Newfoundland: a unique land

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the beauty of Newfoundland

After a week’s vagabonding happily around, we were leaving central Newfoundland, waiting in the departures lounge of the world-famous Gander International Airport (more on that later.) We delighted in listening to the bantering back and forth of a group of plaid shirt and jeans-bedecked burly men seated together.  “Now those guys just have to be Irish,” I whispered to my husband. He agreed. We had heard the myriads of Newfoundland accents of English all week and by now, thought we could tell who was local and who wasn’t. So, I excused myself and asked the men, “Now you have just got to be from Ireland, right?” They laughed uproariously in response and assured me that they were indeed Newfoundlanders, ribbing each other as they did so.

The 42,031 square mile (108,860 kilometre) island of Newfoundland is Canada’s fourth largest and the world’s 16th largest island.  Located off of Canada’s east coast, Newfoundland is the most populated part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, with 29 percent of the provincial land area.

It has a language all its own, a rather charming mix of early English, Irish and French brought from settlers and kept well preserved through isolation. The resulting sixty-some dialects of English are considered some of the most distinctive in the world, and can vary wildly from small town to the next.

Hot toutons and baked beans from Shirley at the Inn by the Sea in King’s Point

It’s a region of distinctness in many ways – not just language. You’ll partake of some unusual food and drink when you explore the misty, mountainous island of Newfoundland. Be prepared to try some ‘toutons,” ‘duff,” “squid rings,” “scrunchions” and yes, even “flippers” and “tongues.” You might douse them all down with some Black Horse ale or raspberry Purity juice drink, along with a few bakeapple berries and a lovely figgy pudding.

To say Newfoundland correctly, or better said, as the locals do, rhyme it with “understand,” thus the emphasis is on “land.” While almost everyone just calls the province Newfoundland, that’s not correct. The full name is Newfoundland & Labrador which was changed in 2001 to recognise the enormous section of Labrador included within its borders while only a small percentage of the province’s population lives there.

Two of the world’s most beloved dog breeds are named after the province: the bearlike Newfoundland or “Newfie” and the world’s most popular dog breed, the Labrador.

Another (rather bizarre) fact is that there is a bit of France located within (or better said, just outside) Newfoundland. Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a remnant of the former New France, is a tiny self-governing overseas archipelago of France, right off the coast of Newfoundland. Visitors can easily travel there – but they’ll need euros to buy anything!

it is the scenery that was one of the main things that I shall remember about Newfoundland…

The province is the youngest in Canada, having joined the confederation in 1949 s next year there will be celebrations of its seventieth anniversary. Besides its unusual language patterns, whimsical road and place names (Dildo Provincial Park, Leading Tickles, Pride’s Drong, among many others) and unique gastronomy, Newfoundland is also one of the few places in the world to hold to its own time standard – Newfoundland Standard Time. This is three-and-a-half hours behind UK time.

Newfoundland and Labrador separates itself into five regions: Western, (includes the huge, magnificent Gros Morne National Park and L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site,) Eastern (includes the Burin Peninsula and Bonavista,) Avalon (includes St. John’s and the newest of the province’s four UNESCO sites, Mistaken Point, Labrador (the least populated includes Battle Harbour and the Basque settlement of Red Bay, and Central (including Gander, Twillingate and Iceberg Alley.)

Central Newfoundland is currently very familiar around the world, as the small town of Gander is famed for its role in the hit musical “Come From Away,” which opens in London on January 30, 2019. Its airport, once the world’s largest, is widely known as being where 38 jumbo jets landed after US air space was closed due to the disaster of 9/11. The planes could not leave until they received clearance. This small, tight-knit community of only about 9,000 people, welcomed nearly 7,000 passengers from 98 different countries into their homes, schools, community centres and other buildings for five days as though they were family. They fed and clothed them, taking care of their pets which were on board, and much more. After a television series and a film, this touching and heart-warming story resulted in a Canadian screenwriting couple turned it into a musical. It premiered in Canada in 2009 before opening on Broadway in 2017 winning, amongst other awards, a Tony and being nominated for a Grammy.

…and the wildreness

This part of the province is the second-largest, and contains wildernesses galore, delightful seaside coves and towns like Twillingate and others in Notre Dame Bay, along with the beloved Fogo Island, reached by ferry. Very good dinner theatres are in many locales – a nice way to get with the locals and see a good show at the same time. The Eastport peninsula has white sand beaches and, whilst the sea is chilly, it is not unbearable – as I myself experienced in a quick dip.

King’s Point Pottery Craft Gallery is world-renowned for its astonishing pottery and high-quality provincial crafts, as well as its classes offered year round. Also in King’s Point is the challenging Alexander Murray Hiking Trail, with its well-designed, (but daunting) 2,200 up-and-down wooden stairs on the lush, densely wooded trail. I admit, I did all but maybe the last 200, when I sat down on a rock to enjoy the all-encompassing view and cooled down. I searched with my binoculars for moose but alas, saw only a few squirrels and woodpeckers.

Newfoundland is full of dense forests, enormous emerald green meadows and tiny seaside villages, with just a few larger towns of sizeable populations. Many of the towns have much smaller populations than in the past, since paper mills and logging camps have closed down. We often heard of younger people going to Alberta to work in the oil fields, or of “fly out” jobs, which consist of jobs in other provinces that fly employees in and out of Newfoundland every three weeks or so. Conversely, there are large mini-mansions in such small cities as Grand Falls-Windsor which we were told were built with “Alberta money,” whether from money earned there or from Albertans choosing to have second homes in picturesque Newfoundland (where homes are also much less expensive than in other parts of Canada.)

We ate whatever we could find that was new to us, wherever we wandered in our five days on Newfoundland – sometimes with trepidation, but usually with delighted surprise once we took a taste. To our taste, from the U.S. southwest, at times a bit of Tabasco was needed, but most dishes were hearty, comforting and nourishing. On those upcoming cold winter mornings, I’ll be thinking of the steaming toutons with melted butter next to the little cask of savory baked beans… and maybe a fish cake on the side?

fish cakes served with pepper chutney

What are some of the Newfoundland and Labrador foods, anyway? Here are just a few of them:

Cod Tongues: Cod tongues are actually part of the throat of the fish. They are typically battered and fried, served with scrunchions.

Scrunchions: Small pieces of fried pork fat, usually topping soups or certain items.

Jiggs’ Dinner:  Salt beef soaked in water for 8 to 10 hours, then drained and boiled with carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, parsnips, cabbage and dried yellow split peas for three hours. Also known as Sunday dinner.

Toutons:  These fresh-baked bread rolls, served piping hot at breakfast or brunch, are traditionally fried or grilled and served with scrunchions. Maple syrup, butter or jam are good with toutons, but the traditional topping is a drizzle of molasses and a pat of butter.

Figgy Duff: A dessert pudding, usually served with caramel sauce. It does not have any figs in it, but does have raisins!

Flippers: Seal flippers, prepared in a number of ways, often in a savory pot pie.

Fish Cakes: Made from potatoes and cod, along with spices, butter and eggs, these fried cakes are served at any meal, including breakfast, with a tasty pickled pepper accompaniment.

All images © Mark Rush Photography

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