Big City Tales

You Can’t Miss Seeing The Rooms in St. John’s

July 10, 2018
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Boasting a distinctive ‘fishing room’ exterior design and prime hill-top location on Bonaventure Avenue, it’s easy to spot The Rooms from most vantage points around St. John’s. The building’s creative architecture certainly caught my attention, but it was the interior treasures that really hooked me. The most compelling reason why you can’t miss seeing The Rooms is that the exhibits truly celebrate the unique culture, history and geography of Newfoundland and Labrador. Also, when the sun is shining and the sky is blue, the view of the city skyline and harbour is pretty spectacular!

The Rooms with a View

Even though St. John’s is one of the foggiest major centres in Canada, the spring and summer months are typically quite pleasant with plenty of clear days to peer out of The Rooms’ floor to ceiling windows and admire the view in the city streets and harbour below and further beyond The Narrows channel toward the ocean.

From colourful Jelly Bean row houses, to massive transport ships docked and waiting to be loaded/unloaded, to Cabot Tower atop Signal Hill and the Irving Oil Marine Terminal and fuelling berth located on Pier 23 and Pier 24 there is bound to be something eye-catching and photo-worthy.

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The Luck o’ Irish Roots

Back to the myriad treasures inside of The Rooms, one of the permanent exhibits is Talamh an Éisc: The Fishing Ground. This exhibit explores the province’s Irish roots going back to the late 1600s when intrepid migrants ventured across the Atlantic to participate in the burgeoning fishing trade, build onshore communities and settle into a new life away from the British Isles.

Fertile and Fickle Fishing Ground

After 500 years of reaping the rewards of one of the world’s most fertile fishing grounds, the luck o’ the Irish sadly ran out in the early 1990s when a moratorium was issued on the Northern Cod fishery. The government action was necessitated due to over-fishing in the region during the preceding 40 years that resulted in the drastic decrease of the Northern Cod species to the point of being on the verge of extinction. At present, the cod population is slowly making a recovery and limited fishing is taking place according to carefully established quotas. Hopefully continual monitoring efforts and regulation enforcement will ensure the survival of the species and industry.

Newfoundland and Labrador from A to Z

One of the special exhibits at The Rooms when I visited in 2017 was a series of hanging panels that described characteristics of Newfoundland and Labrador using each letter of the alphabet. Talk about a great way to learn about this highly distinctive region…I would add that A is also for Amazing and Awesome people!

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The Kitschy Kitchen Party

As highlighted in the A to Z panels, the Kitchen Party is a longtime tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador that typically takes the form of a raucous Saturday night gathering complete with food, music, dance, and plenty of fun. Along with family and friends, other special guests may include local “mummers” who come dressed in disguise looking to take a swig, dance a jig and continue on to their next merry party-crashing gig. Impromptu jam sessions are a common occurrence with musicians taking turns at solos or joining together in festive song. No instrument? No problem! Grab a pot and a wooden spoon, find the beat and play the night away.

The Rooms 4

World War I Commemoration

During World War I, members of the Newfoundland Regiment bravely ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to join forces with the British Army. After being trained in England and Scotland, troops were deployed to battle fields in Gallipoli, Egypt and along the Western Front. The regiment sustained heavy losses between 1915 and 1918 but many survived to tell their harrowing stories, which are encapsulated in the Beaumont-Hamel and The Trail of the Caribou exhibit. Highlights of the exhibit include the Flower of Remembrance and Victoria Cross displays, as well as the numerous black and white images of young recruits preparing to do their part and serve their country in the Great War.

A Provincial Showcase

No doubt about it, The Rooms shows off the very best of Newfoundland and Labrador and it’s crystal clear how and why the earliest inhabitants and subsequent settlers came to make lasting connections with this special place. When in St. John’s, The Rooms really is a must-see!

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Exploring the New Found Land of St. John’s

January 30, 2018
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As one of North America’s first established settlements, the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland is also the continent’s most eastern point. Rich in both natural resources and natural beauty, and full of history and lore, St. John’s is a city worth exploring by land, sea or air.

Location Location Location

Located on the Avalon Peninsula, the city’s harbour flows into the Atlantic Ocean and was an ideal landing port for European explorers sailing from Spain, Portugal and England as far back as the late 15th century.

While John Cabot is largely considered the first explorer to make landfall in St. John’s in 1497 and claim the region for the King of England, it would take the Brits nearly a full century to officially establish the city in 1583.

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Signal Hill

Given its strategic location overlooking the harbour, fortifications were constructed on the top of Signal Hill many centuries ago to provide protection and alert the locals of impending enemy attacks by sea.

