At Signal Hill, visitors can learn about the military history of the Newfoundland region. // © 2014 Debbie Olsen
I have eaten beef tongue before, and to be honest, it isn’t really my thing. So when I saw cod tongues on a menu in the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, I had to think twice about whether or not to order the dish. Fortunately, I have always been a bit of a risk taker when it comes to food, and this time it paid off in a delicious new discovery.
Located on the eastern edge of North America, Newfoundland is one of Canada’s most remote and rugged provinces, with a fascinating culture that is a product of English, Irish, French and Aboriginal influences. In Newfoundland, or “The Rock,” as locals call it, you can find unique foods, fascinating dialects (in fact, more dialects than any other place on earth) and fun-loving, friendly people. Here are five ways to experience the captivating culture of Newfoundland in its capital city.
Explore the History
As one of the oldest English-founded cities in North America, St. John’s is home to more than 20 of Canada’s National Historic Sites. Be sure to check out Signal Hill to learn about the military history of the region. Cape Spear Lighthouse is another must-see site as the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and North America’s most easterly point. If you travel at the right time of year, you can stand on the point and watch whales or icebergs in the bay below.
Try the Food
Seafood dishes are the backbone of Newfoundland’s culinary scene. For traditional fish and chips, try Ches’s Famous Fish and Chips, a family-run business that has been in St. John’s for more than half a century. Cod tongues, pan-fried cod, salt fish and brewis (pronounced “brews”) and Atlantic salmon are also popular local dishes. You can wash them down with iceberg vodka (made from water harvested from icebergs) or one of several locally made beers.
Party With the Locals
George Street is the ultimate party spot, with the highest concentration of bars and pubs of any street in North America. The short road is pedestrian-friendly, and it features nothing but drinking and eating venues. They only allow vehicular traffic on the street in the mornings — just long enough to restock the bars, pubs and restaurants. During the annual Mardi Gras Festival (early November) or the George Street Festival (early August) are great times to visit.
Check Out the Art
“The Rooms,” a major cultural space, was built in 2005 to house the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador; the Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador; and the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador. To view the provincial art collection and learn more about the history of Newfoundland, visitors should head to this amazing facility.
Get Screeched In
An official screeching in ceremony involves kissing a cod, a lengthy recitation and drinking a shot of Newfoundland screech (rum) to be declared an honorary Newfoundlander. It’s the closest one can come to being accepted as an official resident of The Rock — without relocating. Most bars on George Street perform this weird little ceremony. Two of the most famous are Trapper John’s Museum and Pub and Christian’s Bar.
When to Go: If your clients want to view icebergs, mid-May to late June is the best time to visit. July and August are also great months, as the weather tends to be milder and there are many summer festivals to enjoy.
Getting There: There are two international airports in Newfoundland — one in the capital city of St. John’s and one in Gander — and there is regularly scheduled air service with Air Canada and United Airlines, as well as charter operators. You can also get your clients to Newfoundland via ferry from Nova Scotia or by cruise ship.
Getting Around: Newfoundland is a vast destination that is almost as large as the state of Texas. You can get around the capital city by taxi or bus, but your clients will need a rental car if they want to explore beyond St. John’s. There are also a number of domestic airports and airlines that provide service from one corner of the province to the other.
Where to Stay: In St. John’s, consider booking your clients at Murray Premises Hotel. The hotel is a national historic site and is located on the waterfront in easy walking distance of George Street and St. John’s Convention Centre.