By Byron Thomas.
With one short visit, the province of Newfoundland can be a source of delight, amazement and wonder. It is one of the only places on earth where time has virtually stood still. Sure, the modern amenities and new-aged technology exists, but under it all lays a God-fearing population of friendly, content and giving people who work hard, love their neighbors and enjoy life and all it has to offer.
The people of Newfoundland are known for their creativity, their hospitality and their charisma. They are a people who have adapted to life in a turbulent climate and a culture distinguished by dialects comprised of English, French and Irish. The island itself is known for its majestic scenery, its rugged coastline, towering mountains and cliffs, distinct culinary tastes, spectacular ocean views, and its grand assortment of wildlife. One of the first places to be traveled upon in the New World, it has a rich and tremendous ethnic history.
Newfoundland’s northernmost tip, L’Anse Aux Meadows, was once a Norse settlement when it was colonized by the Vikings around AD 1000. Artifacts, the outline of Norse encampments and reconstructed sod huts can be found in the area today. The area is now a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site.
Later, during the 15th and 16th centuries, the Beothuk inhabited Newfoundland. Though no one knows for sure the origin of these people, it is believed they were a native group that came from Labrador. The Beothuk’s became extinct in 1829 with the death of its last recorded surviving member.
The Micmac peoples also inhabited Newfoundland in the late 17th century and some of their descendants still remain there today.
On June 24, 1497, John Cabot became the first European, since the Vikings, to discover Newfoundland and on August 3, 1583, Newfoundland became officially recognized as England’s first overseas colony and fell under the authority of Queen Elizabeth I.
From 1610 to 1728 colonial settlements began popping up on the island under the administration of the King of England. In 1832, Newfoundland received a colonial assembly, which was, and still is, referred to as the House of Assembly. Through years of governmental chaos, Newfoundland finally joined Canada, becoming its tenth province on March 31, 1949.
The modern day tourist can explore and benefit from an infinite abundance of points of interest on the island. The first, and probably the most frequently visited, is St. John’s, the province’s capital city.
Located on the northeast coast of the Avalon Peninsula in southeastern Newfoundland, St. John’s is the most easterly city and is considered to be the oldest English speaking city in North America. It is also home to the oldest sporting event, the Royal St. John’s Regatta, dating back to 1816.
Also in the city of St. John’s, you can find the internationally renowned George Street. Populated mainly by bars and pubs and closed to traffic all evening and most of the business day, it is believed that George Street has the most pubs and bars per square foot than any other street in North America. The street does not usually become crowded with pedestrians until later at night, around midnight, and will remain busy until early in the morning, possibly as early as 6 am, despite the absence of the sale of alcohol. The street is the venue for an annual Mardi Gras celebration in October, even though most celebrations of this type occur in February in other parts of the world. However, the largest celebration on George Street is the six-night George Street Festival which occurs in early August and typically concludes on the Tuesday night before the Royal St. John’s Regatta, which is set for the first Wednesday in August.
Signal Hill is another major attraction within the city of St. John’s. It has had a huge part in Newfoundland’s military and communications history since the 18th century. Over 250 years of military protection is located throughout the site. Flag signals flown on the hill forecast the arrival of military and merchant vessels. In 1901, Marconi made communications history at Signal Hill by receiving the first trans-Atlantic wireless radio signal. Visit Cabot Tower, built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s explorations in the New World. Take in the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the city of St. John’s sprawled against the horizon. You may also hike up to 5km of walking trails, whale watch and scour the deep blue Atlantic for icebergs along the coast.
Gros Morne National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its geological history and its remarkable scenery, is located on the west coast of Newfoundland. Gros Morne is a member of the Long Range Mountains, a distant range of the Appalachians and is the remains of a mountain range formed 1.2 billion years ago. The park’s rock formations include oceanic crust, mantle, sedimentary, granite and igneous. Western Brook Pond, a body of fresh water found in Gros Morne, was carved out by glaciers 25,000 to 10,000 years ago. The water found there is so pure it has been assigned the highest purity rating available for natural bodies of water. Another section of Gros Morne is known as the Tablelands and resembles a dessert because of the peridotite. Take a long walk along the wooded coastline which is full with spruce and balsam fir trees. Don’t be surprised to see the common wildlife in the park including lynx, black bear, caribou and moose. Visitors may hike the mountain side or scale the rugged cliff rock. A leisurely boat tour can bring visitors close to the towering cliffs, waterfalls, marine inlets and sandy beaches. Swimming, hiking, picnicking, kayaking and fishing are also on the list of activities available at Gros Morne.
Is hiking is your idea of escaping the hustle and bustle and every day life? Then the East Coast Trail, which boasts a 540km hike that provides breathtaking scenery in a wilderness-like setting, wildlife, and convenience all at the same time, is what you are looking for. The trail will guide you past cliffs, deep creeks, a natural wave-driven geyser, abandoned settlements, lighthouses, whales, icebergs, historical sites and a 50m suspension bridge. The trail also finds its path through 30 communities which provide services such as accommodation, dining, and entertainment.
If you’re traveling to Newfoundland during the winter months, visit Marble Mountain in Corner Brook. It is sure to fulfill your need for snow and ice. Marble Mountain Ski Resort is said to have the best skiing conditions anywhere east of the Rockies, with an average snow fall of 5m each year. The beautiful and modern resort was a key venue for the 1999 Canada Winter Games. Marble Mountain boasts nearly 30 ski runs, the highest features almost a 49m drop. Complete your stay by checking into Marble Villa, a resort setting with condominium-style accommodations.
If you are of Irish decent, the town of Tilting, located on the eastern end of Fogo Island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, might be of interest to you. The town was recognized in 2005 as a National Cultural Landscape District of Canada by Parks Canada. It is also a Registered Heritage District by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. Settled in the 1700s, and rich with Irish culture and dialect, Tilting is distinguished for the long-established fishing buildings and residences, most of which have been restored in recent years. Tilting is one of the most historically significant settlements in Eastern Canada. Still inhabited by descendants of its early families, Tilting survives as a rare example of a once common Irish-Newfoundland cultural landscape.
Whale watching has become a huge part of Newfoundland’s tourism industry over the past few years. The Cape Spear area is one of the most popular destinations for this activity. Large numbers of whales migrate to the Newfoundland coast every year, averaging in 22 different species at any given time, however, the months of May thru to September prove to be have more whale activity. The most common species include the Humpback, Minke, Fin and Pilot whales, but Beluga whales tend to frequent the coast as well. Until you have experienced seeing a real live whale, in its natural environment, you can’t truly imagine how small we really are and how big this world really is.
The island, its rugged shores beaten by the elements and gracefully warmed by the suns delicate rays, is a paradise. It’s a paradise to those of us who appreciate the smaller, more fragile, things in life. It’s a home to rolling green hills, jagged mountains, shimmering blue water as far as the eye can see, wildlife undisturbed and clean, unpolluted air. It’s a place where one can still drink from a nearby stream, sample nature’s own fruit and berries and visually capture what can only be described as heaven.
By Byron Thomas