In addition to its military value as a flag mast signalling post, the site eventually became useful for testing and completing the first transatlantic wireless communication between North America and Europe in 1901. Signal Hill was also utilized by the Americans during World War II to thwart off German aircraft and marine vessels attempting to attack the east coast.

While it’s just a mass expanse of ocean water looking to the east of Signal Hill from Cabot Tower, the view to the west includes St. John’s Harbour, Gibbet Hill and Deadman’s Pond. The latter two names may be morbid, but it’s actually a very pretty and peaceful area complete with whimsical heart-themed arches and flower beds along a winding gravel path.

Government House

Whether driving or walking along Military Road, it’s not hard to miss the grand main entrance to Government House.

As the official residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, Government House is a two-storey Georgian-style stone home situated on sprawling grounds complete with gardens, stables and a greenhouse.

Completed in 1831, the design of the house was intended to reflect the status of its occupants and thus included a salon, dining room, and ballroom meant for entertaining dignitaries. The main entrance hall was also configured to allow for full pomp and circumstance ceremonial processions.

Military Monuments

The National War Memorial in downtown St. John’s is the most elaborate World War I monument in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The base of the memorial starts on Water Street and extends up to the large cenotaph on Duckworth Street.

The five figures depicted in the cenotaph are representative of Newfoundland involvement in World War I. The centre female figure symbolizes devotion to the Empire and the fight for freedom. The two figures below are representative of the fishermen and lumberjacks who enlisted and served with the Merchant Marine and Forestry Corps. The two figures on the right and left pay tribute to those who served with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Further west along Water Street is the Thomas Ricketts Memorial. Ricketts was only 17 years old when he began his service in World War I and was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of bravery on the battlefield, the youngest ever army recipient in a combatant role.

The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Dedicated in 1855, the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is situated on the highest ridge overlooking St. John’s.

At the time of it’s opening, the basilica was the largest Irish cathedral anywhere outside Ireland, was the largest church building in North America, and was notable for its base materials. Limestone and granite were imported from Galway and Dublin, Ireland; 400,000 bricks came from Hamburg, Germany; and local sandstone was quarried from St. John’s and Kelly’s Island in Conception Bay.

Today, the basilica is recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada and is the mother church and symbol of Roman Catholicism in Newfoundland.

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Jellybean Row Houses

Perhaps one of the most charming aspects of St. John’s is its brightly coloured row houses.

Local lore suggests that fishermen of yore started the practice to help them pinpoint their lodgings during foggy weather, but the reality is the initiative is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Back in the late 1970s, the downtown core was in dire need of a revitalization effort and paint was used as a way to spruce things up and add some cheer to rundown buildings. The idea caught on and eventually spread to the city’s outer neighbourhoods; local businesses also joined in by modifying their storefronts.

When it comes to paint colours in St. John’s, the brighter the better reigns supreme and there’s no need to be matchy-matchy with the trim: contrasting colours are just fine.

Quidi Vidi

The fishing village of Quidi Vidi is famous for its microbrewery and Mallard Cottage, one of the oldest wooden structures in North America.

The district extends inland and includes Quidi Vidi Lake where the Royal St. John’s Regatta is held the first Wednesday in August, weather permitting. The regatta is North America’s oldest annual sporting event and attracts numerous men’s and women’s crews (6 members and a coxswain) eager to navigate the course and lay claim to the coveted rowing championship.

Terry Fox Memorial – Mile 0

In 1980, a heroic young man who lost his right leg to cancer began a cross-Canada run called the Marathon of Hope to raise funds for cancer research.

The starting point of Terry Fox’s epic journey was in St. John’s Harbour and the Mile 0 memorial fittingly marks the spot where Terry dipped his artificial leg into the North Atlantic Ocean and headed out for the TransCanada Highway.

Tragically, Terry’s cancer returned before he could complete his journey (he had to stop in Thunder Bay, Ontario and he ultimately passed away in 1981), but his Marathon of Hope efforts continue to this day.

Terry Fox Memorials can also be found in Thunder Bay and Victoria, British Columbia.

The City of Fog, Wind and Cloud

Not surprisingly, considering St. John’s geography the city is the foggiest, windiest and cloudiest in Canada. The good news is that while socked in dense fog conditions are common, once the wind picks up it rolls out the fog as quickly as it rolled in. When the sun is shining and the sky is blue, there’s nothing like a stroll along the harbour to take in the large shipping vessels docked and waiting to head out to sea.

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