NL, My Home: 01–Francois Part 2

The first attempt at trying to get the CNC router to Francois was unsuccesful owing to high winds down in the fjord. The second attempt was called off before the aircraft took to the air, again due to unfavourable weather. Almost a month passed before the conditions were such that another try was made. A high brought a period of mild weather in to the Island, In its wake was a few days of mild temperatures and reasonable calm.

Opus 3.

The air was significantly colder (around -2 on the ground, even lower at altitude) but the air was less hazy. Most importantly the wind was very low, at around 10-15 knots. Back down bay d’Espoir and out over the high barrens. No moose this time, just lots of snow-covered bogs.

And rugged coastline.


Running out over a fjord is a feeling like no other. Takes your mind away from the day’s work. Takes your mind away from everything.


Sheer drops can be unexpected. Really. Watch.


Over the snow-covered rock and bog. Look at the ponds below–just begging to be stroked by a sharpened blade, a stick and puck. Look ahead at out to the horizon. What’s that black line? …a glacial rock striation maybe?


Things are not what they seem. It’s not a striation. Yes, the glaciers scraped away the rock but…no this is more than that.


Wait–we’ve seen that fjord before! Out over the water and a 90 degree turn starboard. Straight up the sound and a dog-leg to starboard. The water is calmer this time. No updrafts. See how sharp the snow-line is? That’s around 200 m above the water.


Yes, it’s Francois. The helicopter landed this time without incident. Everyone out. The chopper departs. What–did you actually think that was all it had to do today? Off to the west, probably Burgeo (pronounced burr geo). It’s quite a long, lonely way off to the west. Not much between us and it, just Grey River, a similar looking community. No doubt he’ll have to land and refuel along the way. Yes, some fuel is stored and no–not an airport, just a nondescript fuel depot; a lifeline.


Take a look around. This place is beautiful. It’s February. The water, though ice-free (it rarely freezes), is cold. It smells fresh. In the summer the smell off the ocean is as rich and complex as a fine wine…and just as pleasing.


The colours…so vivid. No need for fancy settings on the camera. Francois is live & in HD and HDR!


The roads here are not what you might be used to. They’re perfect for here though. No need for lights, roundabouts, traffic enforcement.

Not missed either.


Might be a problem getting the guys back home. (L-R) Frank Shapleigh (connectivity, WAN, R&D, etc.), Craig Goudie (Art Dept Head & eTeacher) and Tim Goodyear (Tech. Ed, Design and Fab. eTeacher).


This is a working trip. Frank–working on connectivity and adjusting the videoconference unit. Tim–setting up the CNC machine and showing the students how to use it safely.


Almost done–Tim showing how to install cutting bits.


Sample try. Students are doing a test cut on some stock. Craig is looking on, no doubt wondering how he can integrate this into the art and design course that he teaches. Just kidding. but yes–we do that too. Music as well…Science, Math, English, French, SS, more…

We use the Internet to connect with our students in real time…and asynchronously (not in real time) too. Internet? How is that done here in this isolated place?


Slip outside for a sec and look way up in one of the cliffs above the community. See that microwave tower way up there? It serves two purposes. It brings in normal telephone service. It also brings in a shared Internet connection. Recall Burgeo? It’s hundreds of km to the west and joined in to the TCH via another long lonely road. A T1 data line is fed through a microwave station in Burgeo and sent across the sea to Ramea, an Island community just off the south coast. …yeah, hundred of km away. From there it’s bounced, through a series of similar towers, to Grey River (a community a lot like here) and to here. The three schools share the connection and it’s cost-shared between our distance education project and a non-profit, the Burgeo broadcasting company. It was built using medium-tech equipment that was designed to withstand the isolation, unreliable power, constant wind and very rough weather.

Hey–this is not a place for cutsey pootsey high-speed sportsters. They would not last a day. This is a place for lower-tech, but solid as Gibraltar (yes–this is for YOU)–tanks!

No fibre service…yet. There’s a fibre cable out there in the ocean not too far offshore and one day, hopefully, we will be able to tap into it. For now, it’s a shared microwave link that many work hard to maintain.


This is Canada. Yes, those are Tim Horton’s Timbits on he table. No, there’s not a Tim’s in Francois. The stuff came all the way from Gander on the chopper. Hey–you BRING your welcome!

This place relies on distance education for high school. It’s not an add-on; it’s integrated. The students see online education as just a natural part of the day. They do not have to share the equipment. In any class period, each student had their own station.

