Compared with the rest of the Maritime Provinces, Newfoundland's weather is harsher, the winds are stronger, the roads are rougher, the towns are smaller. In Labrador and Newfoundland, you will be Sign in St. John's addressed as m'darling, or dearie, and sometimes patted on the shoulder or the back. They ask, "is this your first visit to Newfoundland?" and we say, "No, it's our third time." And they answer, "isn't that nice?" with a rather puzzled look as if to say, you can go anywhere, why do you keep returning here?
When you drive in Newfoundland, you are usually on your way to, or in, a little coastal village (called an outport), or you are in the forest. There are not many roads, and very few of them go inland because what's to do there? So to get from here to there is sometimes a journey which looks foolishly long on the map, but is The Only Road. Arms of the sea reach into the island, and peninsulas of the island stretch out to the sea. There were patches of snow on the western hillsides when we arrived in mid-June. They will stay, probably, till August.
Newfoundlanders make gardens out of town, along the roadside, where road construction has dug and piled up enough earth to provide garden soil on this rocky land. Minimal fences and occasional scarecrows attempt to discourage moose and other animals. Mostly what is grown is potatoes and root Newfoundland outport vegetables like turnips. Also common along the roadsides everywhere are woodpiles. The wood is cut by permission on crown land, usually during spring and summer. Then when snow comes the men on their snowmobiles sled it to the woodpile. Each woodpile is identified by the tag showing they have paid for their license, but everybody knows nobody would steal the wood (or the snowmobile or the sled nearby). That's just the way it is in Newfoundland.
We stopped in Corner Brook for a few days, reacquainting ourselves with this town built on many hills. The big industry is the paper mill; we have mixed feelings -- happy to see bustling industry after traveling through many cities in Canada where the plants/mines/mills have closed, but sad to think that the paper industry is itself in decline -- what will Corner Brook be like, the next time we come?
Outside of town, we visited the monument to Captain Cook, who was a visitor himself, at the beginning of his career, and who learned to use tools and skills to develop his incredible talent for mapmaking. The local museum has a map of New Foundland which he drew, which is almost accurate today, after two hundred and fifty years.
We were determined to visit L'Anse Aux Meadows, now a national historic site (and the first Woodpiles and sleds UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site). In 1960 two Norwegians, an explorer and his archaeologist wife, determined that the coast of Newfoundland was the site of the first and only Viking settlement in North America. They had become convinced the Vikings had explored along the northern Newfoundland coast; they talked to every local person they could find, asking questions about possible ancient ruins. One man showed them the place where he typically found grass for his sheep, and the Instadts determined that the kinds of house structures that might have been there were indeed similar to other Viking settlements in Greenland and Iceland.
During the next decade or so, 8 houses were excavated and studied. Artifacts discovered on site matched the artifacts which had already been tied to Viking culture.
Archaeologists take the long view, and often move to preserve ancient sites in the hopes that Replica Viking house future generations will have more money and even better archaeological skills to study the site. So the Viking settlement in L'Anse Aux Meadows has been covered up, and Parks Canada has erected replica structures in which reenactors charm visitors with descriptions of Viking life. The settlement, possibly that of Leif Ericsson, was abandoned as the Norse empire withdrew.
Newfoundlanders are closer to the land and sea than any other people we have met. They are attuned to the rhythms of the season -- the capelin will be coming, then the whales; the icebergs move about as the winds and currents change and flow; the weather forecast for tomorrow probably will not reflect reality, but the weather forecast for this afternoon will probably be closer. Things that make us crabby, like a week without a truly sunny day, is something they will ignore: weather is weather. Hotel guests this morning were disappointed that the icebergs have disappeared from the area arounde St. Anthony -- they got blown off shore because of the storm last night.
We braved the relentlessly foggy weather to drive to Cape Norman, near the northern part of this peninsula (there are many), and saw minke whales and were startled by the foghorn, and passed three young moose on the way back to our hotel.
In Grand Falls Windsor the paper mill closed a decade ago and nothing much has replaced it. The He just split the chip Provincial Museum is establishing branch museums and two are here: the Mary March Museum named for a Beothuk woman, the last of her tribe, and the Loggers Museum, where we learned how the loggers played a gambling game involving chucking one's axe to split a tiny wood chip. (It takes a lot of practice.)
