On Travel: St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador

I’ve never been out East. Every time I travel within Canada, for some reason I head to the West coast. 

I’ve never travelled further east than Montreal, Quebec. So, when an amazing deal pop up on Lynx Air, I pounced on the $99 return flight to St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador. I tend to travel that way i.e. where’s there a great deal … book and go.

I’d always heard that the East Coast has a certain energy about it so I was excited to get out there to experience it for myself and I wanted to pop in to visit my cousin in the north eastern part of the province. I hadn’t seen her since we were just kids, and what better tour guide to have than my very own cousin who could show me her neck of the woods.

About Newfoundland & Labrador

Before we get into the meat of my trip. I want to share a little about the most easterly Canadian province.

  • This is where the sun rises first in North America (except Greenland)
  • Vikings landed over 1,000 years ago.
  • Home to the oldest European settlement and one of the oldest cities in North America
  • Has been a province of Canada for barely 65 years.
  • A vast land, with a relatively small population
  • Newfoundland and Labrador has some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
  • A land of rich history and natural wonders: stunning coastlines, breaching whales, icebergs, and some of the most incredible skyscapes you’ll ever see. 

About the City of St. John’s

Not to be confused with St. John, NewBrunswick, St. John’s is the capital and largest city of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. With a population of approximately 212,579, the St. John’s Metropolitan Area is Canada’s 20th-largest metropolitan area.

St. John’s lies along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, on the northeast of the Avalon Peninsula in southeast Newfoundland. The city is North America’s most easterly city, excluding Greenland; and is 475 km closer to London, England than it is to Edmonton, Alberta in its own country. It is also closer to all of Ireland than to Miami, also on the east coast of North America.

There has been some controversy regarding which European settlement is the oldest in North America. English fishermen had set up seasonal camps in St. John’s in the 16th century, they were expressly forbidden by the English government, at the urging of the West Country fishing industry, from establishing permanent settlements along the English-controlled coast. As a result, the town of St. John’s was not established as a permanent community until after the 1630s.

 In June 1986, Canada’s very first Subway restaurant was built in St. John’s.

The city of St. John’s, taken from Signal Hill

Day One – September 9, 2022

Departure

Departed from Pearson International Airport (YYZ) in Toronto, Ontario and flew into St. John’s International Airport (YYT), which is located just about 10-15 minutes northwest of the downtown core, where my hotel was located on Duckworth St.

Duckworth Inn

I intentionally chose the Duckworth Inn due to its walking proximity to everything I wanted to do. The prices were decent compared to others on Booking.com where I tend to book most of my stays.

From the hotel George Street and Mile One Stadium are located to the west. It’s just a short walk to historic Signal Hill. The St. John’s Harbour is a short five minutes walk behind it. Just up over the hill you will find The Rooms which is must visit for the history buff.  A few blocks east of City Hall, the Newfoundland Supreme Court is housed in a late-19th-century building with an eccentric appearance: each of its four turrets is in a different style.

Lanes and stairways between Duckworth Street and Water Street or George Street give access to some of the city’s most popular pubs. 

McMurdo’s Lane connects Water and Duckworth Streets

Located in the same building as The Duckworth Inn you will find Magnum & Steins, a fully licensed, high end restaurant offering fresh local seafood, steaks, handmade pasta. Perfect, so on rainy days where I didn’t want to venture out, I could eat at the hotel.


Hurricane Earl

I arrived in St. John’s just in time for extratropical cyclone Earl.

Earl had been downgraded from hurricane status as it began to weaken and lose tropical characteristics. Hurricane Earl was a long-lived, large hurricane that mostly stayed out at sea, but brought heavy rain to Puerto Rico and Newfoundland.

The fifth named storm and second hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, originated from a tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa on August 25th. The wave struggled to develop over the next week as it moved west-northwestward.

