Rock of Ages

Travel Guide to Canada - - Table Of Contents - BY SU­SAN MACCALLUM-WHITCOMB

Touch­ing down in St. John’s, it is hard not to be im­pressed by how vi­brant this lit­tle cap­i­tal city is in touris­tic terms. De­spite is­sues in the off-shore oil in­dus­try, the air­port is ex­pand­ing, cruise ship calls are in­creas­ing, new ho­tels are open­ing, the restau­rant scene keeps get­ting hot­ter, and a youth­ful en­ergy is ev­ery­where ap­par­ent. Nev­er­the­less, the prov­ince as a whole has lost none of its “long ago and far­away” feel.

Sim­ple ge­og­ra­phy helps ac­count for the lat­ter. Af­ter all, the is­land of New­found­land (a.k.a. The Rock) sits alone in the North At­lantic, while Labrador (The Big Land) is tucked into north­ern Québec. As for the for­mer, this place is loaded with enough time-bur­nished at­trac­tions—four UN­ESCO World Her­itage sites among them—to lend it an age­less ap­peal.


His­tory lovers will ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that Canada’s youngest prov­ince is ac­tu­ally very old. The UN­ESCO-des­ig­nated Red Bay Basque Whal­ing Sta­tion, for in­stance, is proof that Labrador was al­ready an in­ter­na­tional in­dus­trial cen­tre well be­fore our “moth­er­land” made its first at­tempts to set­tle the New World fur­ther south. On-site, vis­i­tors can ogle ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds that re­call the mid-1500s and catch a film re­count­ing the heady days when whalers from France and Spain busily man­u­fac­tured much-cov­eted oil from blub­ber here (­bay).

That seems like only yes­ter­day com­pared to New­found­land’s mil­len­nium-old sis­ter site, L’Anse aux Mead­ows. Leif Eriks­son and

his Vik­ing crew ar­rived on the spot in 1000 AD, then pro­ceeded to build shel­ters out of the earth and craft iron from the bog-ore it yielded. Their set­tle­ment was so shrouded in time that its very ex­is­tence was dis­missed as a myth un­til 1960, when Helge Ingstad and his ar­chae­ol­o­gist wife, Anne, un­cov­ered what was left of it. To­day it fea­tures at­mo­spheric sod huts, faux Vik­ings, and an arte­fact-filled vis­i­tor’s cen­tre (­ows).


While ex­plor­ing the prov­ince’s coastal wa­ters in sum­mer, you might ob­serve whales like the ones that lured the Basque fish­er­man all those cen­turies ago, or see su­per­sized ice­bergs that pre­date the Vik­ings. The land it­self, more­over, is pos­i­tively primeval. Just wit­ness an­other World Her­itage site, pop­u­lar Gros Morne Na­tional Park, where you can float on a fresh­wa­ter fjord sculpted by re­treat­ing glaciers dur­ing the last ice age and ad­mire ge­o­log­i­cal anom­alies formed hun­dreds of mil­lions of years ago when tec­tonic up­heavals thrust the earth’s crust up­ward (­morne).

Tellingly, the ex­tra­or­di­nary an­i­mal fos­sils dis­cov­ered at the prov­ince’s most re­cently in­scribed UN­ESCO Site, the 5.7-sq.-km (2.2sq.-mi.) Mis­taken Point Eco­log­i­cal Re­serve, dates back fur­ther still. With a dis­cern­ing eye and a knowl­edge­able guide, you can spot 20 dif­fer­ent species em­bed­ded right on the sur­face of the wave-washed rocks. Rep­re­sent­ing the old­est com­plex life forms ever found, they are more than half a bil­lion years old (

Such an­cient at­trac­tions—to­gether with oth­ers that are of­fi­cially pro­tected, pri­vately op­er­ated or pro­vided by Mother Na­ture— are tan­gi­ble re­minders of New­found­land & Labrador’s time­less ap­peal.


