If the earth was flat, this large Canadian island off the east coast of North America would be on the eastern edge of the world. This Canadian province's official name was "Newfoundland"
until 2001, when its name was changed to "Newfoundland and Labrador." To put things into perspective,
Newfoundland (throughout the story I'll simply refer to it as Newfoundland) is a little smaller than California, slightly bigger than Japan and twice the size of the United Kingdom.
The island covers 111,390 square kilometres (43,008 square miles) and has enough coastline to stretch back and forth across Canada four times over, with no shortage of breathing room.
I began my trip to this rugged land with a five-hour flight to St. John's (two stops, one at Ottawa; the other Halifax) on a swell little airline, Porter Airlines from
Toronto Island Airport. The return airfare, including all taxes was just under $400. After arriving in St. John's I rented a car and over a seven day stay, I would travel 4,000 kilometres and visit the Western, Central, and Eastern districts of the island. Along the way I found several stories to tell.
My first stop was at
Memorial University, where I had reserved a room. If you don't mind communal living, a vacant resident's room with no air-conditioning costs about $50.00 for two including all taxes.
The weather wasn't all that great on the eastern part of the island, so I opted to start out early the next morning along the
Trans Canada Highway to the Western part of Newfoundland where it was warmer. It took seven hours to drive the long winding highway that rhythmically rose and fell beside and atop spectacular mountains and gushing streams before I arrived at
Gros Morne National Park. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the place (those magazine ads and television spots are right on). Inside the park I drove through many small, picturesque hamlets like Sally's Cove where if you blink you won't know you've been there. The weather was perfect and there was still enough light to visit
Western Brook Pond inside the park. A one-hour walk along a wooden boardwalk was a wonderful way to end the day. On my return walk, I was able to purge my mind, body and soul of the stress of today's living. The sight of Gros Morne Mountain (like a fiord) at the end of the boardwalk and Western Brook Pond made it worthwhile.
I spent the evening at Bayside Cottages in
Rocky Harbour. The cottages are set on a cliff with a majestic view of Rocky Harbour and the Atlantic Ocean. The evening was quiet and the sunset spectacular.
About two hours away is one of Newfoundland's largest cities, Corner Brook. One stop to make is the
Newfoundland Emporium at 11 Broadway. Not only is the store colourful but the owner, Dave LeDrew, is even more colourful. When I asked the 76-year-old if he's lived in Corner Brook all his life he replied, "Not yet, I'm still alive."
Here's what floored me. When I told him I was looking for interesting things to see and write about, he suggested
Burgeo a 2.5 hour drive down a lonely road to the edge of the Atlantic. I asked him to suggest a place to stay and he replied, "my place; just ask the next door neighbour Elizabeth for the key to my cottage-no charge." Now understand, I didn't know him and he didn't know me. Hospitality is the hallmark of the Newfoundlander. I took him up on his offer.
The ride down Highway 480 to the south coast of the island is flat and lonely (it looks mostly like a moonscape) but what's at the end of the road made it worthwhile. Burgeo is a photographer's delight. It's rural Newfoundland at its best. There are tiny, colourful homes set on the rugged edge of the Atlantic. Few tourists visit this small village of 2000 but there is one motel (Gillett's Motel) and a few B and B's. This was home at one time to Canadian writer and naturalist
Farley Mowat. You won't find Burgeo listed in many guide books. Don't miss out on this experience. And thanks Dave.
It took me about eight hours to travel from Burgeo on the North-West coast of the island of
Twillingate, an island on the North-Central part of
Newfoundland. The drive was filled with clouds that looked as if they had been washed in bleach and hung out to dry. I might mention that I always travelled during daylight hours; the reason - moose. That's right, there's about 110,000 moose on the island and most of the Trans Canada Highway goes through moose habitat. Almost all moose accidents occur during dusk and dawn, several of them fatal (mostly for occupants of the car).
My visit to this picturesque out port of 3,000 would have me feeling grounded to a simpler life style. I was fortunate enough to have an early morning coffee with a group of good old boys who opened up Twillingate Adventure Tours. As I looked out the window to the harbour, Perry Young, the tour operator told me, "See that Notre Dame Sea Foods Plant; all they fish for now is
shrimp. Even the shells are used by the Japanese to make cosmetics." His Harbour Lights Inn is a nice place to put your head for the evening. The boys said be sure and see the Auk Island Winery and the
Twillingate Museum. You can learn a lot over coffee with locals.
Auk Island Winery is a bit of oddity on this rocky edge of the Atlantic. Former Twillingate mayor and now General Manager, Danny Bath said, "We have about 25 products, three made with Newfoundland berries, five with iceberg water (more about icebergs in a minute), and others with Quebec grapes." Check out their latest, "Krooked Cod;" it was superb with no taste of cod. Although I didn't see any on my visit Twillingate is also known as the Iceberg Capital of the World.
The Twillingate Museum was nearby (everything in Twillingate is nearby) found in a renovated 1915 Anglican rectory. Artifacts depict life at the turn of the century. This was an unexpected treasure. Admission is by donation. Twillingate was a standout find.
Another daytime drive took me back to the capital of Newfoundland, St. John's, where I would spend two days exploring. As I wandered the downtown of one of North America's oldest settlements, it was like a trip to yesteryear. Crayon-coloured clapboard row-houses and a hodge-podge of different businesses and quaint shops hug steep, narrow streets that run down to the harbour. This is not an easy place to walk. I realize I should be exercising more. Echoes of the past are found as I walk along
Water Street, North America's oldest street. Friendly faces say hello to me almost as if I belong. These are happy people.
Early in the day I watch the morning sun slowly peek its head over the St. John's Harbour in the east. A lone ocean vessel sneaks its way into the harbour. When time for a break, I pop into Rocket Bakery and Fresh Foods on Water Street. It was opened only a few months ago but has already become a favourite with the locals. For dinner I searched out the Duke of Duckworth (It's the inspiration for the pub found in the TV series, Republic of Doyle). It was a good choice. It had the feel of an old-fashioned Irish bar, dim and hushed, all mahogany and Tiffany lampshades, all frosted glass and the smell of decades of beer. The place was alive with the sound of chit-chat.
Other touristy things to see in St. John's are
Cape Spear Lighthouse located at Canada's most easterly point, and
Signal Hill National Historic Site where you'll discover Canada's communication and military history at
Oh yes, Newfoundlanders love to party. There are more than 1,000 festivals and special events each year. The
Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival takes place August 5-7. It's Canada second oldest folk festival.
Maybe I should come clean here. I'm originally from the Rock, and hence, I have a bit of prejudice about the land. However, I do believe Newfoundland is a magical place, so unlike other vacation spots. Newfoundland remains unchanged from my youth. The warmth, humour (Rick Mercer, Ron James,
Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers and Mary Walsh) and there inimitable gift for hospitality still exists.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.