The system was able to organize enough to be designated as Tropical Storm Earl on September 3. Earl started to shift northward after impacting parts of the Caribbean. Strong wind shear halted Earl from rapidly intensifying and it maintained tropical storm status.

Despite being forecasted to continue strengthening and peak as a Category 4 hurricane, Earl’s inner core was repeatedly interrupted due to dry air entrainment and it fluctuated in strength the following day while passing well to the east of Bermuda. It briefly weakened down to Category 1 hurricane strength early on September 9, before re-strengthening into Category 2 strength with a peak intensity of 165 km/h sustained winds. At this time, Earl had become a rather large hurricane, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 130 km from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 445 km.

After maintaining this intensity for several hours, Earl weakened down to a Category 1 hurricane again on September 10, and then transitioned into an extratropical cyclone six hours later. 

During a 36-hour period from September 10th-12th, 7-8 inches of rain fell in the St. Johns area, causing overflowing along the Waterford River which led to a large amount of urban flooding. Similar rainfall amounts were also observed in communities throughout the Avalon Peninsula.


Day Two – September 10, 2022

My full first day in St. John’s, so many things to do.

The night prior as I dined at Magnum & Steins at the hotel, I met another Ontarian who was there solo, she was on business and had 2 days to do some sightseeing. We became quick friends and she invited me on a combo day tour which we booked through Legends Tours, it was a great way to see both downtown St. John’s and to visit the area’s top attractions.

But first, breakfast.

Bagel Cafe

No doubtin’ I’m having a touton for breaky at the Bagel Cafe on Duckworth St. It came highly recommended. I opted for the Cape Spear touton which came with cape spear beans, touton, fish cake, eggs and bacon. I topped it with maple syrup – yum! It paired well with a green tea mimosa.

A Touton is a popular traditional dish most usually thought of as a pancake-like bread dough commonly made with risen dough.

Hurricane Earl

This was the first day that Earl was a force, it also happened to be the day that we were going on our tour. As mentioned, during a 36-hour period from September 10th to the 12th, 7 to 9 inches of rain fell in the area of St. John’s. This was about the time that I was thinking much like the Dixie Chicks“that Earl had to die”.

The tour wasn’t canceled, I thought it would be. I suspect living on Canada’s east coast, they’re used to high winds and stomach-churning waves. So, we pressed on. As far as I was concerned, it was part of the true Newfoundland experience. Anyone could visit during a gorgeous sunny day, but not everyone gets to experience an extratropical cyclone.

I hadn’t come prepared with rain boats or raincoat, thankfully my new friend Salma, had an extra rain poncho to lend me. With that we were off.

Cape Spear World War II Battery

Because of its proximity to convoy routes during WWII, a Canadian-manned gun battery including two Lend-Lease ex-US 10-inch M1888 guns on disappearing carriages was installed at Cape Spear to defend the entrance to St. John’s harbor from German U-boats.  Fort Cape Spear served as the Counter-Bombardment Battery for St. John’s harbour. As the first line of defence, the Fort’s two massive guns always needed to be ready for action.

Barracks and underground passages leading to the bunkers were built for the use of troops stationed there. 

A Ready Room behind each gun provided a space where the duty crew could shelter and relax, 24 hours a day. To make their wait more comfortable, these rooms were equipped with a stove, communal table and bunks. These soldiers, like firemen at a fire hall, lived at their posts while on duty, ready to jump into action if an alarm was sounded.

To ensure the guns could be brought into immediate action a few rounds were stored near the gun position in small concrete chambers.

Cape Spear

At a longitude of 52°37′ W, it is the easternmost point in Canada and North America, excluding Greenland.

The wind was blustery. It howled. The sea was rough. Other tours were there as well. What an experience to be at the most easterly part of North America but to also experience the enormity of the weather. What an experience!

I will also state for any Karen’s or Karl’s out there … at no time did I feel unsafe. The winds were strong, but not enough to blow me over. The sea was rough, but they came no where close to the observation point as you can see in the photo.

