Newfoundland and Labrador

Spring 2006 CSANews Issue 58  |  Posted date : May 27, 2007.Back to list

Around 60 years ago, the term“Newfie Screech” came into our vernacular. It seems that during the Second World War, a lot of our enlisted personnel had spent a tour of duty in the colony that eventually became Canada’s 10th province. On off -duty times, they would imbibe in a drink or two. Invariably, they would be introduced to some rather potent rum which, if consumed in any quantity, would see them leaving the tavern and running down the street screeching. Upon investigation, we found that Newfoundland fishermen would regularly salt their catch of cod and sail the dried fi sh down to Jamaica, where they would sell it and take some of the payment in rum – often, the dregs from rum barrels. Both groups seemed to think that it was a good deal. The Jamaicans used the cod to cook with aki and rice. The Newfoundlanders…well, you know. for quite a time, before political correctness came onto the scene, Newfi e jokes were all the rage. The Newfi es themselves, however, are not the simpleminded people the jokes would have you believe. On our fi rst visit to the newest province, we discovered upon landing at St. John’s that the airport bookstore was selling volumes of Newfi e stories. Not only that, but the province’s spirits outlets offer bottles of rum proudly labeled“Newfoundland Screech.”

Whether you arrive in Newfoundland by air or on the ferry, you will want to visit the capital. You will need wheels. Getting around St. John’s, home to 170,000 people, can be challenging, especially in inclement weather. The steep hills, reminiscent of San Francisco, need all the driver’s attention while passengers marvel at the lovely old buildings of the city’s downtown district. Many of the structures carry the charm and style of their early 19th-century origins. Shops are up to date, of course, and souvenirs are plentiful: square rolling pins (for three square meals a day); more Newfie storybooks; and coffee mugs with their handles on the inside.

Many restaurants have enchanting views of the waterfront and some offer authentic Newfoundland cuisine. fish and brewis for breakfast, I must say, is an acquired taste. Cod tongues and cod cheeks, often served as appetizers, on the other hand, are delicious. As a main course, cod is available in many styles. We enjoyed it with basil, tomato, cheese, onion and a bread crumb topping. for dessert, you could be tempted by Partridgeberry squares, bakeapple pie or steamed pudding, a concoction of fl our, milk, brown sugar, egg and butter. We enjoyed breakfast and dinner at a‘hospitality house’ in Calvert, less than an hour’s drive from St. John’s. I think that hospitality house is a much better name than‘bed and breakfast.’

Now, if you can tear yourself away from the friendliness of your hospitality home, you must introduce yourself to one of the O’Briens. Brother Joe was our skipper and guide on a ride from Bay Bulls over the waters of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. He sailed to two islands in the bay, each of which is populated by hundreds of pairs of gulls, kittiwakes, murres and Atlantic puffins, those proud sea birds with multicoloured beaks and orange feet that you see in magazine ads.

Joe explained to his passengers that whales are usually (but not always) seen on his tours. fins, Humpbacks and the smaller Minkies follow and feed on schools of capelin that swim to shallow waters to spawn. Icebergs provided excitement as the O’Brien boat swayed between these huge escapees from the frozen north. Each was a masterpiece of Mother Nature’s artistry, shining white and aqua blue as it moved south to dissolve over the Grand Banks.

We actually struck out on whales on our Witless Bay cruise, but we made up for that by driving to Cape St. Mary’s at the end of the Avalon Peninsula. The uncrowded road was paved until a dozen or so kilometres from our destination, when it turned to gravel. We parked beside the lighthouse and the interpretive centre. From our vantage point, as we were admiring the view of the coastline, we saw three humpbacks.

From the lighthouse, we walked about two kilometres along a pathway, the ocean on one side, an unfenced pasture complete with sheep and cows on the other; ahead, the Gannets. We could hear them and smell them before we could see them. It was a fantastic experience to look across a gap of 100 metres or so to“Bird Rock” and see thousands of these large nesting birds. Many were flying fewer than two metres over our heads, gliding on silken white wings offset by black tips and yellow beaks, uttering a chorus of cackles. Caught up in the excitement of the adventure, we no longer paid attention to the odour with which these sea birds live every day.

On our drive back along the opposite side of the Avalon peninsula, we were rewarded with a view of some 200 caribou. We came to Salmonier, a nature park featuring native plants and trees. Not a zoo, the park is a sanctuary, home to injured birds and animals. We were able to see lynx, red fox, moose, snowy owls, a small Merlin hawk and several other species.

But no fish. We saved the docks for another day. Driving up the peninsula, we discovered such picturesque fishing outports as Heart’s Desire, Heart’s Delight, and Heart’s Content. And Dildo. Really. Near Dildo, we paused to look at some racks of cod drying in the sun. A local gent answered a lot of questions about the process, the squid jigging grounds, and lobster trapping. He was friendly, weather-beaten and a real delight to converse with. Leaning on our car, he said, “You don’t belong handy by, do you.” He had politely determined that we did not live on‘the rock.’ Newfoundlanders can spot a mainlander without too much trouble. And the joy is that it’s natural for them to make you feel at home.

The province’s full name is Newfoundland and Labrador. There is so much scenery to admire, so many natural areas to explore, so many ‘salts of the earth’ to meet. Stop by the Mary March Museum at Grand Falls-Windsor to learn about the last survivor of Newfoundland’s Beothuk Indian Band. Learn the words to “I’s the B’y,” then go all around the circle and see Fogo, Twillingate and Morton’s Harbour. Take in the beauty of Gros Morne National Park, named as a UNESCO heritage site in 1987; go for a boat excursion on Western Brook Pond; hike the Tablelands’ trails overlooking the fjords. Drive the highway to Lanse aux Meadows, where Vikings established a settlement 500 years before Columbus‘discovered’ America. Along the way, see Rocky Harbour, Cow Head, River of Ponds, Port au Choix and Flower’s Cove.

Take your time. See and do as much as you can. Our youngest province deserves an opportunity to provide a full, memorable experience.

Now, don’t think that you are going to leave this province and its wonderful people without going through a‘screeching in’ ceremony. You will not be considered an honorary Newfoundlander unless you have been screeched in. I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but I think that you should be prepared. You will be asked to recite a blessing and some sayings; you will wear a Sou’wester; you will kiss a cod (on the lips), and drink a shot of screech.

Following my screeching in, I was told that as a mainlander, I was a not half-bad Newfoundlander. My brother-in-law, who was born and raised in Morten’s Harbour, went one better and said that as a Newfoundlander, I was a not half-bad
mainlander. I don’t know which one was putting me on.

Oh, be sure to bring a bottle of Newfoundland Screech back to
the mainland with you. It will make a great souvenir. For a while, anyway.

  • Icebergs can best be seen at St. John’s from late May until the end of June; at Lanse aux Meadows, they can be observed until later in the summer.
  • The ferry service (www.marine-atlantic.ca) runs from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port au Basques, Newfoundland all year; to Argentia, the season starts on June 16 and ends on Sept. 25, 2006.
  • Salmonier Ecological Reserve is located on Rte. 90, 12 km south of Rte.1 (Trans Canada Highway). Admission: adults: $3.45, under 18, free.
  • O’Brien’s Whale and Bird Tours: www.obriensboattours.com.
  • There are many links from the provincial website:
    www.newfoundlandandlabrador.com
  • You can have some fun by checking out this one: www.offdarock.com