They come for the fish, the birds, the mountains, the sea, the whales, the icebergs, the history, and for the people. They leave with a spot soft in their hearts for this magical place: Newfoundland.
The first thing to get straight about Newfoundland is how to pronounce the word. It takes a bit of getting used to for folks from the U.S., but the word rhymes with “understand”: NewfoundLAND. It’s also polite to let the “found” be heard, because the locals aren’t too keen on being confused for a colony of Finland.
Speaking of colonies, the political history of this place is fascinating. Ancestors of both maritime and terrestrial native peoples began to settle here about 9000 years ago, not long after the great ice sheets had retreated from this scarred land. Leif Erikson left his mark around 1000 AD, and the great European colonization began when John Cabot (Italy’s Giovanni Caboto) landed in 1497. Waves of Europeans plied the waters for cod and whales, with the first English settlement established at Cupids in 1610. For the better part of 300 years, Newfoundland was an English colony with “Dominion of the British Empire” status on par with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand today. It wasn’t until 1949 that Newfoundland and Labrador became Canada’s youngest province.
Next, it’s fun to locate Newfoundland on a map, or preferably a globe. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador includes the mainland land area of Labrador and the island of Newfoundland. Labrador is east of any place in the United States and occupies the Atlantic Time zone with the other Maritime Provinces that is one hour earlier than Eastern Time. Newfoundland lies still farther east, occupying its own Newfoundland Time Zone that is 30 minutes ahead of Atlantic Time. Thus, sunrise in St. John’s is one and a half hours earlier than sunrise in New York City.
Because it is well to the east of the United States, Newfoundland seems to sit in the middle of the North Atlantic. The island’s complex shape with long peninsulas forming deep bays contributes to the near constant reminder that the ocean is never far away (as does the prevailing fog and rain). This feeling is accentuated on the Avalon Peninsula where most natives live and where most tourists visit. The Avalon is technically a peninsula of an island though its bays cut so deeply that they make it feel like an island unto itself. Trinity, Conception, Placentia, and St. Mary’s bays shape the history, weather, and culture of the Avalon Peninsula.
Thanks to a world-class family reunion (from my wife’s side), I recently had the good fortune to spend a week on the Avalon Peninsula. I ate lots of the world’s best cod – even kissed a cod! – enjoyed mussels, and warmed up with a delicious moose stew. I drank beer brewed with water that fell as snow about 25,000 years ago. I touched some of the oldest rocks on earth. Amid the many family gatherings, I was able to get out a bit and explore some more (I visited briefly 13 years ago) of the wildlife, history, and culture of this place. The next few posts will feature birding and exploring around the Avalon Peninsula during the first week of August, 2013. Enjoy!