Signal Hill

Cabot Tower:

Construction of the tower began in 1898 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland, and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Cabot Tower was completed in 1900. The tower overlooks the city and the ocean, and is an example of late-Gothic Revival style.

As you can see the weather at the highest point of Signal Hill was something to content with. It was so windy that they rain felt like pellets, even though it wasn’t hail. The wind gusts made it hard to stand upright. I spent about enough time there to be able to see it up close before heading back to the tour van.

The First Trans-Atlantic Wireless Message

The first transatlantic wireless signal was received by Marconi on this spot on December 12, 1901.

Marconi believed that radio waves would follow the earth’s curvature. He constructed a transmitter in the West of England and another at Cape Cod in Massachusetts. When a storm damaged the first antenna, it had to be replaced by a smaller one. Marconi decided to change the North American destination to St. John’s.

In December 1901 Marconi assembled his receiver at Signal Hill, nearly the closest point to Europe in North America. He set up his receiving apparatus in an abandoned hospital (hospital no longer exists but in the photo below you can see the outline of an L shape foundation) that straddled the cliff facing Europe on the top of Signal Hill. 

Ross’s Valley Fever Hospital

The Ross’s Valley Hospital, opened on Signal Hill in the 1890s to isolate fever, smallpox and epidemic patients from the general public. Its remote location, however, made it difficult to reach and the facility rarely received patients. Vacant and unused, the hospital fell into disrepair by the early 1900s and was destroyed by fire on May 6, 1911, the facility was never rebuilt.

Cabot Tower and Isolation Hospital. Ross’s Valley Hospital (bottom right). Photographer unknown. Archives and Special Collections (Coll. 137 02.08.002), Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

A very small part of the foundation is visible just down over the edge of the parking lot at Signal Hill.

The hospital no longer exists but you can see the outline of an L shape foundation

Blue Rodeo Concert

Before I take off to someplace I’m visiting, one of the first things I do is look online for free things to do. Then I check Groupon for deals and then I’ll check to see what’s happening in town for the duration that I’m there to see if I can take in some of the sights and sounds.

It just so happened that Blue Rodeo was in town and what better way to spend a wet, dreary, rainy evening than checking out one of Canada’s best country rock bands? So, I extended the offer to my new friend Salma and we purchased last minute tickets. They were amazing and put on quite a show.

Who doesn’t love: 5 Days in May, Rain Down on Me, Try, Hasn’t Hit Me Yet, Til I am Myself Again, After the Rain, Lost Together to name a few …

A little soggy from the walk back to the hotel.  Nothing that a single malt, easy-going Speysider, Cardhu 12 years can’t help. Thankfully Magnum & Steins in my hotel was still open.


Day Three – September 11, 2022

Touted as the best pub in town and known for their fish ‘n chips my cousin recommended I try The Duke of Duckworth.

It was literally 10 feet from my hotel so it was a no brainer.


Day Four – September 12, 2022

“A Time” Bronze Sculpture

A Time by Morgan MacDonald is a 12ft tall sculpture located on George Street, the city’s famous entertainment area. It celebrates the performing arts in music and dance, honouring some of the province’s best-known artists: singer-songwriter Ron Hynes, accordion pioneer Wilf Doyle, and actor Tommy Sexton. The sculpture also serves as a memorial to the artists.

Broderick’s Pub

Broderick’s is a lovely Irish themed pub. Excellent atmosphere, cold beer and good service. Live music. This is not a big place which adds to the appeal.

I chose Broderick’s because after the Blue Rodeo concert, as my new friend and I were walking home in the pouring rain, remnants of Earl … I heard one of my favourite song emanating through the pub doors. I heard The Pogues, Fairytale of New York coming from behind the doors. Wanting to see who was playing, Salma and I stepped into the pub and stood in front of the musicians who invited us in to have a seat after they were done singing the song.

