I recently visited Newfoundland for the first time and I was delighted to finally get there!
Newfoundland is the 4th largest island in Canada and the 16th largest island in the world. I was born in Cape Breton over 60 years ago. There is a long ferry ride that can take you from that island to Newfoundland, and I had never visited. This summer, I flew to St. John's from my home in Toronto and it took less time than the ferry from Nova Scotia. I was eager to spend time with the people, birds, and whales.
Newfoundland and Labrador has a population of about half a million people and 214,000 of them live in the capital city of St. John’s. It’s a vibrant city that has lots to offer. I was there for the George Street Festival and got to hear Shanneyganok live. They are a traditional Newfoundland music band. It was quite emotional for me to be surrounded by locals when they sang The Islander. I was surrounded by people singing from their hearts, very proud to be Newfoundlanders!
I also met a Newfoundland dog named Chief near Cabot Tower who happily posed for pictures with tourists!
I went on one hike around Signal Hill while I was in St. John’s. It was the North Head trail and was 1.7 km long. The views of the harbor were spectacular and there were only a few people along the trail. I chatted with 2 blokes in their 70s who were in for the afternoon, traveling on a cruise ship. They were from Australia and said that the terrain that they had seen so far reminded them of home. We laughed that they had traveled so far to see similar terrain! One of them kindly took this picture.
When you stop to chat with a local in Newfoundland, they are very forthcoming and most have a story to share. I enjoyed so many stories and was really excited to learn about their lives and how they eke out a living on “the rock.” These locals are shaped by the harsh land and sea. Most people who stay are quite resourceful and have many skills. Some people commute to other provinces for work, or have several seasonal jobs. Others come “home” to retire with the pension they’ve earned while they were away.
The accent varies greatly as you move around the island. I found it quite easy in St. John’s to understand people but when I got to smaller villages, I had to ask a few people to repeat themselves in order to comprehend what they were saying. Some of the issue for me was the speed at which they spoke. One fellow spoke so quickly, I struggled to understand a thing he said. I asked him where he was born and he looked amazed at the question. “Right here” was all I understood. His friend assured me that he speaks too quickly for most tourists to understand. She kindly told me that even she has to ask him to repeat himself sometimes.
Whadda ya at?
I love words and was fascinated by the local sayings. When the words would slip out of their mouths, I almost understood what they meant. When they say “Whadda ya at?” it means “What’s up?” and when you are an entertaining tourist, they’ll say “I dies at you!” which translates to “You make me laugh.” Just hope that someone does not say that you are “stunned as me arse,” as that means you’re not that bright. “Yes b’y” was common and it can be an expression of awe or disbelief. Listen carefully and you will hear a ton of sayings that you will feel you almost understand. “Oh, me nerves” was one of them, said when someone or something is driving you crazy! I was even invited to go “twaking.” That’s shopping or hanging around downtown. It’s time out, without a plan. And I don’t do enough of it!
A Haunted Hike
I got a great kick out of the Haunted Hike in St. John’s. The crowd tramps up and down hills and through dark alleyways. There was a full moon on the night that I participated, and that made it even spookier. When a black cat walked behind our presenter as he was telling us a story, it was downright eerie. When he was telling us a story that involved a taxi driver, a cabbie drove into the parking lot to turn his car around. It gave me the shivers!
The Rooms Art Gallery and Archives is a great place to visit and the cafe has one of the best views in the city. I was able to sit by the water and look out into the spectacular harbor. I enjoyed their wonderful Seafood Bake. I felt like I was sitting inside a full page spread of a magazine. Ships come and go and it’s easy to spend hours there, mesmerized by the beauty.
Make it a point to visit St. John’s, but also get out and about to the smaller villages to get a sense of the roots of this amazing province and enjoy the culture of Newfoundland.
Elizabeth Verwey lives in Toronto and operates Spoken Lives: Stories Women Share. Elizabeth is a business mentor (and new solo traveler) who supports women to establish this speaker series in their own city.