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Newfoundland, Canada

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Newfoundland (pronounced New-fun-land) is a large island off the eastern coast of Canada. Together with Labrador, it makes up the province of Newfoundland and Labrador; the last province to enter the confederation.

The European Discovery

Newfoundland was 'discovered' by John Cabot in 1497. Cabot sailed from Bristol, England, across the Atlantic, to the Grand Banks. Legend has it that Cabot was awakened one night by the sound of objects striking the underside of his ship (the Matthew). Fearing they had run aground, Cabot leapt from his bunk and ran topside, where he found sailors excitedly peering over the side. Joining them, Cabot saw the water 'so full of fish, they could be hauled onboard using baskets rather than nets'.

This 'New Founde Land' of Cabot's caused much excitement back in Europe, due to the large fish stocks (primarily cod), however it is not known for certain where Cabot made landfall. It is generally assumed to be at Bonavista.

The Vikings

In 1960, Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad, archaeologists, unearthed a Norse settlement at L'Anse Aux Meadows on the northern tip of the island. This proved conclusively that Newfoundland was actually discovered by Lief Erikson, and not Cabot at all. The Vikings seemed to have more sense than Cabot, however, and eventually moved back to Europe.

The Natives

However, like most of North America, Newfoundland was not vacant when the Europeans arrived; it was populated by a race of indigenous people called Beothuks. Sadly, and also typically, the Beothuks were systematically killed off by the newcomers through murder and illness. No Beothuks remain today.

500 Years of History - in a Nutshell

Cabot's discovery led to Spain, England, France, Portugal, and other countries crossing the Atlantic in the spring to fish for the summer and return home in the fall. It is generally believed that the first settlers on the island were sailors who jumped ship. Newfoundland eventually opened to settlers and drew many people from the countries who had been fishing there for years. Newfounlanders claim Irish, Scottish, English, and French ancestry.

Fishing continues, even today, despite a 1992 moratorium on Northern Cod. The moratorium had devastating effects on the already fragile Newfoundland economy, but it seems to be feeling much better of late.

For centuries, Newfoundland remained a British colony, although it was passed back and forth with France during the Napoleonic era. Despite major changes in the rest of the world, Newfoundland remained relatively unaltered until the 20th Century.

After World War I, now a Commonwealth member, Newfoundland's economy reached a crisis point, due in no small part to the corruption of the government With the assistance of the British Crown, a Commission Government was formed with a focus on repairing the economy.

In 1949, after years of commission Government, Newfoundland entered into confederation with the then Dominion of Canada. Until the construction of the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) in the 1960s, Newfoundland still remained the same: with the majority of the population living along the coast, transportation was either by ship or train. The TCH helped open the interior of the island and brought Newfoundland into the modern age.

Because it is the oldest settled area of the continent, Newfoundland since confederation has felt like an ageing uncle, forced by financial troubles to move back into the family home, and is still unsure if it was a good idea.

The Climate

Newfoundland has some of the strangest weather on the planet; not actually terrible, or destructive, or particularly life-threatening though it's still pretty awful. Even though the island is just above the latitude of the south of France, Newfoundland has no nude beaches and most of the tanning is performed in solariums.

Newfoundland tends to be a cool, wet island. Sitting in the North Atlantic, the ocean moderates the annual temperatures keeping it cooler in the summer (average 25°C) and warmer in the winter (average -6°C) than other parts of North America. Due to the evaporation rate of the sea however, Newfoundland gets more than its fair share of damp weather, mostly in the form of RDF (Rain, Drizzle, and Fog). During the winter season (anywhere between October and June), snow can be accompanied by freezing rain, freezing drizzle, freezing fog, sleet, and ice pellets. Winds are frequent and usually high, ranging from a 30 km/hr light breeze to a 110 km/hr gale. The sun does show its face occasionally and is usually greeted with great wonderment. There is little difference between the seasons in Newfoundland; it is not uncommon to get a cross sample of all four seasons in the same day.

