Newfoundland and Labrador was Canada’s most recent province, joining confederation in 1949. Its Irish flavour and friendly people are its reputation. Ricky and I met Stacey at Halifax airport to hop across to Newfoundland’s capital, St Johns, for my 10th and final Canadian Province and last stop in Canada. The first mark of what was in store in this stand out province was its half hour time difference, putting it off kilter with the rest of Canada. True to its name, Fogtown, it was a foggy flight, descending over the lights of the city where we would begin our adventure.
The quiet streets were chilly as we headed in to explore the city of colourful, jelly bean houses the next morning. The streets were on steep hills orientated towards the port of St John’s where cargo and expedition ships lined the waters. The North Head Trail took us quickly out of the centre and into ramshackle fishing houses on craggy rock edges. Around every corner another breathtaking stretch of coast emerged. We climbed up and along until we stood atop Signal Hill. The Cabot Tower was one of a few Marconi wireless station which relayed messages across the ocean marking the beginning of trans Atlantic communication. The tower is so named after John Cabot, credited with being the first European to survey Newfoundland in 1497 under commission of Henry VII. The same John Cabot (originally Giovanni Caboto) who shaped much of Bristols history, making an interesting link to this British city.
In the afternoon we explored further afield stopping off in the colourful coastal explosion of Quidi Vidi. Heading south in Conception Bay we stepped out at Cape Spear, the most easterly point of Canada. Never far from the water, this place in summer is a whale watching, puffin filled coastal paradise. With its dramatic waves and beautiful cliffs, it provides an endlessly fascinating outlook.
Back in the city, we headed into town to find some of its friendly inhabitants. At the Rooms Museum, the late night vista of the cities harbour was lit up and inside was full of information about why it is so Irish. As an English settlement with harsh conditions, the land was in need of supplies which were being sent on boats which stocked up in Ireland before heading across the atlantic. Naturally workers were needed to crew these boats and the promise of better wages drew them from their home towns in the south of Ireland and on to the new world. At first this was seasonal work, but led to more permanent settlements. As Irish settlement grew however, the Catholic and Protestant rifts between the English and Irish inhabitants were apparent and practicing Catholicism was illegal under the 1729 decree which held until 1779. This meant that Irish settled in different nooks of the island to the English. By 1840, around half of the population was Irish.
This Irish flavour continued as we found our pub for the night. Inside it was standing room only as musicians melodies folk tunes on their violins.
A mandatory Newfoundland stop is the small town of Dildo. The town has fully embraced its funny name and has recently made headlines as it caught the eye of Jimmy Kimmel, the talk show host from Hollywood. He ran a ‘campaign’ to become Mayor of the town and they agreed on the condition he pays them a visit. Now in the hills of the beautiful bay they have their very own Hollywood-esque sign reading ‘Dildo’ and they are officially twinned with Hollywood. We made the obligatory photo stops and visited the brewery, but already we were getting a taste for the small, colourful Newfoundland towns.
Leaving the city, our Newfoundland adventure continued north to the Bonavista peninsula. “O Bueno visa” are claimed to be Cabot’s (an Italian) first words when he spotted this land. With flame coloured foliage in full burst, the drive wound towards Trinity. Moose spotting was a full time job and the count grew to five. They are not native to Newfoundland but have flourished since their introduction as they have no predators. Despite being hunted during the autumn season, their numbers are high at 115,000. Churches and colourful houses perched patiently on this rocky outcrop enduring the ever changing weather. Mittens were purchased to fight off the wind chill as we looked out into Iceburg Alley, in summer, the highway of floating ice from Greenland. From Trinity beach, the steep sided cliffs dropped away into ocean making for an imposing defence.
Waking up in Bonavista, we visited the lighthouse which warned ships away from the folds of rocky coast. In Dungeon Provincial park, the rocks were doing their own thing, many giving way to the ocean and forming dimples and collapses in the cliff. A huge sinkhole had become a blowhole for huge waves to pulse through.
Our day’s drive would begin east to Terra Nova National Park. We were never far from the coast, but equally never felt close to civilisation, passing the occasional gas station or car. We stopped for a very autumnal picnic on the shores of the sandy pond where a bird took a liking to Stacey’s hat and landed on her head every time she looked the other way. We did the scenic hike, as well as another viewpoint, in almost poised silence, hoping every crunch of a leaf would be a moose.
Our perch for the evening was Bishops Falls, where the houses were large and inviting but the streets were quiet. We discovered that October is hunting season, both for the introduced moose but also for Black Bears who are baited and tracked. It was unfortunate that in this sleepy town, a car on the side of the road could meaning little sinister. For us, this little stop was the gateway to the west of the island.
Next up, Gros Morne National Park.