St Anthony, Canada
Newfoundland - great scenery and 5000 years of history....
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This information is based on a month’s holiday in Newfoundland in September 2010. This has been written as a general introduction to Newfoundland to help those thinking of planning a visit. It is not meant as an exhaustive account. There is a link to a detailed trip report I wrote at the end of the article.
For those planning a visit, Newfoundland and Labrador Tourist Board website is the main source of information: www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/
There is a section on Travel Itineraries which has lots of ideas and information for the different regions.
They produce a good Traveller's Guide and free map which can be ordered through the website.
For more detailed maps, Map Art “Atlantic Canada Back Road Atlas” is recommended.
I relied heavily on the internet for information when planning the trip as I hadn’t been impressed by either Frommers “Newfoundland and Labrador” or Lonely Planet’s “Nova Scotia, New Brunswick & Prince Edward Island” which also has a section on Newfoundland and Labrador. They covered all the tourist ‘honey pots’ but had little or no information on less popular places.
TRAVEL DISTANCES AND TIMES
This web site is useful for working out travel distances and times: www.stats.gov.nl.ca/DataTools/RoadDB/Distance/Default.aspx
These are minimum times and you need to build in extra time for stops and road works. These can often be over long distances and there can be long waits when part of the carriageway is closed. There are strictly enforced speed restrictions through these areas and fines are high.
PARKS CANADA PASSES
If you are intending to spend several days in either Gros Morne or Terra Nova NP and to visit several of the National Historic Sites, it might be cheaper to buy an annual pass. www.pc.gc.ca/eng/voyage-travel/carte-pass/intro.aspx
If you are just intending to Visit Gros Morne NP and the historic sites in the Northern Peninsula it is possible to buy a 7day Viking Trail Pass. www.pc.gc.ca/apps/tarifs-fees/tarif-fee_E.asp?park=513
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR PROVINCIAL PARKS PASSES
There are 13 provincial parks which have camping sites and these have a daily charge of $5 per vehicle (2010 rates) It is possible to buy a yearly pass for $20 per vehicle which covers all of these parks.
Nearly all the settlement is around the coast, apart from a few newer industrial centres which are inland. Most of the island is covered with trees (a mixture of coniferous and deciduous) which are thick and impenetrable. There is only one road, the Trans Canada Highway, across the island with 'feeder roads' to the coastal settlements, some of which loop round the coast. Most of the major road junctions have a gas station and small convenience store with cafe/restaurant.
Distances on the Trans Canada are long and can be mind numbingly boring as for long stretches all you see are trees. There is therefore an argument for flying into Deer Lake (or St John’s) and out of St John’s (or Deer Lake) to minimise driving distances if you are wanting to see the whole island. This saves about 650km and a minimum of seven hours driving time. Car hire companies do not offer unlimited mileage and additional mileage costs soon mount up.
Similarly if using the ferry from Nova Scotia, think about doing a round trip from Argentia to Port aux Basque or vice versa.
Watch out for moose when driving at dawn or dusk and at night. They can cause a serious accident and do a lot of damage to a car if hit. They do not get out of your way….
The roads are fairly recent and most have been built over the last 50 years or so. Before then all transport was by coastal boats. In the 1960s the government decided it could no longer continue to support many of the smaller, more isolated settlements which were thought to be economically unviable and encouraged these communities to move and resettle in designated “growth centres”. There are still a few outports which were not resettled, do not have road access and are served by a ferry.
Apart from the Vikings who settled for a few years at the tip of the northern peninsula, the first European settlers were Basque fishermen and whalers who arrived in the 1500s for the summer and left before the seas froze over. At Red Bay in Labrador, there are the excavated remains of one of the whaling settlements, which housed 1000-2000 itinerant fishermen during the summer. Whaling was big business. One whale provided 400 barrels of oil and ships could take 1000 barrels back to Spain worth £1 million plus in modern money. http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/nl/redbay/index.aspx
Later, the French arrived for the summer months and settled all around the coast, fishing for cod which was salted and then dried before being shipped back to Europe in vast quantities.
