Wednesday, September 16, 2015

St. John's, Newfoundland: City of Cod Tongues and Resilience

Jelly Bean Row Houses, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada 

After three very windy, cold and rainy days here in St. John's Newfoundland, we've finally given up any hope of hiking the many wild areas near the city and are heading west to catch the Marine Atlantic Ferry from Argentia south from Newfoundland to Sydney, Nova Scotia. We're preparing for a 17 hour overnight trip, in which we'll be sleeping in our seats since we can't enter our motorhome during the voyage and cabins cost an extra $200. Hey, we've done it before in other countries on overnight re-purposed school buses with non-reclining seats, constantly ringing cell phones, goats on ropes and chickens in crates. Although those trips weren't crossing the choppy North Atlantic and the Cabot Strait in September Maritime weather...

The Rooms Museum, St. John's 

We did have one sunny day in St. John's and took advantage of it by visiting the downtown area. We took the motorhome in since it was a Sunday and parking was free. If we visit a city on a weekday, we leave the RV at Wal-mart or a public transportation parking lot and hop the nearest bus/local ferry/subway into town. Last Sunday worked out well though since it was Doors Open, a periodic event across Canada that allows visitors to enter different venues such as museums, galleries and historic sites for free, often also offering free guided tours. 

St. John's has had more than its share of tragedy: the Great Fire of 1892 which destroyed most of the east end of the city and left 11,000 people homeless. the numerous losses of life and vessels of fishers and sealers, an influenza epidemic in 1918 and a tsunami in 1929. When the cod population was depleted in the early 1990s, the federal government put a moratorium on catching the fish and 30,000 people lost their jobs and often, their boats and homes. Despite all of these devastating setbacks, the people remain upbeat, resourceful, friendly and welcoming. During the Sept. 11th grounding of flights, many Newfoundlanders took stranded families into their homes for free for weeks, feeding them and keeping them safe and well looked after until the crisis passed. 

These days, it's going through a gentrification of sorts, in the shabby chic phase, with many of the older stone buildings still standing and turned into pubs, restaurants and art galleries, and with several of the colorful row houses that line the streets above the wharf being renovated. The city has a sort of older-residents-living-happily-alongside-hipsters-and-recent-immigrants vibe: think Portland, Oregon in the 1990s. The people of the city have a resilience and rebuilding mentality that is the result of years of having to do just that. When you live in the North Atlantic on the province known by locals as the The Rock and very near to the precipice of one of the Four Corners of the Flat Earth, you are made of some stern stuff and take it all in stride. You'd have to be to survive local dishes like cod tongues and seal flipper pie.  


  1. In some way I am jealous as I have never been to NL, but then again ......ONE day of sun??? Holy c...p! We are sweating here day after day. It is still very, very warm and if this continues fall colours will not show until late October. Well we'll see waht really happens. If you decide to come back to lovely Campobello - feel free. REALLY!

    1. Thanks, Peter and Bea! We would love to see you guys again :-) Actually the weather has been very good for almost the entire three weeks that we've been on "The Rock"; it was just bad the last few days. Today, thankfully, is sunny and calm for our loooooong ferry trip...