip-line across the gorge. Taking a second look at the churning waters, I have to admit you have to be a lot braver than me to zipline across that bubbling caldron.
I keep going up the trail, until I am stopped by fencing and a sign stating Danger do not cross barrier. This is an understatement. I stand at the crest of the falls and look outward. The basin of rock is unable to contain the spillway, and the falls burst forth with a froth that propels vapor upwards. The fine mist hangs in the air and floats away until it falls further down into the gorge. This is the Niagara Falls of New Brunswick.
I retrace my steps back down the trail and start walking across the bridge. A man approaches from the opposite direction. He is mid-sixties, just over five feet tall, as he walks by he says, “How are you?” There is a familiarity about his speech, like he recognizes me and for a moment I think he resembles Rudy Turcotte, a brother to Ron Turcotte. I met Rudy down at Tampa Bay racetrack back in the early 2000’s but I doubt he would remember me. “I am fine thank you for asking,” I reply but the man keeps walking by. It probably wasn’t Rudy. It sure looked like him.
I stop and take a few photos of the falls mid-bridge. It is a shame that the hydroelectric dam is above the falls, it takes away from the beauty of it.
When I get to the end of the bridge, a man in a wheelchair is approaching up the hill. After seeing the person that looked like a Rudy Turcotte, I wonder if this person may be Ron. I step back to let him roll by on the narrow sidewalk. The electric motor whirls beside me and it stops, blocking my progress. The man driving it, I would say, is in his late sixties, early seventies. He has no legs and sits on his pelvis. “Beautiful day,” he smiles. “Well, yes it is, sir.” I am again taken aback at the friendliness of the locals. “Are you from the Grand Falls?” he asks.” No I came up this morning from Oromocto, thought the falls would be impressive with all the rain we have had.”
“Well you were right, spring is the is the best time to visit. My name is Vinyl Michaud.” He puts his hand out for me to shake. “Nice to meet you …Vy….,” I shake his hand, hesitant to complete his name, knowing it has a French slant. “Vinyl,” he completes the word, “just like the records.” I smile at his charm. We chat for another five minutes about where I live, what I do for a living and why I came to Grand Falls today. He acts like the ambassador of the town, listening to what I say, gathering info and offering advice.
“So Vinyl, I really want to see the Ron Turcotte statue, can you tell me where it is?” He nods his head. “Oh, yes, just go back across the bridge and just around the curve, you’ll see it.” I tell him I was a jockey and I met Ron once when he was doing a book-signing at Woodbine racetrack, many years ago. I tell him I considered going to see him, I have his address. He tells me he doesn’t know if Ron is home, then adds, “I know Ron, he called me not long back, he wanted to know about my chair.”
This segue give me an opportunity. “So you are amputated at the hip?.” “Yes,” he says. “My accident was long ago, I have lost more and more leg over the years.” He doesn’t offer up what the nature of his accident was and I don’t ask.
“My father was an amputee – just one leg, about six inches below the knee,” I tell him. “Oh really?” He raises his eyebrows. Something unspoken passes between us, I can read in his eyes that he knew I was familiar with limb loss because of my reaction to him. We finally run out of things to talk about and I wish him a good outing. “You too, my dear,” then he shifts into drive and the chair jolts forward.
I arrive at a large modern building in a park-like setting. I walk up to the statue of a First Nations lady and get a photo for my roadside attractions collection.
I follow the metal walkways all around the building, taking photos of the falls from all angles. Then I go into the interpretive center. A lady greets me when I open the door, “Hi, we have a free interpretive tour if you want to learn more about the location and its history,” she says without taking a breath. Her coworker points towards a room on her left. I follow the arrows. Plaques tell the story of geology, the original inhabitants of the area, and a memorial to those that lost their lives in the construction of the bridge.
At the end of the tour is a room with a wall of windows looking out over the falls. The room has an impressive view, but the deck off the front offers the best vantage point.
I stand there with the water roaring by, looking at the architecture of the bridge and wondering about the difficulties of its engineering. Thirty years ago I stopped along the side of the road and took a picture of a pretty but diminutive falls. Wherever that was, it was not this.
Having had my fill, I head back through the main entrance to thank the ladies. “We have some brochures of the area, if you want any tourist information.” I smile and reply, “I am heading to see the Ron Turcotte statue next.” I tell them of the man in the wheelchair that I originally thought, might be Ron Turcotte, “Oh we met Ron, he was in last year.” They say no more and I head out.
Back over the bridge and around the turn I can see the monument. It is in the middle of the road forming a boulevard. I step to the edge of the sidewalk and face outward with the intention of crossing. An approaching car stops to let me walk, even though there is no crosswalk. Such polite people live in this town. I think of Vinyl in his wheelchair. I am glad it is safe for him and others with mobility issues to navigate around. I touch the granite base of the monument. It is timely that I am here now in the midst of the triple crown. Please join me next week for my post, https://maritimemac.com/2019/06/08/belmont-2019/
Happy travels from Maritimemac.