The English appeared subsequently and settled year round. After periodic conflicts, the English were able to restrict the French fishing activities in Newfoundland to a small part of the west coast, referred to as the French Shore.
Fishing was the main stay of the Newfoundland economy but stocks gradually diminished over time and there are now strict quotas on fishing. Individuals are only allowed to fish for a few weeks in the year and are limited to 5 fish each. There are strict penalties if they are caught taking more. Most fishing is for crab and lobster. Lobster is on every menu and is a cheap food.
To understand Newfoundland settlement you really need to look at it from the sea as this is where initial settlement began. Settlements are scattered along the coast and have no real service centre. Even small settlements have a convenience store with a good range of food although fresh vegetables and fruit may be more difficult to find. Gas stations often have a small convenience store attached.
Each fisherman used to have his own wooden wharf with shed on it where the fish was cleaned and salted before being laid out to dry. The Random Passage film set in New Bonaventure gives a good idea of what an early fishing settlement would have been like. www.randompassagesite.com/
Now fewer people are involved in fishery but use bigger more highly mechanised boats fishing from larger harbours.
Houses were made of wood – usually boards or wooded shingles although now UPVC coverings are replacing the wood. Traditionally they were white although working sheds were often painted a rusty red. The houses were (and continue to be) well spread out. Today, they are all surrounded by well-manicured lawns. There are few flower gardens and there are no fences or boundaries between the houses.
Many of the older houses had a root cellar close by which was used to prevent food supplies from freezing during the winter months and to keep food supplies cool during the summer months. The town of Ellison markets itself as the ‘Root Cellar Capital of the World”, although root cellars can be seen in different places across the island. www.rootcellars.com/
In the Northern Peninsula, roadside gardens are found scattered along the road verges. The land is crown land and no rent is payable. Originally vegetables were grown all around the house but people now prefer lawns. When roads were built the verges were disturbed and locals claimed ‘plots’ to grow vegetables. These could be quite a distance from their houses. Most plots contain potatoes as moose won’t eat them and potatoes need minimum attention. If carrots or cabbages are grown, plots have to be fenced against moose. No-one else can claim that patch of land unless they are given permission from the ‘holder’.
There are a lot of new and large houses beginning to appear in urban areas, a sign of increasing prosperity as there is more employment in local government and public services.
Apart from some fishing, lumbering and tourism there is little rural employment on the island. Much of the work is seasonal. Many of the younger generation have to leave to find work, although they still retain very close ties to Newfoundland which they regard as home. Many of the older people have lived in the same community all their lives and many in the community are related to each other. When the old folk die, the children keep up their houses and use them as holiday homes for the summer.
In autumn many people go out berry picking for bakeapple, blackberries, blueberries which are used to make pies and jams. Auk Island Winery and Rodrigues Markland Cottage Winery both produce excellent berry wines. www.aukislandwinery.com/about.asp www.rodrigueswinery.com/
A typical tourist itinerary includes St. John's, Trinity, Bonavista, Gros Morne National Park and L’Anse au Meadows. If time allows, seriously think about some of the more far flung places like Burin Peninsula, Harbour Breton and the islands. The smaller settlements off the beaten path are delightful and well worth exploring. Don’t forget Labrador – even a short stay covering the area from Blanc Sablon to Red Bay is well worth while and has a completely different feel to Newfoundland.
• the small fishing villages with their wooden wharves and fishing stages • the sight of Red Bay spread out along the bay as you come over the top of the hill • golden rod, Michaelmas daisies and rosebay willowherb growing along the roadsides • Rattling Brook Falls – especially after rain • L’Anse au Meadows • Random Passage Film set • Broom Point Fishing Station • Quidi Vidi Battery • talking to the many people we met on our travels.
• all the trees….we are sure there were some good views if only we could see them.
Pictures from our trip can be viewed here.
A detailed report can be read here.
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