Jill MacLean, whose YA novel Nix Minus One is set in small-town Newfoundland, has always passion for that province. Today she shares with us:
If you choose to canoe in Newfoundland in June, July, or August, you’d better be wearing a bug jacket and you’d better be prepared to view the lake through a mesh of small squares crawling with several hundred black flies thirsty for your blood.
If you climb Gros Morne Mountain in the national park on the west coast, you’re not just climbing up (and, believe me, it’s steep), you’re also, metaphorically, travelling north—on the plateau on top of the mountain, Arctic flowers bloom and Arctic hares roam (and the view makes every drop of sweat worthwhile).
The Tableland, also in the park, is your chance to see a part of the earth’s mantle that was thrust to the surface. The orange-hued rocks of the gulch look like they belong in Utah, not Newfoundland.
Newfoundland didn’t become part of Canada until 1949, and to this day, perhaps because of its isolation, has always maintained its distinct culture.
Burnt Cape, on the Strait of Belle Isle, is made of limestone, has the shortest growing season in all of Newfoundland, and is home to a host of arctic-alpine plants, one of which grows nowhere else in the world. The plants nestle among polygons of rock shattered by fierce freeze-thaw cycles, characteristic of conditions much further north.
The “Northern Ranger” is the passenger-freight boat which travels the Labrador coast from Goose Bay to Nain, via Black Tickle, Rigolet, Makkovick, and Natuashish. Small boats appear from the little communities along the shore; babies, washing machines, flour, snowmobiles, flats of plants, are transferred back and forth. Along the way, you get “screeched-in”—a ceremony that involves, among other things, kissing a dead codfish.
You can watch thousands of gannets nesting on the cliffs of Cape St. Mary’s Ecological reserve, and from a boat, see puffins with their wildly striped bills at Bay Bulls and Witless Bay.
Check whether this is a year for icebergs, and if it is, head for a boat tour out of St. Anthony at the tip of the northern peninsula. At the end of June, if you’re lucky (as I was, once), you’ll not only see huge white and turquoise bergs, you’ll see humpbacks in a feeding frenzy against the rocky shoreline.
Visit the restaurant at Lighthouse Point, where you’re almost guaranteed a whale sighting in summer.
Want to sleep next door to a light
house? Go to Quirpon Island (rhymes with “harpoon”)—whales and icebergs there, too.
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment was the only North American regiment to fight at Gallipoli in 1915; and at Beaumont-Hamel, on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, ninety percent of the regiment was killed in twenty minutes when the men advanced across No Man’s Land toward the German dugouts.
You can read about it in David MacFarlane’s The Danger Tree.
Since that day, July 1 has been named Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The moratorium on the cod fishery, imposed in 1992 by the Canadian government for an indefinite period of time, ended almost five centuries of fishing off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, and put 30,000 people out of work. It changed a way of life irrevocably.
In the abandoned outport of Parsons Harbour, on the south coast of Newfoundland, I remember old planks that once were houses and a church; a door with flaked blue paint; and white, wind-scoured gravestones. Sea-glass had washed up on the beach, along with fragments of china patterned with blue willow leaves and dark pink roses.
For hospitality, humour, and a heritage of physical and spiritual toughness, you can’t beat the Newfoundland people. And if you’re lucky enough to be invited to a kitchen party – enjoy!