See the printer-thingy in the middle of the table? Obviously it can print–assignments, etc. It also has a scanner. Hand written work, such as math assignments, are placed on the document feeder, scanned as PDF files and then uploaded to the dropbox in our Learning Management System. No more ‘dog ate it’ or ‘I lost it.’ Our eTeachers do not even need to print the work off if they do not want to. They can mark it onscreen using Adobe Acrobat and a WacomTablet, the same tablet they use when writing on the whiteboard in Blackboard Collaborate.



Look above. One of the students is online right now. See the whiteboard at the right side of the screen? You can see where the eTeacher has used an electronic yellow highlighter to show something is important. You can use that Wacom pen to scribble all over it as much as you want. The students can do the same–if the teacher gives them electronic permission. THAT’s generally only granted to students who’ve been asked questions, else everyone will chime in and create a blooming mess on the screen! At the top left is the class list. At the bottom left is a text messaging window.

What–they have to text in class? Okay–where have you been for the past few years? STOPPING students from texting is next to impossible. Why not put it to good use?

But what about speaking and listening? Look again at the picture. Notice that the student is wearing a headset-microphone? Yes, real-time talking and listening is part of the class, for everyone. We can decide who talks too…don’t YOU wish you could do that :>)


Here’s a view of another class. This is going on all the school-day long. Those students are joining students from other schools and are forming a virtual class.

And for those of you who are interested in MOOCs (never mind what it is). NO. We are not ‘massive;’ we engineer our virtual classes to be the same size as typical face to face classes. This is just blowing away the walls of the school and joining students from other parts of the province.

And yes, those students have scheduled class periods.

And they’d better be there. :>)  Distance Education Tip: it’s not about the technology! It’s about making human connections. When you forget you are using the technology–it’s working.

I digress. While side-tripping about distance education the guys finished up and were off to the helicopter.


Sweet Moses!  Francois is beautiful!


Rugged land again. It’s a long way back to base.


And people are tired.


Once the chopper lands it’s still around 3-4 hours to Gander, depending on the roads.

They were not too bad.

But school is tomorrow. Again.


17 thoughts on “NL, My Home: 01–Francois Part 2

  1. What an amazing post! The weather was gorgeous and I love the scenery – I’m a water person and enjoy seeing mountains. Some of the cliffs are awesome. The pictures of Francois were unexpected and beautiful, love the colors. It is a whole new experience to see the small towns there – I had no idea. Keep posting about them because the pictures are great and I like learning about places I never knew where around.

    1. Glad you liked it! Yes, Francois is a very precious place. Most small communities in my province are under great stress. The social pressures send the young people, in droves, away to larger places and in today’s global economy, simply put, small communities are seen as too small. It’s different here, though. The people have worked hard, have sacrificed to live here and the pride shows through. And, agreed–it’s truly beautiful.

  2. johnlmalone

    phenomonal scenery. great short stories come out of places and communities like this. it is good that your blog honours them

  3. But is it only beautiful if you don’t live there? By which I mean, it is easy to appreciate somewhere when you aren’t stuck there, hence your comment about young people leaving.

    Totally appreciate the work being done to support a community, but it can’t be an easy place to live in, especially for young people. So trapped!

    1. You are very right. I have been working with rural schools in NL for 30 years now and have observed a long and steady exodus of our young people. Not only are they leaving the rural communities but they are also leaving the province. Though, at the moment, due to offshore oil & gas we are doing fairly well, the fact is that other parts of Canada–most notably Alberta–are doing considerably better. The young people are faced with this: stay here with family and earn 30-50 thousand or go to somewhere like Fort McMurray, Alberta and earn 3 to 5 times as much. The people are voting with their feet. Those that stay, though, love it. The freedom, the inner peace, the safety and yes, the pay is not bad.

      As to your last sentence–yes, it happens. Over the years I have worked with many people who long for the city life–for them it’s not just about $$$; they want what the city has to offer. To them, yes, every day is just one step closer to getting away.

      Now–full circle and back to your insight. We have a saying here: How do you find a Newfoundlander in heaven? (S)he’s the only one trying to get back home. It’s so true. The vast majority of our ‘leavers’ just can’t wait to get back home for vacation or for retirement. Many of the houses in our rural communities are, in fact, only summer homes and many, many more are owned by those who are nearing retirement and decide it’s not worth it moving on.

      So many differences; so many stories!

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