Matador’s destination expert on St. John’s shares the island’s avoidable attractions…and what you should do instead.
1. Don’t… just stick around St. John’s

St. John’s, the capital city, is my one true love. The nightlife is incredible, the people are friendly, and the brightly colored townhouses set against a backdrop of The Narrows are gorgeous.

However, the combination of the country’s lowest tuition fees offered by Memorial University and the city’s low cost of living draws a huge student population keen on making Newfoundland seem like just one big college boozefest.

This is only partially true.

Do… explore the province

Just outside St. John’s, the wilderness begins. Walk the coast from the East Coast Trail or take a whale watching tour from Bay Bulls, where puffins and seabirds form a huge screaming bird colony just minutes from the shore.

Photo: europa70

On the west coast, Marble Mountain has great skiing and is located near Corner Brook, a pretty town in a valley that’s filled with small pubs and great music.

Further west you’ll find Gros Morne National Park, famous for its mountains, forests, bogs, and shorelines. Then head north to L’anse aux Meadows, the only known ancient Norse settlement outside of Greenland, believed to have been established around AD 1003.

You can also trek around the Coast of Bays on the south coast, where tiny settlements void of paved roads are accessible only by ferry.

2. Don’t… berate a Newfoundlander on politics

Regardless of your personal political opinions, there’s a strong separatist movement within the province and even if your Newfoundlander friend is not a supporter, he or she will take great insult if you talk down on it.

In fact, even from St. John’s harbour you can spot a massive Flag of Independence atop a hill across the water. To many, the flag is a sign of our individuality. Newfoundland is a world of its own, and many Canadians fail to see this.

Do… discuss the weather

If you find yourself cornered in a political trap, politely steer the conversation towards a topic all Newfoundlanders love to hate: the weather. It doesn’t matter if it’s a gloriously sunny day — there’s always a flaw to point out:

  • If it’s raining: “Oh my, it’s a wet one today!”
  • If it’s overcast: “I sure do miss that sunshine.”
  • If it’s sunny: “Nice day, no rain! Goodness, too hot for me though.”
3. Don’t… limit your nights to George Street

The notorious George Street in St. John’s is usually the focal point of a young person’s visit to the city. Festivals, street events, and an ungodly number of pubs/bars/clubs guarantee a great night, but one that’s tried and tested by just about every alcoholic on the map.

I’m a big fan of the street, but sometimes the crowded bars filled with 19-year-old stripper-wannabes is damned exhausting.

Do… explore the rest of the downtown scene

Within a few minutes’ walk of George, Duckworth Street and Water Street have tons of pubs with character and cheaper booze.

Listen to fiddle music at Nautical Nellies on Water Street, or hang out with the locals in The Duke of Duckworth. The Ship is a place for artsy folk to hang out and mull over the injustices of the world.

Also, seek out pubs hidden in secret alleyways, like Bar None. It’s practically a treasure hunt.

4. Don’t… eat only seafood

We’re a province heavily dependent on the fishery. When John Cabot made it to Newfoundland in 1497, he reportedly scooped bucket-loads of fish right from the water.

But there’s more to the local food scene than cod tongues, cod cheeks, and cod au gratin. A harsh year-round climate unsuitable for growing many crops has caused Newfoundlanders to dream up creative new dishes based on the little provisions we have.

Do… try the lesser-known local cuisine

Newfoundland has a lot of favoured dishes. Devour a hefty mooseburger at The Celtic Hearth on Water Street. For fine dining, try Bacalao, where the menu includes blueberry-peppercorn caribou steak salad and caribou medallions in partridgeberry sauce.

You could also go for a traditional Jiggs dinner of boiled veggies and salt pork. And if you must order poutine, ask for dressing on the side. Just do it.

Photo: knifeplease

5. Don’t… shop

Shopping here kinda sucks. Skip the malls — most of their stores are linked to the same chain, which offers little variety. Also, Newfoundland has the highest sales tax in Canada (along with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick).

Do… shop downtown, if you must

Downtown St. John’s does have some notable shopping options, albeit pricey ones.

Check out Johnny Ruth or Twisted Sister on Water Street for apparel. For local goods, The Tickle Trunk and many other stores downtown offer unusual trinkets, like magnetic poetry in the form of Newfoundland words.

6. Don’t… call a Newfoundlander a “Newfie”

“Newfie” is considered a derogatory term, holding connotations of “stupidity” and “laziness” (especially when preceded by the word “goofy”). Many outsiders perceive the people who live here to be inferior because of their rough accents and often simple ways of life.

Here, there are no skyscrapers, famous designer labels, or reliable public transit. We get along just fine without it.

Do… brush up on your Newfoundland lingo

The above being said, generally Newfoundlanders use the word “Newfie” as a term of endearment; it’s all a matter of context.

If you’re in a crowded bar with a bunch of jolly locals, you are most likely welcome to use the term freely. Dance a jig, even.

The dialect is also filled with strange, often silly-sounding words, which is why we have our very own dictionary.

If you’re hitting the small outport communities, I suggest taking one along lest you be baffled when someone asks how you are by saying, “How ya getting on now?” (The appropriate answer is “Best kind.”)

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