We declined … for now. The gentleman said if I came back the following day, he’d take care of me with a nice Jigg’s dinner. I didn’t make it Sunday, but was feeling up to it this day.

Ordered myself a pint and some 1/2 priced nachos. And, yes, that’s BBQ sauce on them! When in Newfoundland do as they do. While I loved the vibe of this place, the nachos were unfortunately stale, maybe that’s why they were 1/2 price?


Day Five – September 13, 2022 

Having rented a car off Turo for a couple of days, I left St. John’s and drove north to connect with my cousin so she could show me her neck of the woods.

Summerville

Visited my cousin Tammy at her home located in Summerville. What a quaint little place! Don’t sleep on Summerville if you’re in the area.

It is located in Southern Bonavista Bay. The harbour, despite some shoals, can accommodate large vessels and is protected by surrounding hills. The community was originally known as Indian Arm and was settled in the 1800’s. In 1914 Indian Arm was renamed Summerville.

The Dungeon/The Dungeon Provincial Park

Wow!  Absolutely spectacular!  Stunning!

The coastline and steep cliffs at The Dungeon Provincial Park are spectacular examples of the North Atlantic Ocean’s wave action and erosive power. Unique shoreline features are due to the ancient sedimentary rocks’ composition and thousands of years of continuous coastal erosion.

The Dungeon itself had its origin as a cavern with two separate openings to the sea. Continuing erosion led to the widening of the cavern until eventually, the roof collapsed inwards. Wave action has slowly removed rock material from the collapse, leaving the incredible feature we now see!

Due to the erosion from waves, storms, winds, and tides, the coastline is in a constant state of change and one day the two arches will collapse and the Dungeon will one day be a pillar of rock known as a sea stack.

Cape Bonavista

For generations of mariners along this coast, the light at Cape Bonavista was their only connection to land while out at sea. 

The lighthouse at Cape Bonavista was built between 1841 and 1843 to mark the entrances to Bonavista and Trinity bays and to aid mariners headed for Labrador. It is the fourth-oldest lighthouse in Newfoundland. The two-story wooden building is constructed around a masonry tower surmounted by a lantern. 

In 1962 the lighthouse went dark, replaced by an electric light on a nearby steel skeleton tower.

In the 1970s the lighthouse was restored for use as a museum by the provincial government.

Little Dairy King

After having explored Bonavista, my cousin suggested one of her faves while in the area, Little Dairy King and it did not disappoint. Unbelievable location, friendly service and clean. Food is delicious, generously portioned, and economically priced. We left with full bellies.

The whole menu looked good, but I went with the Newfoundland fries. Never heard of them? Well, you’re missing out. Similar to poutine, this gravy-smothered dish is Newfoundland‘s best-kept secret. Crispy fries are covered in a dressing or stuffing flavoured with savoury spice and topped off with rich beef gravy and peas. The result is a delicious cross between Thanksgiving dinner and your favourite late-night snack.

There’s a hot turkey sandwich hiding in there … probably right behind my soon to have heart attack lol.

Trinity

Trinity is a small town located on Trinity Bay. The town contains a number of buildings recognized as Registered Heritage Structures. So freaking cute. Per the 2021 Census of Population, Trinity had a population of 76 living in 36 of its 76 total private dwellings, a change of -55% from its 2016 population of 169.

Port Rexton Brewery

The Town of Port Rexton is located on the East Coast of Newfoundland, situated along Route 230 between Clarenville and Bonavista.

The town has approximately 350 year-round residents and boasts some of the best coastal views and rugged landscapes, hikes, and whale watching opportunities in rural Newfoundland.  

The only thing I wanted to see while I was there was their cute little microbrewery.


Day Five – September 14, 2022

Angels Corner

Angels Corner is located at the intersection of Duckworth and Prescott Streets. The memorial, which is part of a national initiative, recognizes female victims of violence and creates awareness of the need to end violence and abuse against women. 

