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From Amelia Earhart to Danny Cleary at Harbour Grace

© By Pat Brennan
  Harbour Grace, Newfoundland - Danny Cleary , wasn't the first Detroiter to draw a big crowd to this quaint Newfoundland fishing port. Close to 30,000 Newfoundlanders poured into this town of 3,000, despite the pouring rain on Canada Day to watch local boy, Red Wing star Danny Cleary, bring the Stanley Cup home for a visit.
     It was a much cleary summer day - ok, clearer - 81 years earlier when the "Pride of Detroit" arrived in Harbour Grace. The Stinson Detroiter airplane touched down here on Aug. 27, 1927 to prepare for its most treacherous stretch in a bid to be the first airplane to fly around the world.
     Pilot William S. Brock and passenger Edward Schlee immediately experienced what makes this rock protruding into the North Atlantic world renown - the natives offer the warmest welcome you'll find anywhere on the globe.
     Yes, it has breath-taking scenery. Yes, it sits amidst one of the world's greatest fishing grounds. Yes, the locals speak with such a unique dialogue you're best to take along a Newfie-English dictionary. But the thing you'll remember most from a trip to a Newfoundland out-port such as Harbour Grace - is the genuine, down-home warmth of its people.
     It's somewhat like a visit to Ireland. Danny Cleary lives a lot closer to Dublin than he does Detroit when he goes home to mom and dad in Harbour Grace.
     That's why Detroit businessman Fred Koehler found his way to this fishing port out on the Avalon Peninsula on Conception Bay in 1927. He was looking for the most eastern piece of flat land in North America.
     Koehler, an executive with Detroit's Stinson Aircraft Company, needed a landing strip for his firm's M-2 Detroiter airplane to land before tackling the dangerous cross-Atlantic flight to Ireland.
     The 900-foot-long grass strip he created in Harbour Grace is merely a cow pasture today, but in the 1920s and 30s it was one of the world's most vital airstrips. Dozens of aeronautical adventurers were happy to see Harbour Grace during their daring, early flights east and west over the Atlantic.
     One of those daring aviators was Amelia Earhart. She flew off the grass at Harbour Grace on May 20, 1932 to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and only the third pilot to do so. She took off at 7:30 p.m. and had spent the day resting at Archibald's Hotel - now called Hotel Harbour Grace - where Rose Archibald sent her off into history with a thermos of her home-made soup. The soup kept her going through a very tough night of thunder storms, equipment failure and fatigue and it kept her alive to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
     A stature of Amelia Earhart now stands by the shore of Conception Bay, but she is soon to move closer into town - near a street that has been renamed Danny Cleary Avenue. Currently she looks out on the old coastal freighter S.S. Kyle, which was run aground in 1965 by huge waves pushed into Conception Bay by a mean Nor'easter. The 220-foot-long ship hasn't moved from the middle of the bay since that day, but she gets a fresh coat of paint ever few years and this spring she wore a 72-foot-long banner on her hull reading "Go Red Wings Go."

Ship with Red Wings banner  Premier Danny Williams  Hometown parade  Cleary on the ice with cup  Stinson Aircraft monument Harbour Grace in 1911

     The Pride of Detroit never did make it around the world. Engine troubles stopped the flight in Japan. But four years later Wiley Post became the first pilot to fly solo around the world when he lifted off from Harbour Grace on June 23, 1931 in the Winnie Mae.
     The Winnie May now hangs from the ceiling in the National Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport outside Washington.
     Post and his good friend comedian and cowboy philosopher Will Rogers died together in August 1935 when their plane crashed near Point Barrow, Alaska.
     Jamestown, Virginia is the oldest English settlement in the New World, established in 1607. Cupids, close to Harbour Grace, is the second oldest at 1610.
     There have been interesting characters living along this rugged, ragged coast since 1610. One of them was Peter Easton, one of the most fierce and successful pirates of the 17th century. He built a fort at Harbour Grace and battles against French, British, Spanish and local ships raged up and down the Bay and as far south as the Caribbean.
     Easton, a former ranking officer in the British Navy, retired from piracy as a very wealthy man, moved to France and bought himself a title, Marquis of Savoy.
     Rumors still run ramped along this coast of buried pirates' treasures. What there certainly is along this coast is similar interesting characters retired from whaling ships, from seal hunts on the ice, from fierce storms and fishing in the North Atlantic.
     They live in such near-by communities as Dildo, Heart's Delight, Heart's Content, Heart's Desire, and of course Harbour Grace. Each out-port has a local museum where many of these characters volunteer.
     Some still go out on the water to fire canons each day, but that's only at the passing icebergs. They knock off chunks of ice 10,000 years old and sell them to local entrepreneurs who bottle it as fresh, clean water, or to Quidi Vidi Brewery to make its Iceberg Beer.

Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.

Photo Credits:
Tourism Nova Scotia

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