One hundred and twenty
miles is the brief length of Cabot Strait which separates Newfoundland
from Canada, but when one has crossed this Arm of the Atlantic, it is to
find one's self in a new world, a world complete in itself. For
Newfoundland embodies all that rugged, independent spirit, which, in
part, belongs to all islands—notably to the British Islands—and, in
addition, it has all the distinction which is a natural attribute of its
position as Great Britain's Oldest Colony. National sense is very keenly
developed in the Newfoundlander. "Love of the Empire and their Island"
stirs strongly in the blood of every man from Port aux Basques to Saint
John, and from Cape Race to the Straits of Belle Isle.
A casual glance at a
map of Newfoundland reveals its striking resemblance to the map of
England. And ties of blood and association, that intimately bind this
oldest Daughter to the Mother-country, trail down the centuries from the
day that Cabot first sighted Bonavista, until now. If you wish to step
right into the atmosphere of a fine English society that is still "the
Island's Own product", take the train to Saint John's, the oldest
colonial capital in the British Empire.
But the Island of
Newfoundland has yet another claim to distinction in its scenery. There
is nothing quite like, or perhaps quite equal to, the scenery of
Newfoundland, in all America. It so strongly resembles the scenery of
Norway that the island is frequently spoken of as "The Norway of the New
World"; and its deep inlets and bays are just as frequently referred to
as "fiords".But, in reality, Newfoundland scenery gains nothing by these
comparisons. The time will come shortly when the scenery of Newfoundland
will need no such extraneous supports. It will be sufficient for the
voyager to say "I have just returned from Newfoundland" for his coterie
of friends to know he has voyaged among scenes of superlative beauty.
Cruising around the
Newfoundland coast, taking one or more of its deep bays in a summer,
reveals innumberable little outports tucked away in hollows around every
headland, and all held shelteringly in the hand of the larger bay. Of
these larger bays, White Bay, Notre Dame Bay, Bonavista, Trinity and
Conception lie to the North, while Saint Mary's, Placentia, and Fortune
upturn to navigation on the South.
Newfoundland is, of
course, the heart of the Cod-fishing industry of the Western Atlantic.
The Grand Banks, the playground of the fishing-fleets of France, of the
United States, of Nova Scotia, are, when all is said, "The Grand Banks
of Newfoundland." Figuratively and literally speaking "The Banks" are
the island "Bread-Box." And the banking schooners—Newfoundland-owned,
Newfoundland-skippered and sailed—are justly
the pride of Newfoundland. Seamanship is so natural in a born
Newfoundlander that it comes to him like a "sixth sense" or, as some of
them say, "natural as sleeping and waking".
Modern "Vikings of the
North", they are as much at home afloat, as ashore. It was thus the
Newfoundlander stepped with such consummate ease from the thwart of the
fish-dory, the deck of "The Banker", to that larger deck in the British
Navy, during the War, where they covered themselves with glory and added
fresh honours to the record already achieved through the centuries, by
their Island-home in its Four Centuries of Sea-going!
By far the greater part
of the population of Newfoundland is domiciled on the coast. To reach
the fishing is, therefore, a mere step, and the adventure of it
practically sits on every door-step.
Travelling inland on
the continent of North America, one is often enough struck by the
sameness of the houses, towns and settlements etched by Agriculture. One
often hears that they "all look alike". But such could never be the
complaint of these Newfoundland villages, products of the Sea and its
Harvest. They are as variable as the sea's own moods. So, in cruising
among the Newfoundland bays, every little headland turned reveals a
different grouping, as well as different setting, of the tiny church,
the little homes, the chief store; and a different arrangement of the
wooden stages in wharf-like lines along the irregular water-front.
As the island is one
large unit, so in turn each of these tiny settlements is a unit, going
its own sea-gait in its own craft; and commanding its own mail-service,
and commisariat-service, from Saint John or Placentia.
So little are these
sea-coast folk inland travellers, that there is often no road from one
village to another, entrance and exit always being accomplished over the
sea; by boat or steamer.
