Newfoundland is no ordinary vacation destination. So, what should you know?
Well, it is a large island, a full day drive—no detours—between any two of the three ferry terminals that connect us to continental Canada–Port aux Basques in the southwest, Argentia in the southeast, and St. Barbe in the northwest. Oh, yes…and one that connects us to France at St. Pierre and Miquelon from Fortune on the south coast.
Let’s go way, way back…. Newfoundland was formed by two major phases of ocean building, the first took place 540 million years ago, giving rise to the Iapetus Ocean, which was eventually aborted and followed 200 million years later by the formation of the present day Atlantic Ocean. The island is composed of chunks of the earth’s mantel that were volcanically formed on the oceans’ floors, then uplifted and layered over one another during the squeezing and pulling away of continental material while those oceans won and lost and finally won a place between Europe and North America (no doubt to be rearrange yet again hundreds of millions of years from now).
Inevitably people found their way to the island of Newfoundland. Aboriginal habitation is known to have flourished along the northwest coast around 5000 years ago. The earliest evidence of European presence in Newfoundland pre-dates Columbus by 500 years, a point of interest that you can explore at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Park. The Viking Sagas give accounts of unhappy meetings with ‘Skraelings’ around that time. Later Portuguese, Basque, French and English explorers encountered the Beothuk Indians in the 15th century. From that point on European settlement and eventual English domination shaped the cultural, political and economic history of the island. Nevertheless, the legacy of the province’s ‘French Shores’ is evident in communities of the west coast and in the island’s broader music and literature. Traditionally, the M’ikmaq Indians lived peaceably with the French from the time of first arrival and were content to live side-by-side with them along the remote west and south coasts. surviving the infectious diseases that decimated the Beothuks, the other aboriginal people. The English habitations to the bounties offered Europeans as incentive to kill Beothuks. The M’ikmaq today live mostly in south and west coast communities as vital cultural and economic contributors to the province. The M’ikmaq lineage is widespread through the larger population and comprise the non-reserve M’ikmaq Qalipu Nation.
Newfoundland’s history was turbulent from the outset, with France and England aggressively vying for control of the island’s strategic position for controlling the seaways to the New World colonies, along with its all-important supply of ocean protein and whale oil for homeland populations. Until the mid to late 1800s, Newfoundland was first and foremost a source of material resources to exploit for wealthy enterprises and families in the Old Word. From then on various political movements attempted to wrest greater control over its own affairs, with significant yet only temporary success: the self-governing colony of Newfoundland (1855-1934); and the Dominion of Newfoundland (1907-1949). During the latter phase, the Great Depression saw its government relinquish its autonomy to a Commission of Government answering to the island’s debtors in England. The strategic importance of the island emerged more than ever during World War II, with U.S. and British coffers fueling economic prosperity hardly noticed anywhere else among ally nations. With the war over, Newfoundland with virtually zero debt, world class mineral and hydro resources, and the most valuable source of protein in the world, Newfoundland and Labrador was steered towards Confederation with Canada.
If you enjoy self-guiding road travel, there are primary and secondary routes in every direction to distinctive geographies, astounding marine and wilderness phenomena, and pre- historical and historical landmarks. Certified campgrounds and RV facilities are found throughout the island, as well full-service hospitality establishments. and you will marvel at the rolling boreal wilderness of the interior, the glacially eroded mountains of the west coast and the amazing vistas of the northeast coast, its numerous islands including Twillingate and Fogo, and the dramatic barrens of the Avalon and Burin Peninsulas.