It is marked with a specially-designed wrought-iron gate, plaque, bench, mural, and flag, as well as landscaping. 

Corner of Duckworth and Prescott Streets

Jelly Bean Row

Jelly Bean Row is the name given to the rows and rows of brightly coloured townhouses that line the steep streets of downtown St. John’s. These row houses are characterized by bold colours with contrasting door and windows. 

In the 1960’s the houses were drab and darkly painted. The colour came as a part of St. John’s downtown revitalization project. The row houses in the late 1970’s began to be painted until it spread across the downtown resulting in the colours of St. John’s. 

When I picture St. John’s, this is exactly how I envision it!

George Street

Its the Biggest Little Street and one of the premier entertainment districts in North America. Known for having the most bars and pubs per square foot of any street in North America, George Street is the hub of nightlife in St. John’s. With two blocks packed full of pubs, clubs, restaurants, and bars it has something for everybody. Whisky aficionado? Beer lover? Craft cocktail enthusiast? Whatever floats your boat, George Street is your happy place. Downtown St. John’s has some of the best pubs and restaurants in Newfoundland, and George Street is no exception. Whether you’re solo like me, a couple, or a large group.

Green Sleeves Pub & Restaurant

I’d just finished 90 minute St. John’s Downtown Core Walking Tour offered by St. John’s Walking Tours. My guide Pierre was amazing and gave us so much history on downtown. I offered to take him out for a bite and a drink so I could learn more about the city and at his suggestion we ate at Green Sleeves. Nothing much to gawk at inside, but the vibe was A+.

I had the Clubhouse Sandwich: Roasted Chicken, Crisp Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Tomato, Lettuce, and Fresh Mayo on Homestyle Toasted Bread – $19.75. 9/10 recommend. They also had buckets of Michelob Ultra on sale – score!

Energetic watering hole offering familiar pub fare, a full bar & nightly musical guests.

The people of St. John’s were so amazingly welcoming. Pierre had to call it an evening, I stayed behind finishing my beer and listening to the live music and managed to meet 2 wonderful ladies.


Day Six – September 15, 2022

Cape Spear Lighthouse

On North America’s easternmost point of land, the historic Cape Spear Lighthouse, is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The weather was nice today so I decided to head back so I could see the lighthouse. Only saw the barracks last time due to huge wind gusts. This place is so stunning.

Petty Harbour

Home of Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea, Petty Harbour is on the eastern shore of the Avalon Peninsula. It’s nestled deep in the heart of Motion Bay, approx 15 minutes from St. John’s. It’s 200 years old, though the site has been continuously occupied since at least 1598. It is one of the oldest European settlements in North America, even predating the arrival of the Mayflower on the Massachusetts coast. 

The name Petty Harbour is the anglicized form of the French name Petit Havre meaning ‘small harbour’. The English always have a way of bastardizing the French language lol.

I had to come as I heard it’s super stunning here and like every thing else in Newfoundland so far, it is.

Former Home of Alan Doyle

Alan Doyle was born in Petty Harbour in 1969. From the moment he burst onto the scene in the early 1990s with his band Great Big Sea, Canadians fell in love with the pride of Petty Harbour, whose boundless charisma and sense of humour was eclipsed only by his magnetic stage presence. Since the breakup of the band he’s continued on with a solo career furthering that band’s mix of folk and rock called the Alan Doyle Band.

This is the house that our local tour guide pointed out to us was Alan’s former home, before he moved into St. John’s.

Chafe’s Landing

Highly recommended, I chose Chafe’s Landing for lunch. They were touted for their seafood chowder, cod tacos and fish & chips. This cute little place was just as you’d expect in a small fishing village. An old building with great atmosphere and good food. Loved the upstairs deck view over looking the harbour, where I enjoyed my lunch of Moose Madness: fries topped with ground moose and moose sausage, sautéed mushrooms, onions, green peas, dressing, and gravy.

