Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador: Lunchtime Concert at Harbourside Park (© Magi Nams)

Quirky city on The Rock, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, blends brilliant colour with rugged coastlines and a history spanning five hundred years on North America’s eastern tip. Join me for a week-long visit and photo essay.

 

Provincial capital and the easternmost city in North America, St. John’s,  Newfoundland and Labrador is tucked against the Avalon Peninsula’s rugged shoreline on the island of Newfoundland, affectionately known as “The Rock.” St. John’s might also be the oldest English-founded settlement in North America. Fishing camps found there date back to the early 1500s. (Tap on photos to enlarge.)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: St. John's seen from Signal Hills

Here I am on Signal Hill, with St. John’s behind me. In the upper right, note the provincial museum and art gallery, The Rooms, with its brick-red peaked roof, and the grey turrets of Anglican Cathedral St. John the Baptist.

In early July, I spent a week exploring St. John’s on foot while my husband, Vilis, attended the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution (CSEE) conference hosted by Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Together, he and I also took in three CSEE fieldtrips, including the excursion to Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve I described in my last post.

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America; : The Narrows and St. John's seen from Signal Hill Hike (© Magi Nams)

The Narrows and St. John’s seen on first Signal Hill hike (© Magi Nams)

On the first of the other two fieldtrips, we hiked the harbourside slope of Signal Hill, skirting The Narrows, then ascended to the summit, getting rained on in the process. Originally known as the “Lookout,” Signal Hill is an iconic St. John’s landmark now protected as Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada. A former military stronghold, Signal Hill guarded the The Narrows and the city, originally with batteries of cannons and later, with anti-aircraft guns. It was also the site of the first trans-Atlantic wireless signal, sent from Cornwall, England, and received by Guglielmo Marconi in 1901.

Before we reached the summit, fog rolled in over looming Cabot Tower, which was built around the turn of the twentieth century and named for John Cabot in honour of the four-hundredth anniversary of the explorer’s arrival on The Rock. The tower served as a flag signal station (hence the name, Signal Hill) for six decades, from 1900 to 1960. When we arrived at the top of the hill, the fog was so thick, we couldn’t even see the flag deck. St. John’s was having “caplin weather,” we were told, a reference to warm, wet, foggy weather common during the caplin spawning season in June and July. I knew I’d have to return on a clear day – if we got a clear day to photograph the tower and views.

After hiking down from Signal Hill to Cuckold’s Cove, we traipsed into the quirky Quidi Vidi section of town, where we warmed up and dried out amid a cheerful clutter of sports memorabilia at Inn of Olde.

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America; Inn of Olde, Quidi Vidi, St. John's (© Magi Nams)

Inn of Olde, Quidi Vidi, St. John’s (© Magi Nams)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America; Quidi Vidi, St. John's (© Magi Nams)

Quidi Vidi, St. John’s (© Magi Nams)

On the second CSEE fieldtrip, we bussed to Middle Beach on the outskirts of St. John’s at dusk and watched for caplin rolling (spawning on the pebble beach). These small fish, which are members of the smelt family, are a mainstay in the diets of north Altantic whales, breeding seabirds and Newfoundlanders. Smoke wafted up from campfires on the beach, and the entire scene had the air of a party. We never did see the caplin rolling, but we toasted marshmallows over a fire and chewed on salty dried caplin. Our guide, outfitted in hip waders, netted a bucket of caplin from the breaking waves. So the fish were there. Just not ready to roll.

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: Middle Beach near St. John's (©Magi Nams)

Middle Beach near St. John’s (© Magi Nams)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America; Caplin (©Magi Nams)

Caplin (Mallotus villosus) (© Magi Nams)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: Cabot Tower, Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada (© Magi Nams)

Cabot Tower, Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada (© Magi Nams)

On my own, I explored St. John’s in sun, rain, wind and fog. I climbed Signal Hill two more times, using the more direct route of Signal Hill Road. On the second of these walks, I struck gold and had clear views of Cabot Tower, St. John’s and the headlands stretching all the way to Cape Spear, North America’s most easterly point. Beyond that, the open Atlantic. The spectacular scenes were well worth the hat trick of hikes. I read interpretive signs that held a wealth of information. I wandered among old cannons and purple lupins and gazed down at the ruins of Fort Amherst, with its lighthouse at the mouth of The Narrows.

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: Cannons and Cabot Tower on Signal Hill, St. John's (©Magi Nams)(

Cabot Tower and cannons on Signal Hill, St. John’s (© Magi Nams)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: View from Signal Hill, St. John's (© Magi Nams)

View out to Cape Spear, from Signal Hill, St. John’s. Note Fort Amherst lighthouse at centre right. (© Magi Nams)

I also birded my way around Quidi Vidi Lake, through Pippy Park and other green spaces, including the MUN Botanical Garden. I watched osprey dive for and capture fish, heard the wild, crazy call of a common loon, and enjoyed rain-spotted pitcher plants, the provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: Rowers on Quidi Vidi Lake (©Magi Nams)

Rowers on Quidi Vidi Lake (© Magi Nams)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden (© Magi Nams)(

Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden (© Magi Nams)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) (© Magi Nams)

Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) (© Magi Nams)

In the heart of St. John’s, I sampled lemon squares and goggled at wall murals. Streets were lined with rows of tall, brightly painted houses. The whole city seemed to vibrate with imagery and colour, perhaps as an antidote to St. John’s notoriously grey weather.

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: Newfoundland Chocolate Company's Wall Mural "Newfounde Chocolate Lande" (© Magi Nams)

Newfoundland Chocolate Company’s Wall Mural “New Founde Chocolate Lande” (© Magi Nams)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: Historical Mural (© Magi Nams)

Historical Mural, St. John’s (© Magi Nams)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America; St. John's Graffiti (©Magi Nams)

St. John’s Graffiti (© Magi Nams)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: St. John's Row Houses (© Magi Nams)

St. John’s Row Houses (© Magi Nams)

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: St. John's Summer Colour (© Magi Nams)

Summer Colour in St. John’s (© Magi Nams)

On the one gloriously sunny day I had in St. John’s, ships in the harbour tooted a rumbling, breathy Harbour Symphony of Ship Horns. I was told by an art gallery owner that the horn symphony had been composed specifically for the ships in port as part of an International Sound Symposium. As I walked past Harbourside Park, I paused to catch the last few musical numbers performed by Duane Andrews and the Sizzle Sisters Quartet at an outdoor, lunchtime concert. Hands clapped and children danced as visitors – me included – and St. John’sans (or St. John’sers; take your pick) soaked up sunshine and the strains of guitar, cello, viola, and two violins. Well done, St. John’s!

Exploring Canada: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador – City on the Eastern Tip of North America: Lunchtime Concert at Harbourside Park (©Magi Nams)

Lunchtime Concert at Harbourside Park, St. John’s (© Magi Nams)

For more information about St. John’s and Newfoundland and Labrador, click here.

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