Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

November 29, 2021
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The Shipping Views

Driving from tip to tip down Newfoundland's windswept peninsulas

Mention that you're planning a trip to Newfoundland and someone is bound to bring up the remarkable friendliness of the locals. It's as if the island communities have created a buffer of warmth against the North Atlantic winds. That may not be reason enough to set your course for Canada's easternmost province, but once you've been, it's something that will keep you coming back.

There are plenty of reasons to make a getaway to Newfoundland: the province is home to some of Canada's most dramatic seascapes, unique national parks and the oldest towns in North America. By the fall, the whale and iceberg-spotting season is over, but you'll find an interesting mix of wilderness, culture and arts; from coastal hikes to traditional music and theatre inspired by the landscape.

One of the best ways to explore Newfoundland is to drive along the peninsulas from the island's northern tip right to the south. The route can be easily covered in a few days if you fly into Deer Lake and leave from St. John's. Along the way you'll meet some of the friendliest people in Canada, stumble across lobster traps piled high at Tickle Cove, homemade bakeapple jam in Rock Harbour and headstones dating back to the 1700s in Keel's Anglican cemetery, all while exploring some of our country's overlooked gems.


Between the Long Range Mountains and the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence lies Gros Morne National Park (tel: 709-458-2417;; open May 17 to October 14), an area of such natural beauty and unusual geology that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is a land of steep cliffs, freshwater fjords carved by glaciers, coastal bogs and highland tundra, deep ocean inlets, hidden lakes and sandy beaches. But the most unique feature is under your feet. In the barren Tablelands you are standing directly on the Earth's mantle, usually buried several kilometres beneath the surface. Here the wonders of plate tectonics are revealed to the naked eye.

Explore Newfoundland (tel: 877-4XPLORE/709-634-2237; fax: 709-639-1592; leads guided trips through the park. You'll pass cliffs that rise 650 metres above the water at Western Brook Pond, discover sea stacks and caves eroded from the basalt cliffs along the coast at Green Gardens, and stop in villages along the way as you head for a hike up Gros Morne Mountain Ñ the second highest in Newfoundland.

On a rocky coastal beach at the northern tip of the peninsula you can walk right back to 1000 AD. Other than a few cars in the parking lot, L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Park (tel: 709-623-2608;; open June 1 to October 14) looks much as it did a millennium ago when Norse sailors first set up camp on the Strait of Belle Isle across from Labrador Ñ beating Columbus to the continent by almost 500 years.

When we think of Canada's first settlers, this is rarely what comes to mind, but L'Anse aux Meadows is the oldest site of European habitation in North America (though there is evidence that indigenous people occupied the site 4000 years earlier). The settlement was used year-round by Norsemen who hauled boats ashore to repair them during the winter and kept a base here during their summer forays further south.

The excavated remains of three original wood-and-sod buildings are set amid a reconstructed Viking settlement. As you approach the village from the parking lot, costumed interpreters greet you and draw you into their daily tasks, explaining the life and history of the Vikings while trading wares or settling down to a meal.


The Change Islands offer a slice of small-town life and plenty of opportunities for quiet beach combing. A 25-minute ferry ride (tel: 709-621-3150, for times) from the town of Farwell, these two islands, now linked by a causeway, are home to 450 souls and a historic fishing community that dates back to the 18th century.
Newfoundland has been hit hard by the cod moratorium, but boats here still head out for seasonal catches and harvest items such as sea cucumber for export. Throughout the island you'll see traditional clapboard houses and fishing stages Ñ buildings on the wharf where gear and dried fish were kept Ñ painted with red ochre paint.

You can wander on a coastal trail overlooking protected coves where you won't see another soul. There is an interpretation centre with geological displays and boat tours around the island are also available. But to really get in synch with the pace, you have to stay a day. At the Seven Oakes Island Inn (tel: 709-621-3256/705-635-2247; rooms from $49 to $69; open May through October, or on request for groups), the welcoming Beulah Oake offers home-cooked meals and porch-side chats. Ask for Room 1, with a fireplace and wonderful views of the water from each window. You can spend the afternoon with a mug of tea on the wraparound porch and watch the waves crash against the rocks.


As you drive around the bend in Trinity Bay, the harbour ringed by cliffs opens up and pastel buildings surrounded by white picket fences are scattered like doll houses. Each heritage building is unique and has its own story, from a former blacksmith forge to the oldest wooden church in North America.

Rising Tide Theatre (tel: 888-464-3377/709-464-3232; mounts its productions in a replica of an 18th-century fishing shed that overlooked the harbour on the same spot. From dinner theatre to plays, their performances celebrate the history and culture of Newfoundland and Labrador. Throughout the summer, Rising Tide also performs The New Founde Lande, a theatrical pageant in which participants walk to 10 different locations set against the storybook backdrop of Trinity Bay.

The area has also gained attention as a film location. In nearby New Bonaventure, you can visit the sets for the TV miniseries Random Passage (starring Colm Meaney) and the 2001 film The Shipping News (starring Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore) which was based on E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.


From the interpretive centre at St. Mary's Ecological Reserve, it's just a half-hour walk to Bird Rock, North America's third-largest gannet-nesting site. Before you see the birds you'll already hear their calls, from loud croaks to high-pitched bleatings and gentle murmurs.

During the summer more than 80,000 birds congregate here, including kittiwakes, murres and razorbills. The gannets are the most spectacular, usually nesting here until late October, blanketing a large rock completely white. You can sit on the edge of cliffs that rise more than 100 metres above the sea and watch as 25,000 birds will move in the air like snowflakes, soaring on the wind, their calls rising above the waves.


Despite being the oldest city in North America and Britain's first overseas colony, St. John's still has the feel of a smaller community. Sloping up from the waterfront, its narrow alleys and winding roads are lined with the kind of colourful clapboard houses that you see in towns throughout the province. On the popular trail that leads to Signal Hill, you actually walk up a set of stairs and across someone's front porch!

St. John's music scene is equally intimate, and one of the best places to hear traditional Celtic music in the country. On Tuesdays, in Auntie Crae's Food Shop (272 Water Street; tel: 800-563-8508/ 709-754-0661;, you can grab some lunch and pull up a chair while musicians gather around a table for an impromptu jam session, just like an old-time kitchen party. They start playing around 12:30pm but be there by noon to find a seat.

You may see some of these musicians again at folk night on Wednesday at the Ship Inn (265 Duckworth Street; tel: 753-3870), where anyone with an instrument can walk on stage and join in. On the evening I was there I saw Mike Hanrahan of the Irish Descendants play with Fergus O'Byrne, the Dublin-born, St. John's-based founder of Ryan's Fancy. George Street is a hub for Irish pubs featuring live music. You can catch the house band at O'Reilly's Pub (15-17 George Street; tel: 709-722-3735) and other acts throughout the week at Bridie Molloy's (5 George Street; tel: 709-576-5990). What better way to end your trip than in a cosy pub, surrounded by some of Newfoundland's friendliest folk?

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