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St. John's Newfoundland in August

Just got back from a quick one-week trip to Newfoundland, a province that is special to me and is equal to British Columbia in raw beauty (in my opinion). To anyone that tells me that they've been 'out east', but only went as far as PEI or Halifax, I tell them they haven't seen anything without going that extra mile to get to Newfoundland. Newfoundland is a raw, rugged place. It is steeped with history, worn by the wind and sea-spray, and is made all the more romantic and interesting by it's character: a place of hardship and survival, yet one of a unique 'joie de vivre'. A place with a distinct culture certainly.

Maybe the allure draws from the fact that it's hard to get to. It's fairly easy to fly to, with regular flights from Toronto to towns that, if located anywhere else would scarcely qualify for regional service. Indeed Gander has it's international airport, which famously served as the emergency destination for many of the New York bound flights on 9/11. Gander's terminal is one of the last remaining International-Style 1950-60 examples, which is a real shame (like Winnipeg's old terminal, which was recently and sadly rejuvenated). Back to Newfoundland: my favourite way of getting to 'the rock' is by Ferry, which sails out of North Sydney, Nova Scotia. There are two options: a 16-hour journey to Argentia, NL, or the much shorter 7-hour trip to Port aux Basques, NL. Even after 7 hours on the ferry, it's still over 9 hours of driving on the Trans-Canada (through not much at all) to reach the capital of St. John's on the eastern coast, which happens to be the most-eastern point of the America's (Cape Spear).

MV Leif Ericson - Marine Atlantic

The MV Leif Ericson, one of the massive ferries in the Marine Atlantic fleet. Here shown leaving for Newfoundland (taken on a previous trip).

I will be brief about why you should care about Newfoundland: first off it's the oldest European settled part of America. The vikings settled briefly on the northern tip of Newfoundland around 1000 AD. John Cabot is said to have re-discovered the island in 1497, and in the next century Newfoundland became a waypoint for Basque, English, Portuguese, French, and Spanish fishing expeditions. St. John's, the capital, has been recorded on maps as far back as 1519 AD. And yet despite having the oldest European heritage of any Canadian province, it is also the newest province (joining confederation in 1949).

Trans-Canada Highway

The open road: the Trans-Canada highway between St. John's and Bay Roberts. Most of the interior of Newfoundland is barren like this.

Moose Detection System

Newfoundland has a serious moose problem. The island is over-populated with moose. It is especially dangerous at night. Moose collisions are often fatal for both the moose and the driver. As such, you see unique ways of dealing with the situation, such as these moose detectors. Rigs also have moose-guards fitted to their fronts, like bug guards. But for moose.

Newfoundland isn't just an old place though; as I mentioned above it is very remote. Since fishing has always been it's prime industry, most of the population is on the coast. Because of it's rocky topography, few of these towns were ever connected by road; highways arrived in the 1960's. As such, many places in Newfoundland retained a unique dialect that stemmed from it's multi-cultural European past, and it's isolation from the world. This dialect has it's own dictionary, and when spoken at a quick pace is impossible to understand by anyone who has 'come from away'. Sadly many of these communities (known as outports) are fading into history, as the collapse of the cod industry and a government relocation policy are turning these picturesque and curious places into ghost towns.

Brigus Newfoundland

The outport of Brigus, near Bay Roberts.

I've personally been to Newfoundland many times, and I have been fortunate to see much of the province. This trip, however, focused mostly on St. John's and the nearby town of Bay Roberts. I wish I had the time to jump in the car and make this into an epic road trip, but my schedule dictated that flights were in order.

St. John's Newfoundland

The harbour of St. John's, Newfoundland, a place of commercial activity since the 1500's. A German U-boat once torpedoed the harbour in WWII, but they slammed ineffectively against the great cliffs that surround the harbour entrance.

Work was straightforward: I had three locations in St. John's, and one an hour away in Bay Roberts. These were retail surveys (confidential client) of owner-operated decor and DIY hardware stores. In addition, I was tasked to begin networking and building a portfolio of 360° photography for businesses, which is a new service we offer. Also, of course, I would do a bit of exploration and photography for myself.


One of the projects we're working on: retail surveys plus stock rooms for new fixtures. Floor plans with MEP details, and existing fixtures. Client confidential.

There is plenty to see in St. John's itself, and all is within walking distance. Water street is the main downtown drag, with many shops and restaurants. Nearby George Street is party-central for Newfoundland, and can get quite rowdy, with some pubs open 24-hours. Don't drink to much though: stumbling around downtown requires a bit of dexterity and muscle, as much of the landscape is a bit tortured and hilly. What's cool are the alley-ways and stairways that link George and Water streets.. there are several and they have their own names and businesses.

Downtown St. John's at night.

Not far from Downtown is Signal Hill. This park overlooks both the city and the ocean, and must be climbed to view the vastness of the north Atlantic. Perched on top is the Cabot Tower, built in 1898 to commemorate the 400th year anniversary of John Cabot landing in Newfoundland. It's a great place to see the sunrise, sunset, and to greet the boats and ships leaving the harbour. Many walking trails cross the hill and join other parks and the nearby Battery neighbourhood, itself worth visiting as well.

Cabot Tower

Doing some night photography at the Cabot Tower.

Ben Sagle - Signal Hill

Myself with the Ricoh Theta camera, doing 360° photography around Signal Hill. In the background, the Cabot Tower on the left, and the harbour entrance to the right.

Signal Hill overlooking the Atlantic

The incredible view from Signal Hill, looking towards Cape Spear (the most easterly point of North America). The Cabot Tower can be seen on the right.

Back downtown, I had the opportunity to photograph a few businesses. Two I will highlight: the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and NONIA. NONIA (Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association) is a non-profit organization that sells hand-knit apparel made by women in far-flung outports all across the province. It was established to assist Newfoundland outport communities to access health services, by raising money from the sale of hand-knit garments to pay the salaries of public health nurses. I can't think of a better place to purchase a meaningful souvenir from this fascinating province.

Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Myself testing the 360° camera before photographing the cathedral. These photos are now view-able on Google Streetview:


The interior of NONIA, located on Water Street. This is also view-able on Google Streetview:


For accommodation, I would recommend staying at the Murray Premises Hotel. Built in 1846 as warehouses for the fishing industry, today these buildings serve as a very unique and cozy hotel. My room was on the top floor, with sloped ceilings and bare wooden beams, and a dormer window facing the harbour. The location can't be beat: right downtown St. John's with everything you need and want to see within a short walk.

For pub-food, I'd recommend the Yellowbelly Brewery. Partly for the surroundings; the interior is a gorgeous brew pub, and the patio is one of the few available on Water Street. Just a few doors down is the 24-hour Celtic Hearth, a definite St. John's institution. For simpler fare, head up to Che's Fish and Chips up on Freshwater Road; they've been around since 1951. Sadly Velma's on Water Street closed a few years back :(

♫ I'se the B'y that writes the blog, and yer's the B'y that reads it... ♫

- Ben

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