No one is quite sure when Europeans returned to Newfoundland after the Vikings. It is known that Basque fisherman came for the cod at least as early as the sixteenth century, and the fishermen found it convenient to establish supply bases and build wooden stages for drying and salting cod. The cod was in great demand in Europe because of the large number of days on which Catholics could not eat meat. When Newfoundland was settled, it consisted of fishing villages, and immediately fishermen were exploited by merchants. It was a shame; when the fishing was good the price of cod fell and the Root cellar fishermen could barely make enough to make payments on their houses and equipment. Injuries and illness were common, and a sick fisherman might not work. So the fishermen helped one another.
The Bonavista Peninsula was an early trading center because ships from Europe would find it easily. The Ryan Premises is now a National Historic Site -- a complex of buildings including the restored home of the merchant Ryan, plus warehouses in which visitors learn about the cod fishery. On this same visit we found Elliston, The Root Cellar Capital of the World. Remember those turnips? On the exceptionally rocky ground in this village, just about everybody had established a root cellar, only they are not underground but at ground level, covered by soil and thatch and sod.
We walked out on a clifftop trail to see a colony of puffins just offshore, one of the seabirds Nesting puffins which will only nest on uninhabited islands. We watched happily for a while, but then we were alerted to the sight of a black-backed seagull attacking and killing one of the colorful little birds. It is a common occurrence, we were told.
We know that Newfoundlanders' lives are hard and filled with struggle and tragedy. But this is the first time we have seen one memorial to two disasters, both affecting the same town. During World War II, two American ships got caught up in a terrible storm and were thrown against the rocks. A survivor managed to scale the cliff and get help, whereupon the townspeople raced to the scene and saved as many as they could, nursing them back to health; in thanks the American government gave the town of St. Lawrence a hospital. The second tragedy sent more townspeople to the hospital -- miners from St. Lawrence did not know that their mine was being poisoned by uranium radiation from another nearby mine, until they began to die of cancer. The same little park with the statue of the sailors Two tragedies has story-boards and message about the miners as well.
Just across the bay in Burin, the earthquake of 1929 caused a tsunami that swept houses off the cliff and into the sea as a result of the tidal wave. The men, generally, survived because they were out fishing and rode out the waves, but the women and children were lost. It was Canada's only earthquake disaster.
St. John's is the capital of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and is by far its largest city, at 100,000. Bustling and thriving, it is a vastly different place from all of the little outports where we have spent the month of June. We are pleased that the parent Provincial Museum has taken the idea of fishing rooms for its architecture. This building looms over the city and is a continual reminder of the history of this province. Elsewhere on the island we met people who had lived in St. John's and chose to return to the outports, where they liked the life better.
Newfoundland is the closest part of North America to Europe, and we saw two archaeological sites of early colonies: Cupids and the Colony of Avalon. The former is a smaller effort, if only because Cupids archaelogical dig there is less funding available and it is a locally sponsored work.
In 1610 merchant John Guy established Cupids Colony Plantation, at the shores of the sea. (Jamestown, 1607; Plymouth, 1620, Avalon, 1621.) He led a company of investors from Bristol, England, determined to improve the fishing and establish trade in several products. He left a set of detailed journals which helped modern-day scientists to reconstruct not only the buildings but some of the social and economic history of the area. The first English child born in Canada was born here, and patterns of commerce were first worked out here. By 1615, however, Guy had quarrelled with others and left the colony, which ultimately failed, leaving only traces of the first buildings.
A much better-known site is The Colony of Avalon, on the eastern coast of Newfoundland. This was settled by George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, who was an earlier investor in Cupids but went on to lead this plantation. Here the excavations have resulted in hundreds of thousands of artifacts, Gannets and chicks including a few truly valuable pieces, because these were not just poor fishermen, but included upper class English merchants and families. Calvert himself only lasted one harsh Newfoundland winter. Led by his son, his company moved south to a more welcoming climate.
The archaeology is a recent development; early scientists knew of the sites but did not start to excavate until the 1990s, when government money became available. (With a change of leadership, money for excavations is again tight.)
On the morning before our overnight ferry from Argentia back to Nova Scotia, we took one final excursion, to the Cape St. Mary's sanctuary for nesting seabirds. Fortunately the sun was shining for our mile-long walk to the spectacular overlook, especially to see the gannets, who claimed the dominant nests on top of the rocks, white with guano and feathers. The kittiwakes and murres were lower on the cliffs, and the sights and sounds were mind-boggling. We noticed that these pelagic birds know enough not to venture on land (the colony supports a thriving local fox population), and they bank their wings and circle out towards sea whenever possible.
The island of Newfoundland can be reached by plane or boat, and it's worth the trip.