Settling down in any of
these villages is to be constantly entertained by the variety of scenes
afforded by the life. Early in the morning "the fish-boats" are under
weigh with their tanned sails and homemade oars creaking against the
pin. Later, the women go about their household duties, studying "the
signs of the weather" from door or window. The old 'longshoremen open
the fish-house doors and potter about with old ropes and picturesque "killicks"
or homemade anchors, heavy, smooth stones held together in
skeleton-frames of old bits of wood and a lashing of odd pieces of
wire-rigging salvaged from some old wreck. But all the time, the men,
like the women, have their weather-eye centred on the "signs of the
morning." For the day's work, is — the fish.
The first peep of
sunlight through the gray clouds or the fog, sees men, women and
children, on the "fish stages", as the platforms are called, fish in
hand. In the afternoon, the scene is reversed, with each "hand" driving
hard to get the fish in again before night.
A cloud, during the
day, sees the ever-watchful women coming on the run from all quarters to
get the fish in before it rains. Codfish must not get wet.
The Newfoundlanders are
especially happy in the place-names they have given to their towns,
villages and "outports". Sea-folk are always, more or less, noted for
romantic place-names. So, in summer, adventuring in Newfoundland, such
names as Push-through, Thoroughfare, Come-by-Chance, Seldom-Come-By,
Step-Aside, Happy Adventure, Heart's Delight, Heart's Content, Path End,
write themselves indelibly in your memory map. Especially appropriate
are the names given to the mountains. To realize the full beauty of some
of these peak-names, one must fancy Newfoundland as a "ship", the
surface as the deck. Then one has the viewpoint of the men who sponsored
these in baptism. Then, the single peaks, springing up tall against the
sky, have a beautiful psychology of their own. Here is "The Gaff
Topsail", "The Main Topsail", "The Mizzen Topsail", "The Fore-Topsail".
Collectively they are referred to, picturesquely enough, as, "The
Tops'ls". Other individual peaks are "Blow-me-Down", a sort of challenge
to the elements and, "The Butter-Pot", a maritime concession to the menu
of maritime cabin-tables.
The surface of
Newfoundland, its rocks and hills, is at its best in the fall of the
year when the brush of Autumn paints all the foliage and fruit of the
Bake-Apple, Partridge-Berries, wild red and black currants, Rowan
berries, etc., gorgeous yellows, reds and browns. After the frost, the
"marshes and barrens" afford miles of colour.
Among the treasures of
the Newfoundland wildflowers are Gentians and Orchids.
It is at this time,
when the berries are ripe, that the villagers turn out in family groups
to pick bake-apples and Fox-berries to make jam. Bake-apples are a fruit
peculiar to Newfoundland and Labrador. And Bake-apple jam is a dish of
almost national magnitude. To express interest in the bake-apples and
their picking is an open sesame to outport hearts. And no end of
invitations and jaunts are assured you, if you become an ardent
berry-picker. At this time human figures are everywhere to be seen.
Children with a motley collection of pails are everywhere on the nearby
hills. The best blueberries of all grow in the cracks and scarpings of
the cliffs where one would not suppose a thimbleful of earth could
cling. At Saint John, Cabot Head, gray and bluff, is a happy
hunting-ground of the berry-picker. Many a morning have we spent there,
hunting blueberries behind the lighthouse of this grim old Cape. Many a
morning, too, have they been the goal of a scramble over the cliffs of
Big Wild Cove and Little Wild Cove. And what is more romantic than tea
with the lighthouse-keeper's little family at Twillingate, where one
sits at a spotless table and is served with a heaping dish of delectable
homemade Partridge-berry jam smothered in thick Island cream?
In the Newfoundland
Outports, two days' work is crowded into one, of a Saturday. For the
Newfoundlanders are very strict in the observation of the Sabbath Day,
to do no work therein. Neither dories nor "Bankers" fish on Sundays. And
Saturday night sees all the schooners which can possibly get there, in
port; the drying fishnet hanging in festoons from the masthead being
about the only concession to business.
Ashore, the women will
not even draw water from the well on Sunday, unless under the stress of
some dire necessity. On Saturday, therefore, a double supply of water
must be drawn, and laid in for use over Sunday. The Outport well is
usually situated at one end of the village and sometimes at a distance
from it. And so, on Saturday afternoons, a stream of women, each
carrying two buckets of water, flows along the undulating, rocky highway
that is the village main street. A large hoop, in the midst of which the
water-carrier steps, helps to relieve the weight and keep the water from
spilling as the woman steps briskly along. This method of carrying water
seems to be the Newfoundlander's own invention. The Water-Hoop is here
one of the furnishings of every household.
