My last blog entry spoke of my regret of not having the time nor money to travel … and my hope that my son takes the opportunity to travel the world before settling into work, family and the other life events that happen while you are busy making other plans.
All of a sudden, I found myself jetting away to St. John’s, Newfoundland on business. The city sits on the most easterly tip of Canada (and North America). I’ve been there before, but too young to remember the summer vacations and too busy on other work related trips to see much of the city. And perhaps too drunk to remember the screechin’ in …
Sometime after I arrived, a wicked wind storm blew in. Imagine this little city (population around 100,000) sitting atop a craggy piece of rock out in the middle of the ocean. With hurricane-force winds and 15 metre (50 foot) waves, I was stranded on the Rock as a not-so-reluctant traveller. Delays, flight cancellations and lost connections are rarely fun, but I like to look on the sunny side. There were no flights leaving on Wednesday, so I was rebooked onto a Thursday flight, which kept getting delayed … and delayed … and delayed.
The bad news is that most incoming flights couldn’t land in the winds with 175kph gusts. Air Canada brought in a big Boeing 767 but then couldn’t de-ice in the brutal winds.
The good news is that the Air Canada mobile app works quite well and kept me notified of changes. I booked another night into the Delta Hotel and had almost a full day to explore. I think I will call my delays and detours “Tales from the Reluctant Traveller” in a tongue-in-cheek way.
Who goes exploring in wind gusts that almost wipe your feet out from under you? I do. Born and raised in Canada, I am no stranger to bad weather. I was properly dressed in a long coat with a faux-fur lined hood and sensible winter boots. The conditions didn’t seem as bad as reported in the news.
On a side note, on my last trip to St. John’s I flew in one middle September. We were having a heat wave of an Indian Summer back in Ontario so I flew to Newfoundland in my flip flops. As I deplaned, a local man also getting off the flight threw me a look and laugh “Jaysus! I hope ya got warmer shoes dan dat in your bag!” Yes … yes, I did. But I have hot feet.
Undeterred by a little breeze … I leaned into the wind and walked. I just wish I had the real camera instead of the iPhone 8 – although it does a decent job.
St. John’s is the capital city of Newfoundland, and sits on the easternmost tip of North America. Newfoundland (one of four Atlantic provinces) itself is an island – affectionately called The Rock – sitting out in the Atlantic Ocean, almost 900kms from the mainland part of the province, which is called Labrador. On the longitude lines, it’s in line with Pelotas, Brazil to the (waaaay) south and Nuuk, Greenland to the north.
If you watch the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), you are used to hearing 9:00PM Eastern Time, 10:00PM Atlantic time and 10:30PM in Newfoundland. Yep … the Rock has its own time zone.
So that is why she’s blowin’ a-gale, bye! Nothing but open seas surround her, and they frothed up into a very intense storm while I was there.
The city is also carved – sometimes literally – out of the most ancient (550+ million years old) stratified rock in the Canadian Shield. Newfoundland and Labrador are a geology buff’s dream come true.
If you know me well enough, you know I don’t really do tacky souvenirs. I like to collect rocks from places I visit – or have them brought home with other fortunate travellers – so I picked up two shards of The Rock from this craggy cliff to bring home.
I also love to enjoy the local cuisine and always try to buy a local cookbook. This time I came home with Storm the Kettle … a lovely title in Newfoundland-speak for “Quick, storm the kettle! There’s a crowd comin’ for a cuppa tea!”
Back to my wanderings …
On my first night, I walked over to Water Street to enjoy the local food scene, which is deliciously alive and well in St. John’s. My Mother is from Sydney, Nova Scotia – another maritime province – so I grew up loving fish and seafood. That’s all I ate during this short but sweet trip to The Rock! Fin Tacos (cod) … Fish (cod) & Chips … fresh Atlantic Salmon … Seafood Chowder. Juicy shrimp. Yum.
A local colleague drove me up to Signal Hill to get the featured photo, but we weren’t allowed to get out of the car because the gale-force winds would blow us away! I snapped photos from the open window while winds sounding like freight trains almost sucked the life right out of us.
J* took us for a drive along the old laneways of the Battery district where the colourful jellybean homes were built on top of each other, clutching the steep coastal cliffs. Originally homes to fishermen, the neighbourhood gets its name from the military defense chain that was put in place from one side to the other to prevent enemy ships and submarines from entering the harbour.
In keeping with tradition, most of the homes in Newfoundland were built out of wood. Lumber was plentiful and much cheaper than stone or brick. Unfortunately, the city has burned to the ground in three separate great fires in the 1800s.
Here’s a view of the Battery from Harbourside Park. You can see the Cabot Tower up on Signal Hill, overlooking St. John’s Harbour.
The Vikings were the first known visitors, with Norse settlements from the 11th century found along Newfoundland’s northern shores. St. John’s is the oldest city in North America with John Cabot landing on her shores over 500 years ago in the 16th century, King Henry VII of England declaring it to be “New Founde Launde”.
The name Labrador is thought to have come from the Portuguese word for landowner … llavrador. João Fernandes, a Portuguese explorer, is believed to have landed in Greenland first, but the name was applied to the entire area.
And speaking of Newfoundland & Labrador … yes, they are both well represented by founding dog breeds. The beloved Labrador Retriever was bred as a water dog to assist the fishermen with their nets. It’s short, seal-like fur is preferred because longer fur crusted with ice in the frigid subarctic water.
Big, lovable Newfoundland dogs were the ancestors of many St. Bernards, and share many traits with them. Newfoundland dogs were bred as a working dog for their size with longer fur. They excelled at hauling nets with the fishermen and performing water rescues.
Both breeds are sweet natured. Highly intelligent, these dogs are calm and docile, yet eager to please. They are honoured with statues dotted around St. John’s. I found these two in Harbourside Park.
Carly – my chocolate lab – is my soul dog.
The St. John’s Harbour is still a beehive of shipping activity.
I spent another three hours touring around the core of the city, snapping photos of the unique wooden salt box homes while stopping into the local pubs for a draft or two.
I didn’t reach as far west to see the Catholic crown of the Basilica Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, but did walk by the Anglican Cathedral of the same name. I truly love to wander around old churches to look at the architecture, the stone, the doors … such beauty!
The city had colourful Remembrance Day wreaths left around the National War Memorial. It was beautiful to see them still on display.
Between wind gusts and beer stops, I managed to take over one hundred pictures.
I arrived on a smaller Air Canada flight on Tuesday and left on a “filled to the gills” Boeing 767 which was the first flight to leave after the storm. We were jam-packed in the plane like sardines. The take-off was still a little rough due to the remaining wind but the 767 was as sturdy as a Herc. I finally arrived back home in Toronto sometime around 1:00AM on Friday morning. The Uber ride from the airport to the other side of the city took another hour. I didn’t head to bed until 3:00AM EST.
As someone who enjoys flying, I am one of those travellers who loves connecting flights just so I can do take-off and landing at least twice. But it’s always nice to get home when you are weary.
So long Newfoundland & Labrador! Until next time … I hope to hike your stunning trails some day. Gros Morne beckons.
I’ve written about the hospitality in Newfoundland before, when hundreds of planes were stranded in Gander, Newfoundland during the 9/11 attacks: September Blues
And also in Remembering Anthony Bourdain.
You won’t find a more wonderful bunch of people than our beloved Newfoundlanders.
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