“When Canada joined Newfoundland in 1949…” The line is delivered as a joke today, but it reflects the tension in Newfoundland pending the decision to join Confederation. The referendum result was 52.3% to 47.7%, and in the capital of St. John’s on March 31, 1949, the day Newfoundland entered Confederation, black ties and black flags at half-mast signaled the end of hopes of many Newfoundlanders for an independent Newfoundland.
Over the years, I’ve met Newfoundlanders who had relocated to Alberta and Ontario for employment. Friendly, engaging people, all fiercely proud of their Newfoundland heritage. They made me eager to visit their province. Finally, this summer, Ed and I did that.
We landed in Deer Lake, spent two days in Corner Brook, then travelled up the Great Northern Peninsula to Gros Morne National Park. We walked across bog lands to Western Brook Pond where we took a cruise inside an ancient fjord carved by glaciers millennia ago. The village of Cow Head was our base in Gros Morne, and our window in the Shallow Bay Motel looked out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence with a chain of small islands in the near distance. Magical in the evenings!
At St. Barbe, we took the passenger and car ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle to Blanc-Sablon, Que., then travelled down the road to L’Anse-au-Clair, Labrador. A beautiful, barren mountain landscape with huge boulders, ponds and yellow lichen on exposed rocks. Still some snow in late July in roadside ditches and in the hills. Red Bay Whaling Station, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was a major Basque whaling site in the 16th and 17th centuries. Historians believe a decline in whale stocks led to the abandonment of the station.
L’Anse aux Meadows is at the northernmost tip of the Great Northern Peninsula; the Vikings landed there 10 centuries ago. Archaeological evidence of a Norse presence was discovered in the 1960s, and L’Anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Norse site on mainland North America and it may have ties to Leif Erikson. The remains of eight wood-framed peat-turf Norse buildings were uncovered during the evacuation of the site between 1961 and 1968. The buildings in the photo below are reconstructions of the Norse buildings; the originals have been reburied.
So much to see in Newfoundland. To the left is a shot of Trinity, a small town on Trinity Bay with beautifully restored fishing rooms and heritage saltbox houses. The buildings’ exteriors are all wooden; a law was passed forbidding aluminum siding. Since the cod moratorium in 1992 (the once-plentiful fish stocks had dwindled to near-extinction), many fishing villages now focus on tourism.
Towns with whimsical names: Dildo, Heart’s Delight, Heart’s Desire and Heart’s Content. In Heart’s Content, also on Trinity Bay, we visited the Heart’s Content Cable Station, that served as the western terminus of the first permanent trans-oceanic submarine telegraph cable, with its sister station on Valentia Island, Ireland. The original cable was first brought ashore on July 27, 1866, and the station remained in use until it was closed in 1965.
And, of course, the capital and largest centre in the province, St. John’s. The city is the oldest post-Columbian European settlement in North America and has a magnificent, protected harbour. The Narrows, a long, narrow channel between the Southside and Signal hills, is the harbour’s only entrance and only 61 metres wide at its narrowest point. The city’s jellybean houses, the colourful row houses in the photo on the left, many of them on steep streets, give the city its distinctive character. They harken back to the time when houses throughout the province along the coast were brightly painted to make them visible to fishermen in foggy weather. The “tradition” was revived in the late 1970s to inject new life into a declining downtown. The row houses have become a symbol of St. John’s, shown in ads, on signs and replicated in souvenirs sold in gift shops.
Newfoundlanders do marvelous things with language. Here are some of their expressions, which mirror the Gaelic dialects spoken by early settlers:
Translation: “What are you up to?”
“Where y’ longs to?”
Translation: Where are you from?
“Who knit ya?”
Translation: Who’s your mother/parents?
“I’m gutfounded. Fire up a scoff.”
Translation: I’m hungry. Make me some food.
And “Long may your big jib draw.”
Translation: May you have good fortune for a long time.
And here’s a Newfoundland recipe I picked up: MOOSE FARTS, a confectionary not unlike chocolate truffles.
Ingredients: 1 can sweetened condensed milk, about 300 ml. 1/4 cup melted butter. 1 tsp vanilla. 1 1/2 cups of (each) dried coconut, graham cracker crumbs and chocolate chips.
Instructions: Melt butter and combine with condensed milk and vanilla extract until well blended. Add graham crumbs, coconut and chocolate chips. Mix to combine well. Refrigerate for an hour before rolling into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls into additional graham crumbs and chill until firm. Store in a sealed, refrigerated container.