Saturday is the day of
the week for getting wood. And wood-getting in the outports involves a
longer or shorter trip to the cliffs and hills where the low
spruce-scrub affords many a scraggly bough for fuel. Along the
footpaths, worn by centuries of wood-gatherers, and by the road into the
village, one happens on many a figure carrying bundles of boughs on
their backs and making pictures no less distinctive from a genre
viewpoint than the water-carriers, with their picturesque hoops. Other
figures of the road are the women and children carrying hay over their
shoulders, tied-up in a piece of old net or the family pieced bed-quilt.
Owing to the rocky
nature of the cliffs, hay is a scarce article. Some of the best is
undoubtedly afforded by the little churchyard cemeteries, on the
principle that "never blooms so red the rose, as where some buried
Goats with curious
wooden yokes around their necks, and the family cow, are well-known
characters of these cliff, by-shore, village-highways.
Against the incursions
of these roaming pirates-of-green, are set up the curious rodded-fences
of the irregular-shaped little potato and turnip gardens. In summer the
gipsying cow can forage for herself, but in winter there is nothing for
her to do but fall back upon the little wisps of hay her owner garnered
in the quilt against just such days as these. But the cow is grateful.
Never anywhere does cow produce richer cream to go with the raspberries,
the Bake-apple and Fox-berry jam, than these same seacoast cows of
wholesome out-of-door life called for by the industries of the
Newfoundland outports, it is not surprising that hand-weaving in the
homes is rare. Another reason may be the scarcity of pasturage for sheep
in the sea-going villages and their vicinity. Inland Newfoundland
affords fine opportunities for agriculture, and sheep of a fine type
yield splendid fleeces in the Codroy Valley, around Doucets and Little
Although the loom is
rare, the spinning-wheel is not infrequently happened upon, yielding
hand-laid yarn to supply the needs of the home-knitter. And her needs
are many, for no one seems to wear out socks like a fisherman.
The knitter is
therefore a figure by the window when the cool days denote the approach
* * * *
The guide-books have a
way of declaring Newfoundland to be "The Sportsman's Paradise", and, if
you have ever taken your gun under arm and sallied forth after Caribou,
or had a thirty-pound salmon rise to your fly in either the Big or the
Little Codroy rivers, you can personally testify that the writers of
those same guide-books do not exaggerate.
It is little to be
wondered at, therefore, that the "Sportsman" from the New England
States, from Canada and from Old England, is a figure often chanced upon
in the glens, and "beating the streams" of the Codroy Mountains, in the
West. Nothing is quite so romantic as sitting by a deep pool, the one
selected by your guide as "the very best" and watching for the supreme
moment when "the big one" springs to life at the end of your line.
But the tramp to get to
the pool has its romance, too. For the scenery of inland Newfoundland,
its fields of daisies, its sheep in the lanes, the fog lifting and
swirling like wraith-figures of light dancers about the brows of the
mountains, all combine to create an atmosphere of enchantment, the more
enchanting perhaps, that the numbers of its discoverers are not yet so
many as to wear away the edge of exclusiveness.
* * * *
Pursuit of the Romantic
in Newfoundland sooner or later lands one in Saint John's on the south
side of the harbour, among the old, wooden square-riggers that compose
that unique fleet peculiar to Terra Nova—the Sealers.
If you have ever seen a
whaler of the old-type, belonging to the days of whale-boats and
hand-harpoons, then you know something of the appearance of these old
Sealers. Broad of beam, thick-planked, staunch-timbered, both
steam-and-sail propelled, they go out of Saint John's in March, blasting
a channel for themselves through the ice with gunpowder. They carry a
crew of several hundred, all of them seasoned sealers. The man of expert
knowledge in picking up "Seals" hies him aloft to the barrel
And then begins that
roaming quest of the seal that may stand these old Ramblers of the ice
and the ocean, away to the northeast, or up toward "Belle Isle", or even
far into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, anywhere that they can "pick up"
the herd of drifting amphibians, which are to yield the invaluable