Welcome to part II of our Newfoundland trip highlights. Part I was all about glorious landscapes, incredible trails and curious wildlife. (If you haven’t read it, you can find it here). But, of course, Newfoundland is no deserted island. Connecting with people who live there and learning about Newfoundland’s human history and culture were among our most memorable moments of the trip.
Newfoundland is famous for the kindness and openness of its inhabitants. Apart from one very unpleasant altercation with our neighbour in Butter Pot Provincial Park, we can fully attest to that. Throughout our trip we were offered help, directions, musical instruments and even a backyard to watch an iceberg. That last one was quite funny. We stopped by the roadside to take a photo of an iceberg in the distance. The next thing we know a woman drives up to us to give directions to her house because the view is better from there. Once we arrived, we realized we weren’t the first and far from the last people that were sent there. I guess the woman just wanted to make sure everyone got the best view of the berg.
A passer-by invited us to watch an iceberg from her backyard
Then on our last night in Gros Morne, after a Fire Circle led by Mi’kmaw interpreter Kevin Barnes, a spontaneous music party erupted. Kevin produced his guitar, one of the security guards brought his ugly stick. My husband got to play, our son tried his hand at ugly stick. And then, as he was leaving, Kevin left us his guitar to use for the night because he said he could see how much we enjoyed music. These are just two of many heart-warming moments of the trip.
No trip to Newfoundland is complete without a music party
Here are some other things we saw and learned.
Ktaqmkuk, the far shore over the waves
Long before the island was “found” by white people, it was part of Mi’kma’qi, Mi’kmaq Traditional Territory, which also includes Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Gaspé. The Mi’kmaw people call it Ktaqmkuk, the far shore over the waves. Today approximately 10,000 people of Mi’kmaw ancestry live throughout the island. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit the K’taqmkuk Mi’kmaq Museum to learn more about the Mi’kmaw culture (we were planning to stop there on our drive back but arrived after hours). But there were some information panels at Terra Nova and plus a great program with a Mi’kmaw interpreter at Gros Morne.
Learning about Mi`kmaq at Terra Nova National Park
We made a stop at Port au Choix Historic Site on our way up north hoping to get a bit of an insight into the Indigenous history of the island. There was little information about more recent history but we learned a lot about ancient seal hunters that inhabited these shores thousands of years ago.
Thousands of years of Indigenous history at Port au Choix
Seal hunters at Port au Choix
Beothuk Interpretive Centre in Boyd’s Cove near Twillingate was another stop on our route. Beothuks were a more recent group that lived in Newfoundland around the time of European arrival. Pushed further inside the island and cut away from resources, Beothuks eventually disappeared. Shanawdithit, the last known Beothuk, died in St. John’s in 1829 taking with her a rich culture we know so little about. Another reminder of colonialism’s destructive impact on Indigenous peoples and cultures not only on Turtle Island but across the world.
Beothuk Interpretation Centre in Boyd`s Cove: building structure mimics Beothuks`traditional dwellings
Cut away from resources, Beothuks disappeared after Europeans arrived in Newfoundland
The site of a former Beothuk settlement in Boyd’s Cove, now the Beothuk Interpretation Centre, strings together the story of the people that are no more. It also has a spiritual garden where people are invited to leave little tributes and, hopefully, ponder over the true history of our country.
Spirit garden at Beothuk Interpretation Centre
Come from away
Being the easternmost part of Canada, Newfoundland was often the first touch point for many European arrivals. For instance, John Cabot landed at Cape Bonavista back in 1497.
But he wasn`t the first European to do so. Five hundred years before Cabot set foot on the island, another group of explorers landed here. I am talking about Vikings, of course. We couldn’t miss an opportunity to explore a nation wrapped in so much mystery and rich lore. So we made sure our itinerary included L’Anse aux Meadows, a site of a former Norse encampment.
Vikings, the first Europeans to visit Turtle Island
Located on the northern tip of the island, where everything has either Viking or Norse in its name, L’Anse aux Meadows features a reconstructed Viking village as well as a great visitor centre detailing the archaeological work that was done and what it uncovered.