New 90-pas­sen­ger fer­ries, sail­ing from the town of For­tune, make it eas­ier to travel be­tween The Rock and the French-owned is­lands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (www. spm-fer­

Ex­pect an ex­panded range of ser­vices when the first phase of a multi-year ter­mi­nal ex­pan­sion pro­ject wraps up at St. John’s In­ter­na­tional Air­port this year (www. stjohn­sair­

The re­cently-launched Port au Choix Gourmet Fes­ti­val in­vites cu­ri­ous epi­cures to bask in Basque culi­nary tra­di­tions this Au­gust ( por­tau­choix).

Gander wel­comes vis­i­tors to ex­plore the hos­pitable town made fa­mous by the 9/11-themed mu­si­cal Come From Away— a 2017 Tony Award win­ner (www.gander

The Royal St. John’s Re­gatta—North Amer­ica’s old­est or­ga­nized sport­ing event, at­tract­ing up to 50,000 peo­ple—cel­e­brates its 200th run­ning on Au­gust 1 (www.stjohn­sre­


St. John’s—which has earned a spot on Na­tional Geo­graphic’s list of “Top 10 Ocean­front Cities”—is a com­pelling mix of old and new. Des­ig­nated her­itage venues and clas­sic Cray­ola-coloured houses blend with con­tem­po­rary of­fice build­ings in this up­beat sea­port. Bou­tiques, gal­leries and restau­rants, many of which give tra­di­tion a mod­ern twist, are plen­ti­ful here. So are bars: jump­ing Ge­orge Street re­put­edly has more per square me­tre than any street in North Amer­ica! The prov­ince’s largest ur­ban cen­tre also boasts its broad­est se­lec­tion of ac­com­mo­da­tions, in­clud­ing busi­ness class and bou­tique ho­tels, his­toric inns and quaint B&Bs (

Cor­ner Brook, the prov­ince’s sec­ond city, makes a con­ve­nient base for sports and na­ture-lov­ing day trip­pers. Sit­ting in the shadow of the Blow Me Down Moun­tains, it puts vis­i­tors within easy reach of both Mar­ble Moun­tain and Hum­ber Val­ley. An av­er­age an­nual 5-m (16-ft.) snow­fall draws an in­ter­na­tional con­tin­gent of down­hill and cross-coun­try skiers to the for­mer each win­ter, while the lat­ter is a favourite lo­cale for an­glers and golfers. Sail­ing or kayak­ing on the boater­friendly Bay of Is­lands is a mem­o­rable sum­mer­time al­ter­na­tive (www.cor­ner


This prov­ince boasts a 29,000-km (18,020mi.) coast and land that en­com­passes ev­ery­thing from daunt­ing moun­tains and dense bo­real forests to starkly beau­ti­ful bar­rens. So, nat­u­rally, it has much in store. For starters, it is home to four na­tional parks, in­clud­ing Mealy Moun­tains—the coun­try’s new­est and At­lantic Canada’s largest—which will wel­come its first guests in a few years. The re­main­ing three—Gros Morne in west­ern New­found­land, Terra Nova in eastern New­found­land and the Torn­gat Moun­tains on Labrador’s north­ern­most tip—are all stand-outs in their own right. Col­lec­tively, they of­fer ac­tiv­i­ties rang­ing from snow­shoe­ing and snow­mo­bil­ing to hik­ing, bik­ing and botan­i­cal treks, along with kids’ pro­grams and camp­fire events for all ages. These parks, how­ever, don’t hold a monopoly on out­door fun.

Take the Hum­ber River area—known pri­mar­ily as a ski­ing and snowboarding des­ti­na­tion. It prom­ises warm-weather pur­suits like hik­ing, rap­pelling, golf­ing and cav­ing too. On-the-wa­ter op­tions in the prov­ince in­clude world-class salmon fish­ing, kayak­ing and white­wa­ter raft­ing. In­creas­ingly, scuba divers and snorkellers

are don­ning dry suits for a peek at what lies be­neath as well. If you would rather see the sights from a boat deck, whale and bird­watch­ing trips are widely avail­able, but that’s just the tip of the prover­bial ice­berg. June through early July, berg chas­ing is so pop­u­lar that the tourism board main­tains a web­site to track the move­ment of these moun­tains of ice (­


