“Ow’s she cuttin’ me cocky?”
“Beskind b’y. Ow’s she getting on?”
“How are you, my friend? “
“I’m feeling great. How are you faring?”
After a month (May 18-June 18) of touring Newfoundland in a rented campervan, feeling discombobulated and achingly homesick for the place, it’s taken me this long to feel “Beskind.”
The province with the oldest exposed rocks in the world. The first province to respond to the Titanic’s distress signal, vaccinate for smallpox, host a transatlantic flight, use wireless communication, prove the theory of continental drift. The province with the oldest city and the oldest street in North America. The province whose people are Canada’s most giving1, most sexually active2 and most satisfied3.
In no specific order, here are 13 reasons why The Rock gobsmacked us.
Vastly beautiful scenery
With the longest shoreline in the country, Newfoundland has more than 29,000 kilometres of rugged seaside abraded by fjords and harbours alongside steep cliffs and barren moors. At almost every turn, you’re struck by the ultramarine blue of a pond—their name for any inland body of water, be it small as a slough in Saskatchewan or large as Lake Minnewaka in Banff. Green-as-Ireland boreal forests, rusty-orange lichens that grow nowhere else in the world, the tawny Tablelands—one of the few places on the planet where you can glimpse the Earth’s mantle—and even in early spring, wildflowers peeping up to turn their colours to the sun.
Remote, underrated wilderness
Growing up in Saskatchewan, appreciating wide-open spaces with few people is in our DNA. Our prairie birthplace comes second; Newfoundland is Canada’s most sparsely populated province. Only ~525,000 people call The Rock home, about the same number who live in Quebec City. Isolated from the rest of Canada until it joined Confederation in 1949, Newfoundland feels more like another country than another province. Geographically, it’s a tilted plateau, the west an extension of North America, the east once part of northern Africa. Psychologically, it’s a culture tilted by the spirit of early settlers from Ireland, England and Acadia. A place of specificity where connections between geography and culture seem cooperative rather than antagonistic.
Whenever we hear Arlene has hiked one of our favourite trails in the Rockies, I think of Blue Rodeo’s lyrics, “Oh how I miss those Western Skies,” and become homesick for Alberta. We rarely lace up our hiking boots in Vancouver. Slogging through the rainforest for a peek-a-boo view of the Pacific, driving three hours to reach a trailhead or traipsing the ski hills at Whistler in summer holds little appeal. It may be unfair, given we’ve hiked very little in Eastern Canada and not at all in Manitoba or Nunavut, but from our experience (> 200 kms on >40 trails over the month), Newfoundland offers the country’s best hiking opportunities. Gorgeous open vistas, oceanside trails, varied scenery, community-maintained stairs and boardwalks…
Writing about Norway, I discovered that fishermen painted their homes bright red, sunshine yellow and crayon green because coloured paint was a lot less expensive than white. Maybe it’s the same reason why Newfoundland homes dot the harbours and hillsides with eye-popping shades of colour, bursts of optimism in a harsh landscape.
Invigorating spring weather
“You look cold,” Teresa emailed after seeing a photo of us hiking Quirpon Island. While in some (okay, many) of our 8,271 photos, the weather looks bleak, bracing, we were never scrammed (numb with cold), thanks to long underwear, puff jackets and toques. Often, with the intense sunlight, a light sweater was sufficient even if was only 11°. Wendy, a friend we consulted before our trip, says the best time to visit her birth province is autumn. But then we would have missed one of the best things about Newfoundland, which is…
“It took them 10,000 years to pay us a visit.
Luckily, they come back every spring.
33 icebergs are currently drifting past our shores.”
Every day we checked https://icebergfinder.com to see if Arctic giants were floating toward us. They’re highly unpredictable guests; almost no icebergs broke away from Greenland to visit Newfoundland last year. While we were there, the Labrador current ferried about 20 icebergs to their slow deaths, to their graveyards in the waters of northern Newfoundland. And we saw one! In The Colsh near Twillingate, right from the causeway!
Endearing super-cute Atlantic puffins—we saw hundreds of The Provincial Bird in three locations. For hours we watched Northern gannets at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve where 87,900 of these elegant seabirds come to breed. And Thick-billed murres, looking so smart with their monocled eyes. Early in our trip, spruce grouse ruffled on forested hiking trails. Newfoundland has too many moose, one for every five residents. Caribou roam wild. As do red foxes. And polar bears. We saw all this wildlife, except for polar bears; they left Quirpon before we arrived. Bonus (or not): there’s little danger of wildlife being killed on the TCH because you have to slow down every 200 metres to avoid the many, chiselled potholes. Shake, rattle and roll— given the rough ride, Magellan named our campervan “Elvis.”