At least it's entertaining.

Weather to watch for: sun showers and sun flurries. These are both characterised by clear skies and bright sun, yet it is either raining or snowing.

The People

Newfoundland people are referred to as Newfoundlanders, Newfs, and Newfies; although the last will cause some raised eyebrows when used by an outsider, especially a 'Mainlander' (a person from the main continent.)

Newfoundlanders are friendly, humorous, entertaining, and known to be good drinkers. The capital city, St John's (the oldest city in North America), sports more bars per capita than any other city on the continent. There's a nasty rumour going about that Newfies are not clever; this is because of 'The Newfie Joke', where the protagonist, a Newfie, is either taken advantage of, or makes a stupid mistake. What few outsiders realise is that Newfie jokes are one of the primary exports of the island.

Newfoundlanders are unlike any other people on the planet. Five hundred Years of struggle against weather, rough seas, poor economy, and cheating governments has forged a tough and hardy people capable of surviving great adversity with a grin and a laugh.

The beer helps as well...

The Crime

Although the rate may be increasing, crime is still a rarity - violent crime, even more so. The number of murders per year is between five and ten; almost all of them domestic. Random violence is still very rare. Muggings are almost unheard of. Tourists need not pack automatic weapons... a shed fire where no one is injured is considered news-worthy.

Traveller Information

Here's some things to remember when touring Newfoundland:

  • Clothing for all conditions is vital. Given the weather, most of the locals dress for changeable weather. Don't think that taking an umbrella prepares you for rain; given the usual winds, rain is driven sideways and you'll get soaked anyway. If you intend to visit between June and September, you need not pack your parka, but you should bring a jacket. The best way to figure out what to wear for that day it to observe the locals. However, a good idea, regardless of season, is to wear trousers and a shirt, along with a jacket either worn or carried.

  • Moose are large furry, horned, mammals similar to deer, elk, and caribou. Newfoundland moose are some of the biggest on the planet and routinely destroy transport trucks (lorries) in highway accidents. The worst travel times for moose accidents are dawn and dusk, and any time it is raining or foggy or cold, since the moose tend to wander about. The warning signs on road are yellow and depict a moose crossing the highway. They are not trained to cross at these points so don't stop at the sign. The sign warns that the next piece of road is through a heavily moose populated area.

  • Black Ice is what happens when dew, fog, or drizzle lands on the roads, covering them with a layer of ice. This ice is completely transparent and almost impossible to see when driving. Motorists should listen to local news for road reports. Hitting black ice while travelling at 100 km/hr will usually give you an up close and personal look at the Newfoundland forests which line the highway.

  • Language is another factor as Newfoundland English can be very difficult to understand. It's a mix of English, Irish, and Scottish dialect and spoken about four times as fast, depending on the area. Because Newfoundland was settled along the coast from harbour to bay and travel was limited to boats and trains, each individual community developed its own dialect. So just because you can understand people from St John's, don't think you will be able to converse with someone from Island Cove. And they are only an hour's drive apart. UK, Irish and Australian citizens shouldn't have much trouble.

  • Get out of Town - St John's, the capital, is referred to as 'Town' and people who live there are 'Townies'. The 'Baymen' are people who live in the outlying areas. If you wish to see Newfoundland, make a point of leaving the capital and wandering about. Tourist chalets can provide maps and points of interest, and Newfs are always ready to help if you get lost, or your car breaks down. Feel free to ask for help, or information. But definitely leave the city. St John's has some fun things, but the real Newfoundland experience is 'around the bay'.

  • Tour but don't be a tourist unless you are 'that kind of person', avoid obvious tourist traps. They can usually be located right away, being designed for it, and almost always sell the sort of tack that only tourists buy. Don't be fooled - Newfoundland produces a wide range of local products; you don't have to go home with the 'Fog in a Can' or 'My parents went to Newfoundland and all I got was this stinkin' shirt' shirt.

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