By Burton K. Janes
As soon as I spied the postcard at an auction, I knew I wasn't "losing it."
It's a depiction of our province's so-called Trans-Canada Highway Tower, more familiarly known as Pearson's Peak. According to a notation on the reverse, the rock pillar was erected at the halfway mark between Port aux Basques and St. John's to commemorate the completion of the TCH in Newfoundland.
I vividly remember as a child driving with my parents and siblings past this imposing object which towered above the trees just off the highway. Truth be known, we probably left the road and drove up the 100 or so metres to take a closer look at it.
However, in more recent years, I had never seen Pearson's Peak in my frequent trips across the island and often wondered what had happened to it. Had it fallen down or been dismantled? Or, as seemed more likely to me, had the highway taken a different route, bypassing it altogether? I wondered if I would ever learn the truth.
Two weeks ago, while on a research trip to Alberta, I asked my brother about Pearson's Peak. Being older and, I suppose, wiser than me, he suggested I could probably find the answer on the Internet. All he had to do was type these words into a search engine: "halfway marker across Newfoundland." Everything I wanted to know about the monument was there in plain sight.
Mark Richardson, in a blog about a trip he took on the TCH, explains, "When Premier Joey Smallwood drove west from St. John's in 1965 to greet Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, who was driving east from Port aux Basques, they met just outside town here (Grand Falls) at the halfway point of the fully paved Trans-Canada Highway. In doing so, the TCH was declared complete across Newfoundland. "We finished this drive in '65," declared the signs and posters. "Thanks to Mr. Pearson."
Pearson had agreed to fund 90 per cent of the total cost of constructing the road. His intention was to get it finished while he was still in office. According to Richardson, "the province set to with vigour while Smallwood knew the funds were available."
The Newfoundland premier, wanting to show appreciation for Pearson's largesse, decided to erect a monument at the halfway point. A rock pillar, roughly 25 metres high, was put in place. Named Pearson's Peak, it commemorated the generosity of the feds.
Incidentally, Maclean's magazine published a photo of Pearson preparing to unveil his plaque at Pearson's Peak.
That was the very object I had seen as a child crisscrossing the island with my family.
"But there's nothing there now," Richardson notes. "Nobody here is quite sure what became of it. Longtime residents recall that it fell into disrepair after the two backslapping Liberals left office; it became unsafe, with pieces of rock sometimes falling from it near the cars that were parked by amorous couples. There was nothing else to do there, after all - no picnic area or green space, just a circle of asphalt surrounded by bush with a pillar in the middle, about 100 metres up from the road.
"The province chose the cheaper option by dismantling it instead of repairing it; again, nobody is quite sure when, though it was probably 15 or 20 years ago. The entrance to the paved drive was dug up to prevent cars from going in, and aside from some rubble and firewood sticks, there's nothing whatsoever to mark the spot.
"What happened to the bronze sign on the peak? Apparently, it was found at a landfill site, but where it went then, no one can - or will - say."
Perhaps it's reflective of my age, but I lament the destruction of Pearson's Peak. Meanwhile, my personal postcard collection now contains a pictorial representation of the marker.
My brother, ever the wag, suggests, "You will have to worship elsewhere."
Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org