The Terry Fox Monument

The Terry Fox Monument is most definitely worth a visit, it touched me deeply.  I’ve seen the memorial outside Thunder Bay and the actual road side sign of where he actually stopped his Marathon of Hope – you can visit that blog here.

I could just imagine seeing him there dipping his rudimentary prosthetic leg into the Atlantic ocean to begin running a marathon a day …  inspiring us even to this day to help find a cure for cancer.


Day Seven – September 16, 2022

McBride’s Hill – Great Fire of 1892 Commemorative Mural 

A mural on McBrides Hill shows the Great Fire of 1892 by Artist Julie Lewis.

Late in the afternoon of 8 July 1892, a small fire broke out in a stable after a lit pipe or match fell into a bundle of hay. Although containable at first, the flames quickly spread due to dry weather conditions, a disorganized fire department, and poor planning on the part of city officials. Within hours, the fire had destroyed almost all of St. John’s, leaving 11,000 people homeless and causing $13 million in property damage.

Time to Depart

As I was preparing for my time in Newfoundland to come to an end, Fiona as they named her, became Tropical Storm Fiona. On September 12, 2022, they began monitoring a tropical wave over the central tropical Atlantic for gradual development, though environmental conditions for development were assessed as only marginally favourable.

On the day of my departure from St. John’s, Fiona passed over Guadeloupe with 80 km/h winds as it entered the eastern Caribbean.


Hurricane Fiona

Hurricane Fiona became a large, powerful, and destructive Category 4 Atlantic hurricane which was the costliest and most intense tropical or post-tropical cyclone to hit Canada on record.

It was the sixth named storm, third hurricane and first major hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season after Earl, whom I had just left.

Fiona developed from a tropical wave that emerged from West Africa, before developing into a tropical depression east of the Leeward Islands on September 14, 2022. On September 15, 2022, it was assigned the name Fiona, even though dry air and moderate to strong wind shear were still impacting the system.

The day I left St. John’s, September 16, 2022, Fiona passed over Guadeloupe as it entered the Caribbean Sea, where atmospheric conditions improved, and strengthened into a hurricane as it approached Puerto Rico two days later. A few hours afterward, the eye of Fiona made landfall along the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico, near Punta Tocon, between the municipalities of Lajas and Cabo Rojo.

The hurricane made landfall in the Dominican Republic shortly thereafter, and then strengthened into the first major hurricane of the season.

As the storm slowly moved through the Turks and Caicos, it continued to strengthen and reached Category 4 status the following day, while accelerating north. The storm, after undergoing eye-wall replacement cycles, reached peak 1-minute sustained winds of 215 km/h.

After fluctuating between category 3 and 4 intensity as it passed Bermuda, Fiona quickly transitioned into a large and powerful extratropical cyclone and struck Nova Scotia with 169 km/h winds early on September 24.

Fiona then quickly weakened as it moved through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and moved back over the northwestern Atlantic. The remnants then dissipated over Baffin Bay to the west of Greenland on September 28.

Communities in southwestern Newfoundland were left grappling with significant damage, including lost homes, flooding and road washouts due to post-tropical storm Fiona. Everything east of town hall in Port aux Basques was under an emergency evacuation order as the town was pounded by severe winds and a storm surge. The town ordered residents near the coast leave their homes. Power lines were down, the town hall was flooded and multiple roads were washed out. Port aux Basques was the worst affected, with reports of around 10 to 12 buildings and homes being swept out to sea by the storm surge and high waves. Around 200 residents have been displaced and one person was washed out to sea from her home. 

Impacts of the storm were reported across the provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Quebec.

Fiona was the strongest hurricane recorded in Canada based on atmospheric pressure and was one of the wettest ever recorded in Canada.

If you ever have the chance to visit the rock, I encourage you do it. I only saw a minute fraction of the things there are to see in the beautify province. I can’t wait to start planning my return.

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