The Lure of Newfoundland and Labrador


Nestled into the northeast corner of North America, Newfoundland and Labrador offers a leisurely Old World pace, modern conveniences and a unique spirit. It is one of the best-kept vacation secrets on the continent. The air is clean, the people are friendly and the vistas -- well, you'll just have to see for yourself.

It is the cradle of civilization in North America. It is the region where Viking adventurers landed in Anno Domini One Thousand and One and named the newly discovered country Markland, or Land of Forest. It is the New Founde Isle of John Cabot who sailed westward from Bristol, England in 1497 and made his landfall at Cape Bonavista. It has the proud honour of ranking as the first of Britian's overseas colonies, for John Cabot set up the flag of England here and took possession in the name of his sovereign, King Henry VII.

On the fifth of August, 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert reaffirmed this right of British ownership when he claimed the island in the name of Queen Elizabeth I, and on the King's Beach in the harbour of St. John's set up the first colonial government of Britian overseas.

Here, too, in more modern times, were wrought some of the greatest accomplishments of science. In the year, 1866, the "Great Eastern", a wonder ship of her day, landed at Heart's Content the first successful trans-Atlantic cable. At Cabot Tower on Signal Hill, St. John's, Guglielmo Marconi received the first wireless signals across the Atlantic on December 12, 1901. From Lester's Field in St. John's the intrepid airmen Alcock and Brown took off for the first non-stop flight from America to Europe on June 14, 1919.

There are two distinct parts to Newfoundland and Labrador. The island of Newfoundland, located at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, is about half way between the centre of North America and Western Europe. Its location has always been key to its history. The Vikings landed here 1,000 years ago and established the first European settlement in the New World. During the past two centuries the island has been the landing site of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, the jump-off for the first non-stop air crossing of that great ocean and the spot where Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic wireless message.

The Strait of Belle Isle separates the island from Labrador to the north. Bordering on the Canadian province of Quebec, it remains a vast, pristine wilderness. The northern lights shine over the largest caribou herd in the world. It was here in the sixteenth century that a Basque whaling fleet established one of the earliest industrial complexes in the New World.

Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, hardy folk from the west of England and Ireland settled in the sheltered bays along the rugged shores to catch fish. In the small villages and towns that grew from the early settlers' efforts, their descendants still pursue a way of life that has changed little over the centuries. Words and expressions that were familiar in Shakespeare's day still grace the tongues of coastal residents.

In cosmopolitan St. John's you can walk out of a fine restaurant and down the oldest street in North America to the harbour where sailors from around the globe still congregate. It's not like the rough-and-tumble days of pirates and adventurers, but it's still a lively seaport. Downtown St. John's has some of the best night-life anywhere. There's music for every taste, from a harpist in a hotel restaurant, to jazz, rock and traditional, toe-tapping jigs and reels. It's like a permanent Mardi Gras without the excesses. Art galleries, theatres, the Newfoundland Museum and a fine wine cellar are just a few of the attractions. From atop Signal Hill, where Marconi ushered in the modern era of communications, the ancient city stretches out before you. Brightly-coloured houses ramble up a hill topped by a cathedral. Ships move in and out of the harbour. Off to the south is Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America and a must-see spot for any visitor. The older part of town is criss-crossed by narrow alleyways that have been used for hundreds of years. Every summer cadets in period costume re-enact colonial-era military manoeuvres on Signal Hill National Historic Site.

Outside St. John's the richness and diversity of the landscape is captivating. Just 30 miles from the capital city in the Witless Bay Ecological reserve, you can take a cruise to see whales, millions of seabirds and, in late spring and early summer, icebergs. On the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula you'll find the Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve where thousands of gannets, murres and other seabirds nest to raise their young. This is the most spectacular - and most accessible seabird colony in the province. It's just a 10-minute walk along the clifftops from the lighthouse and new interpretation centre.

In Conception Bay you can visit Brigus. This very English village was the home of Captain Robert Bartlett, who accompanied Admiral Robert Peary on his polar explorations. His house has been restored and will be open to the public beginning in June, 1995. In Harbour Grace the local museum is right on the spot where the infamous pirate Peter Easton had his headquarters. Further along the north shore of Conception Bay is Northern Bay Sands, one of the finest beaches in Canada.

The names of communities and geographical features attest to Newfoundlanders' sense of humour. You'll laugh all the way from Bumble Bee Bight to Ha Ha Bay to Chase Me Further Pond. At Heart's Content you'll find just that, plus the cable station from where telegraph messages traversed the first Trans-Atlantic cable.

It's in these outports where you'll find local festivals. From dory races to farmer's field days to folk music festivals, these are wonderful places to meet the folks who live here. Newfoundlanders are universally recognized for their warmth and openness. Strike up a conversation with someone in a store, on a wharf or at the post office and you might just find yourself in someone's home. Stories, songs and local lore are all delivered in a distinct accent that's a mixture of English and Irish dialects that have mingled into a unique language. It's so distinct there's even a Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

Everywhere you go you'll find people willing to tell you the history of their area. Newfoundlanders are proud of their past and have conserved many artifacts in local museums. In Hiscock House at Trinity, for instance, you'll see how a local merchant family lived in the nineteenth century. At Cape Bonavista you'll find the spot where John Cabot landed in 1497, an event we will mark with an international series of events, including a replica of Cabot's shop Matthew, in 1997.

Many of the most beautiful scenic areas are parks. There are over 80 provincial parks throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Whether you plan to camp for a week or just enjoy a leisurely walk in the woods, you'll find place that suits your fancy.

For the adventurous there are hiking trails, canoe routes and wilderness camping. Hunters and fishermen will find Newfoundland and Labrador a place where the big ones usually don't get away. Nature photographers will find an abundance of wildlife and scenic beauty to capture on film.

It's on Newfoundland's west coast that you will find our Gros Morne National Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unique geology. Here you will find the Tablelands, flat butte-like structures that wouldn't be out of place in the American badlands. This is the northern extension of the Appalachian Mountains and some of the oldest rocks on the planet. Thrust high above sea level when huge geological plates collided, the Tablelands are unique in a park where there's a new natural wonder around every corner. And don't miss the opportunity to take a boat ride on Western Brook Pond, a fjord with 2,000-foot sides.

At the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula is one of the most famous places in the world and our second UNESCO World Heritage Site: L'Anse aux Meadows where the Vikings lived 1,000 years ago. Their sod hut village has been reconstructed and an interpretation centre helps visitors discover a long-lost world.

Not far away, on the Labrador side of the Strait of Belle Isle, you can visit Red Bay , which was the world whaling capital in the late sixteenth century. Up to half a million barrels of whale oil were processed here every year in a complex where hundreds of Basque mariners laboured to light the lamps of Europe at the end of the Middle Ages - and make fortunes for the ship owners.

In nearby L'Anse Amour you will find the 7,500-year-old burial site of a 12-year-old boy, the oldest of its kind in North America. We know little of these people who lived here then. They are called the Maritime Archaic Indians. Along with the Dorset Eskimos , they lived here when the Pharaohs ruled Egypt.

Most people visit Newfoundland and Labrador during the summer, but it's fast becoming known as a great place for winter sports. Marble Mountain near Corner Brook on Newfoundland's west coast has some of the best ski slopes in eastern Canada, and new ski facilities are now open in Clarenville on the east coast.

------------------------ 'The Lure of Newfoundland and Labrador' text is courtesy of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.
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