Travel Guide to Canada
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR: ROCK OF AGES
Rock of Ages
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.
MARKED BY MANKIND
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 (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/redbay).
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 (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/meadows).
ETCHED BY THE ELEMENTS
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 (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/grosmorne).
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 (www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/parks/wer/r_mpe).
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-ferries.fr).
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. stjohnsairport.com).
The recently-launched Port au Choix Gourmet Festival invites curious epicures to bask in Basque culinary traditions this August (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/ 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 canada.com).
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.stjohnsregatta.org).
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 (www.stjohns.ca).
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 brook.com).
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
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 (www.icebergfinder.com).
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
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.craftcouncil.nl.ca).
MUST SEE, MUST DO
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. gc.ca/capespear).
Get a bird’s-eye view of gannets at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve or pretty Atlantic puffins at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (www.flr.gov.nl.ca/natural_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. twillingatetourism.ca).
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.hauntedhike.com).
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 fogoisland.ca).
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 (www.norstead.com).
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.geocentre.ca).