Warm and welcoming people, fun-loving, funny and kind to the core
We were treated with so many gestures of kindness. A ride to Adelaide Oyster House in St. John’s. Tom’s personal phone number in case anything went wrong during our trip. Extra chips and a second serving of coleslaw from Colleen at Little Red Chip Wagon when we shared one order of fish & chips. A chance to shop when Marnie opened Running the Goat for us on a Monday when her place is closed. Propane when John, who operates the Esso station in Port Saunders, came in on a Saturday to fill our almost-empty tank. Maclean’s magazine says Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the Top 10 Friendliest Cultures—in the World.
Captivating and lyrical language
As you saw in the opening words of this story. Here’s some more Newfinese we heard. More on Al, on the tour he gave us of Titling: “Bill Hurley, he was a hard ticket, living on the cove by himself, away from town.” (The Dictionary of Newfoundland English, first published in 1982, contains hundreds of words and phrases you’ll find nowhere else and defines hard ticket as “intractable person, stubborn.”) Sandra at the Twillingate Dinner Theatre: “Yep, she’s goin’ to Fogo. Goin’ overseas.” Jordan at the Anchor Inn introducing the bar toast: “Raise your glass three times and say ‘1, 2, 3, SOCIABLE.’” Captain Al, in his thick-knit navy sweater, enroute to Witless Bay Ecological Reserve: “NO JUMPING on the deck. We mean it. And if you do, we insist you do a somersault. Start by putting your head between your knees. And you might as well move it up and kiss your ass good-bye because that’s the last time you’ll see it.”
Real community spirit
When the storms wiped out Bill Hurley’s fishing stage for the umpteenth time and he reluctantly decided to move into Tilting, the townspeople helped raise his house onto logs and move it into town. That long-ago neighbourly spirit appears alive and well. Manifested in the communities who build and care for hiking trails, like the people of King’s Point who maintain the 2,200 steps on the Alexander Murray Trail. The Tidy Towns awards, for which almost every village we saw could be a contender. Open Line, a radio show on VOCM, Paddy Daly conversing with fishermen about newly reduced shrimp quotas, with jubilados on the scarcity of doctors and with a distraught woman who’d lost her daughter’s dog.
Michael Crummey, Mary Walsh, Mark Critch, Mary Dalton, Pam Hall, Kym Greeley, Marlene Creates, Joan Clark, Lisa Moore, The Kubasonics (whom we heard at the Lawnya Vawnya festival)…“St. John’s has one of the highest concentrations of writers, musicians, actors, and comedians in the country—although we have been known to loan them out to the rest of Canada,” says the Newfoundland and Labrador Traveller’s Guide. Creativity flourishes outside the capital, too. Rising Tide Theatre in the town of Trinity (pop. 150) commissioned four of the twelve plays it’s presenting this season. Quilters of Newfoundland and Labrador has 2,400 members. St. Anthony (pop. 2,260) hosts a week-long iceberg festival every June, just one of the more than 150 annual festivals and events listed in the province’s Traveller’s Guide!
Deep history and heritage
Five different Indigenous groups called this place home; four still do. Newfoundland was the first place on the continent to be settled by people who had come-from-away, the Vikings, in ~1000 AD. The province hosts five UNESCO sites; only Alberta has more with six. Discovery Geopark, a collection of geologically significant sites on the upper Bonavista Peninsula where some of the best-preserved fossils in the world, dates back to over half a billion years ago.
Ever heard of Marasheens? The very first oyster from NL and our new favourite. Forget Digby scallops; smaller and sweeter are the Icelandic scallops we bought at Rocky Harbour. After our first lobster dinner at Seaside Restaurant in Trout River, we realized the taste difference between a lobster caught half a km from your plate a few hours ago compared to one that’s travelled 6,530 km across the country. How many seafood chowders did we eat to see if any could better the one at the Lightkeepers Cafe? I used to snub my nose at Snow crab, favouring Dungeness and Alaska King. Not anymore. (Save your fork, there’s pie: Partridgeberry, molasses custard, rhubarb cream…)
There are bakers’ dozens more reasons beyond the net of 13 we’ve gathered to collect our feelings of being submerged in the flow of life in this extraordinary place. This year the province is hosting “Come Home 2022” to encourage former residents living away to come home, remind current residents of the wonders in their own backyard and attract non-resident visitors. I wish I was in the middle category, home on the Bonavista Peninsula, slaking my soul with a day of oceanside hiking, dinner at Boreal Forest, maybe a visit to Kind Seas studio, feelin’ Beskind b’y.
Ricketts, Karen. “The power of love: Why a 96-year-old man sold his Ontario house and moved to rural Newfoundland.” CBC. July 3, 2022.
Robinson, Chris. “Top Ten Friendly People, Chris Robinson’s Top Ten Favourite Places.” Takeoffeh.com. May 10, 2010.
2 “12 Fun Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Newfoundland and Labrador.” Narcity, April 6, 2017.
3 ”Newfoundland has highest levels of life satisfaction in Canada and B.C. the least, Statcan finds”. National Post, June 11, 2022.