Reconstructed Norse village at LÀnse aux Meadows
A few Vikings left behind
Houses in the village were made of peat bricks
Playing some Viking games
L’Anse aux Meadows is not only a national historic site but also a UNESCO heritage site. Its importance, as the guide explained, lies in documenting the first meeting of the two worlds as the Norse were bound to come across Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. Hence the sculpture interpretation of this monumental reunion.
Meeting of Two Worlds
Ocean proximity means highly developed fishing industry and mouth-watering sea food as well as lots charming fishing villages. Many of the villages come with the titles of the most beautiful or most photographed. All of them very well deserved. Multicoloured houses against rocky backdrops. Piles of lobster and snow crab traps. Boats bobbing in the water nearby. Lighthouses perched on rocky ledges. The smell of salt and peacefulness in the air. That is until you see all the “For Sale” signs and realize things may not be as idyllic as they seem.
Salvage, the most photographed fishing village on the island
Petty Cove near St. John`s
Fishing boats attract lots of avian followers
Scenes from Norris Point
Charming little town of Twillingate, also known as the Iceberg Capital of the World
Elliston, the Root Cellar Capital of the World
Piles of lobster traps is a common scene
Lighthouses in Twillingate and St. Anthony
The colours of St. John’s
Newfoundland’s capital and largest city, St. John’s is also North America’s oldest. And even though it is considerably larger than most of the towns and villages we travelled through, it has managed to preserve the charm and serenity of coastal villages, in part thanks to its famous jellybean row houses lining St. John`s hilly streets. And also because cars still stop here for pedestrians to cross the street.
Colourful St. John`s
Famous jellybean row houses
Then, of course, there is Quidi Vidi, an old fishing village, now part of St. John`s and home to the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation, an artistic community. As well as Quidi Vidi brewery famous for its Iceberg beer because if you have icebergs so close by, you have to use them in beer making. The beer is so popular that it took us a while to track it down.
Quidi Vidi Village
Quidi Vidi Brewery, home of illusive Iceberg beer
We spent two days in St. John’s wandering its streets and hiking the trails around Cape Spear and Signal Hill. The latter is where Marconi received the world`s first transatlantic signal in 1901.
Cape Spear, North America`s easternmost point
Signal Hill, one of St. John`s landmarks
Marconi received the first transatlantic signal at Signal Hill
Signal Hill also offered some of the best views of the city. That was where I spent my last morning on the east coast, taking in the view of St. John`s bathed in the soft glow of the rising sun.
Early morning view of St. John`s from Signal Hill
Geocaching in a geo park and other geoadventures
No trip would be complete without geocaching. Our son’s pursuits took us to places and trails we wouldn’t have visited otherwise. Some were pretty cool like GEO park in St. John’s. Others not so much, like the Old Mail Trail in Gros Morne where we were attacked by mosquitoes.
There is always time for some geocaching
Geocahing in a graveyard (not a real one) at GEO park in St. John`s
More geocaching along the way
This time our geocaching adventures came with additional incentives. Gros Morne, Port au Choix and L’Anse aux Meadows offered geocaching challenges where you could purchase geocoins after collecting a certain number of caches. So of course, we had to get them all, sometimes in a span on an hour or so.
Geocoins from Port au Choix, LÀnse aux Meadows and Gros Morne, what a collection
Life in slow motion
There were lots of memorable encounters along the way, like meeting fellow Torontonians on top of Gros Morne mountain and running into a friend I haven’t seen in years on the streets on St. John`s. Or that time when we were huddling in a kitchen shelter on a rainy night with a dozen other campers who were finishing their dinners, washing dishes, playing card games. The place was filled with the warmth of a wood stove and buzz of spontaneous conversations about best views, best trails, best wildlife sightings.
But the best part of the trip, as always, were quiet, unhurried moments to sit by the ocean, watch, and photograph, sunsets, play in the sand, stack rocks and skip stones, while listening to the world dance around in slow motion.
Sunset watching was on the itinerary almost every day
Skipping rocks is fun at any age
Taking a break on the trail
Sometimes all you need to have fun is some rocks and lots of sand
Quiet, unhurried moments are always the best part of the trip
Playing games and some music at Lobster Cove Lighthouse
Stacking rocks is my husband`s favourite activity
Wave Sound sculpture by Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore, one of the four placed in Parks Canada across the country, encourages visitors to pause and listen to the land
Documenting the trip in words and pictures
A rare selfie moment