The week I spent driving around the massive province Newfoundland & Labrador was full of amazing landscapes, fun stops and a lot of unexpected moments. I didn’t know a whole lot about this part of Canada before I left home though and some of the provincial quirks took me by surprise, in a good way. As a way of sharing with you what the Newfoundland experience is like, I thought I’d share a few strange facts about Newfoundland & Labrador that I think everyone should know.
Official name is Newfoundland & Labrador – While almost everyone just calls the province Newfoundland, that’s not entirely correct. The full name is Newfoundland & Labrador, changed in 2001 in order to recognize the enormous tract of land included within its borders. Still, only a small percentage of the province’s population lives there, making this one of the most sparsely populated regions on the continent.
It has its own time zone – I first noticed the strange time in Newfoundland while I was planning my trip. It took me a while to finally realize that no, Newfoundland & Labrador is not on Eastern Time Zone, in fact they have their own time zone. Yup, Newfoundland time is 30 min ahead of Atlantic time and 90 minutes ahead of Eastern time.
Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message on Signal Hill on December 12, 1901 – Newfoundland is the Easternmost point of North America and because of that has played an important role in any number of industries from aviation to transatlantic communications. It’s thanks to this geographical quirk that Marconi chose the high peak in St. John’s as the location for the first wireless message sent across the ocean.
Only way to reach Newfoundland is by air or sea. It’s an island – Although Labrador is attached to the Canadian mainland, Newfoundland itself is an island, albeit a very large one. Because of that the only way to get there is by ferry or plane, with plane being my personal choice.
Canine inspiration – Yes it’s true, two of the world’s most lovable dog breeds are named after both landmasses of the province: the enormous, bearlike Newfoundland or Newfie and the most popular dog breed in the world, the Labrador.
The accents between Waterford, Ireland and St. John’s, Newfoundland are nearly identical. – People from England and especially Ireland settled Newfoundland and due to the province’s long history of relative isolation, not only are the traditions of the home islands preserved, but so are the accents. More than once on my trip I was shocked that I wasn’t actually in Ireland, but instead in Canada – that’s how pronounced the accents can be.
Strange place names – With towns named Conception Bay, Heart’s Desire, Heart’s Content and yes, even Dildo, there seems to be a romantic side to Newfoundland I must have missed.
Independent country – Newfoundland was a longtime holdout to joining the Canadian Confederation; it wasn’t until 1949 when it finally joined the rest of the country. Until then it was an independent nation and even today the flags and colors of the country/province can be seen flying proudly almost anywhere you go.
UNESCO sites – I love UNESCO World Heritage Sites and it was with a bit of surprise that I discovered Newfoundland & Labrador is home to four recognized sites: Gros Morne National Park, L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, Red Bay National Historic Site and the recently added Mistaken Point.
You can travel to France without leaving the province. Sort of. – In what is a great example of how bizarre colonial politics were, there is a bit of France located in Newfoundland. Saint Pierre and Miquelon is a self-governing overseas collectivity of France, right off the coast of the province and the only remnant of the former New France still under French control.
You’re not saying it right – On my first night in St. John’s I was taken under the wing of a local and taught how to properly pronounce the name of the province. While it’s our natural inclination to say it quickly and for the “land” to sound like “lind” or “lund” that’s not at all correct. Instead there’s a slight guttural stop between “Newfound” and “land” with the later pronounced as you would if it were isolated. So, the proper way to say the name is “Newfound-land.”
Everyone lives on Newfoundland – While the province encompasses both Newfoundland AND Labrador, a shocking 94% of the population lives on Newfoundland. Of those folks, another whopping 40% live in St. John’s, the capital city.
Oldest city in North America – Sorry Williamsburg, but John Cabot landed in Newfoundland way back in 1497 and St. John’s is the continent’s oldest city, first showing up on maps in the early 1500s.
Used to be home to world’s busiest airport – Oddly enough, the remote outpost city of Gander has played an incredibly important role in the history of aviation, including laying claim for a short while to the world’s busiest airport. Before the jet age, planes used Gander as an important refueling stop for European travel routes, making it well known amongst the wealthy elite of the 1940s and 50s.
Argentia, Newfoundland averages 206 days of fog per year – Because of its precarious position along the North Atlantic, Newfoundland experiences some extreme and chilly weather, including a lot of fog throughout the province.
Vikings lived there – Long before Columbus “discovered” the New World, Vikings had already settled Newfoundland around the year 1,000. Today the site is immortalized in L’Anse aux Meadows, a Viking colony discovered in the 1960s. And yet textbooks still haven’t been changed…