The past is proudly dis­played at dozens of his­toric at­trac­tions and more than 100 mu­se­ums. Some are mod­est oper­a­tions; oth­ers, such as The Rooms—St. John’s provin­cial mu­seum, gallery and archives com­plex—are state-of-the-art. Yet the true beauty of New­found­land & Labrador’s strong cul­ture is ev­i­dent ev­ery­where. His­tory and folk­lore, for in­stance, are passed on orally with the num­ber of tales be­ing matched only by the num­ber of en­thu­si­as­tic tell­ers. Mu­sic is handed down as well, so old tunes from Europe sound as fresh as they did when they were first car­ried across the At­lantic, es­pe­cially when per­formed by pop­u­lar bands like The Ir­ish De­scen­dants. Tra­di­tional in­flu­ences are equally ap­par­ent in the visual arts be­cause the mo­tifs that knit­ters, quil­ters and other crafts­peo­ple used for gen­er­a­tions have been adapted by to­day’s cut­ting-edge ar­ti­sans. The provin­cial Craft Coun­cil web­site shows you where to buy the best (www.craft­coun­


Start your day by watch­ing the sun­rise at the Cape Spear Light­house. Dawn breaks at this east­ern­most point be­fore any­where else on the con­ti­nent (www.parkscanada.­s­pear).

Get a bird’s-eye view of gan­nets at Cape St. Mary’s Eco­log­i­cal Re­serve or pretty At­lantic puffins at Wit­less Bay Eco­log­i­cal Re­serve (­u­ral_ar­eas/ wer/find.html).

Twillingate is the place for va­ca­tion­ers want­ing to go with the floe. This old-school out­port on Notre Dame Bay calls it­self “The Ice­berg Cap­i­tal of the World” (www. twill­ingate­

His­tory comes alive in St. John’s, but the “un­dead” are just as in­trigu­ing. Fans of goose­bump-in­duc­ing ghost sto­ries can tour down­town at night on a Haunted Hike (www.haunt­ed­

A series of ar­chi­tec­turally ad­vanced stu­dios turned tiny Fogo Is­land into a big art-and­de­sign des­ti­na­tion. Now a stun­ning inn pro­vides five-star lodg­ings (www.townof fo­go­is­

Norstead, a recre­ated Vik­ing vil­lage near L’Anse aux Mead­ows, fea­tures cos­tumed in­ter­preters, authen­tic-look­ing struc­tures, and a full-scale replica of a pe­riod ship (


Moose alert! New­found­land’s 120,000 moose can be a ma­jor haz­ard for mo­torists. So be es­pe­cially care­ful when driv­ing high­ways at dusk and dawn. The Vik­ing Trail, 489 km (304 mi.) on New­found­land’s west coast, paves the way to a pair of World Her­itage sites—L’Anse aux Mead­ows and Gros Morne Na­tional Park— pro­vid­ing a crash course in his­tory en route.

The 230-km (143-mi.) Dis­cov­ery Trail winds along New­found­land’s east coast. The am­ple cod stocks John Cabot ob­served in 1497 have been de­pleted, yet fish­ing vil­lages, fer­tile farm­lands and tall tim­ber stands re­main.

The Kit­ti­wake Coast—Road to the Isles Route, 172 km (107 mi.) in the prov­ince’s Cen­tral Re­gion, stretches from Notre Dame Provin­cial Park to Notre Dame Bay where ice­bergs, whales and coastal hik­ing trails await.


Kids will love the John­son GEO Cen­tre on Sig­nal Hill in St. John’s. View­ing the in­no­va­tive ex­hibits, par­tic­i­pat­ing in the in­ter­pre­tive pro­grams, then catch­ing a show in the Steele 3D Theatre is like tak­ing a cool ge­ol­ogy class with­out hav­ing to worry about home­work (www.geo­cen­

ST. JOHN'S • NL TOURISM/BAR­RETT & MACKAY528,800St. John’­found­land­labrador.comSt. John’s In­ter­na­tional Air­port, 8 km (5 mi.) from down­town




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