Forget everything you know about Newfoundland.
Seriously. You’re even pronouncing it incorrectly (the emphasis is on ‘New’, not ‘found’).
Ok, it gets a bit cold in the winter. But visit in summer and it’s…well it’s almost warm enough to get away with just wearing a t-shirt.
It’s a place that is at once strange and familiar. Endless forests of black spruce and blossom fir are home to literally thousands of moose, and deep fjords break up quaint fishing communities.
Pick the right spot and you might just hear humpback whales singing as you drift off to sleep. But listen carefully, and amid the Irish lilt of the local accent there’s phrases that can only have come from Dorset.
It makes sense when you discover just how many people from the county emigrated to Newfoundland in search of fishing waters. Stand at Cape Spear, the most easterly point of the north American continent, and there is literally nothing but sea between you and Europe.
They say that when the settlers arrived in the 1600s you could walk across the Atlantic Ocean stepping on the backs of cod, but the decline in the species hit the area hard and the Canadian government is now pushing tourism as an industry.
There’s still a presence of fishing in the province capital St John’s and beyond, though it’s diversified into spider crab and other shellfish.
St John’s is the bustling heart of Newfoundland and Labrador. A small city, just a five-hour flight from London, yet it’s packed with excellent seafood restaurants and lively bars where there’s often an Irish-style band sitting around the corner table, performing as and when they feel like it. Many of the houses are painted in bright colours – all of them in fact in one street, giving it the nickname Jelly Bean Row.
It’s only a short distance outside of the city to Signal Hill, which guards the Narrows, the entrance to the bay St John’s is based around. Signal Hill is well-named – it was here in 1901 that Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal.
But it’s when you venture outside the capital that you get a sense of what the province is really all about. The place names give you a clue.
Along one stretch of coast you’ll find Heart’s Content, Heart’s Desire and Heart’s Delight. People settled here and thought they’d found paradise.
But life was hard for the early settlers. Their story is still being discovered in an archaeological dig in Cupid’s Cove, how they dug a pit and drew the ship’s sails over the top for shelter until a wooden house was erected.
Next door to the dig, which is open to the public, there’s a museum, very much focused on the stories of the people who thrived here, despite the hardship.
Newfoundland looks after its history. There are excellent museums in the smallest towns and villages, heritage trails and more. From Cupid’s Cove it’s said you can walk the very same trail the first governor John Guy took when he went to meet the native Beothuk people. Today it takes walkers to the Doctors House inn and spa in Green’s Harbour, a haven of homely luxury and wonderful food in the middle of the wilderness.
In Bay Roberts visitors can look round the town museum, with photos of the Newfoundland Regiment which was all but wiped out in the Battle of Beaumont Hemel, part of the Somme offensive.
The museum is a former cable station, and was one of the only direct methods of communication between Churchill and Roosevelt in the Second World War. After the museum, there’s a heritage trail winding its way around a peninsula and Conception Bay, where purple lupins and wild roses grow in abundance and terns and guillemots screech around Fergus Island out in the bay, which from one angle looks uncannily like a Newfoundland dog.
In the summer guides wait in a little shed on the trail to cook up touton – a savoury scone made from pieces of fried bread dough – and capelin for hungry Travellers.
It’s Heart’s Content however which is famous in the world of long-distance communication. It was here, 150 years ago that the first message was sent by transatlantic cable, and the town held a weeklong party last summer to celebrate.
Prior to the cable being laid, messages took at least two weeks to get from London to Newfoundland. But what struck me wasn’t how much that had changed the province, but how little.
Newfoundland is a place of culture, of history, embracing a future where fishing can no longer be the main industry, but holding onto the values it was founded on: loyal to family and welcoming to strangers. It’s a place where there are almost as many moose as there are people, and many, many more seals (about 12 million of them).
It’s a place so vast that if you want to go out and explore, you’ll need to hire a car, or better yet, a guide.
Our own guide, Larry, was a fount of knowledge, and seemed to know someone in every tiny community we visited.
It was his words that encapsulated why I felt so fascinated by Newfoundland.
“People ask me, ‘Larry boy, why do you like it here so much?’ And I say I see what my ancestors seen. They came for the cod and they saw oceans and forests and these little coves and big skies. And that’s what I see, and that’s my home.”
For more information on the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, visit newfoundlandlabrador.com or for more about holidays in Canada, visit explore-canada.co.uk Direct flights from London are available from Air Canada and Westjet airlines at aircanada.com and westjet.com
Source : BournemouthEcho