Newfoundland and Labrador is Canada’s best-kept secret.
I used to have a love/hate relationship with Canada’s easternmost province. You see, I spent the better part of three decades on the rock, growing up as a young lad to young adulthood.
As I grew older, my mind wandered as I dreamt of bigger and better things that I thought my birth province couldn’t provide. I was yearning to leave the island to explore the World - to better myself and take advantage of opportunities that would come my way.
I left Newfoundland behind in the mid-nineties, not looking back as I moved to Vancouver. I saw what they had and I wanted a piece for myself. Access to anything, great weather, and well-paying jobs were reasons enough to move. The climate was a big one for me. They say that the weather can shape people. Well, that’s a true enough statement, as I was already moulded into a miserable person because of Newfoundland's bad weather.
A bit rough on the water today
While the rest of the country is flourishing, Newfoundland and Labrador has the reputation as a have-not province. Even through the height of the off-shore cod fishery, Newfoundlanders were a neglected lot. No, we didn’t have the swagger of larger cities like Toronto or Montreal. We had our quaint little St. John’s, which was the closest resemblance to an urban landscape we could get. Many times, we had to mail order products that weren’t offered in St.John’s. We watched as Vancouverites greeted blossoms in February, while we knew that winter could stretch into the May Long weekend.
The weather is best described as dramatic
A valid tourism industry hardly existed either, Yes, people ventured east from other parts of Canada, but it was usually a work-related trip. As a young fella skateboarding around town, I rarely met outsiders. Unless they were foreign off-shore fishermen from other countries, real tourists were a rarity. To make the desire to leave even stronger, we were constantly fed American media. Americans knew how to flaunt excess and that only made us jealous of what we could have.
About as pretty as it gets
It wasn’t until later in my forties that I rediscovered my birth province. I booked a monthlong vacation with my wife and daughter, in which the plan was to travel throughout the island. We drove to each corner of the island, seeing things I never bothered to when I lived here. I rekindled old friendships and realized the importance of lifelong relationships. That trip ignited a newfound love of my homeland, one that I hadn’t had since I was a child. I realized there was real beauty here, not only in its Ireland-like landscape but in its people.
Uncrowded sandy beaches, steep rugged cliffs, and quaint towns abound
My wife and I fell in love with Newfoundland so much that we decided to buy a house a year later. We purchased a vacation home in a quaint town named Heart’s Delight-Islington. We packed up our pickup truck and drove across the country to stake claim to our new abode. After a week of travelling, we arrive and are welcomed with a west-facing ocean view. Our love of the island grew during our six-month stay, as we took our time to dive deep into what the island had to offer. Sipping coffee while we stared at the North Atlantic every single morning has a way of swaying your opinion.
Million dollar views on the cheap
Returning to this island paradise has given me a newfound appreciation for life here. The scenery, the landscape, the solitude, and the people. My God the people. What a wonderful, generous, sincere, and kind people call this place home. Yes, there are nice people everywhere who will do anything for you, but Newfoundlanders have something extra. There is a warmth and an openness to let strangers into their lives that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Need something? Go knock on someone’s door. Newfoundlanders also have within their bones the ability to be self-reliant. That’s why almost every old-timer you meet can fix something or build anything. There’s a good chance they’ll clothe and feed you, regardless of your position in life.
This alone should be enough to win the argument
The rugged beauty of our coastal shores is mesmerizing. But the best part is that being next to the sea is attainable here. Almost anyone can set up a home base within a stone’s throw of the ocean. In most of the developed world, only the wealthy or very lucky can afford these luxuries. After spending 25 years in Vancouver, they know what they have. They pay millions for that view. I can also confidently say that some Newfoundlanders take this freedom for granted, but not in a bad way. It’s not like they don’t appreciate a view of the ocean, they know the sea is not reserved for the fortunate.
Bell Island's steep cliffs are something to behold
My wife and I are bi-coastal. We own houses on both coasts. Our $150,000 house in Heart’s Delight is nicer and larger than our million dollar home in Vancouver. We are experts on living on both sides of the country. We can, with confidence, say that there are very little shortcomings to life in Newfoundland and Labrador. Yes, the job market isn’t quite as robust as the west is, but it’s also far less expensive to live in the east. The weather has gotten substantially better than it was when I was a kid. Now, St. John’s is Vancouver-like most of the year. In my experience, small town life in British Columbia is not that enticing. Many towns offer little other than the freedom of movement. In Newfoundland and Labrador, small towns are generally warm and inviting, plus they offer quaint little shops and abundant character. Newfoundland also has a very rich arts and culture scene, especially robust in the capital, St. John’s. You’ll find a deep European influence here, with strong ties to the United Kingdom, France, and Portugal.
Interesting architecture where you least expect it
For travellers who feel like this east coast haven is too isolated, a direct flight to London is about four hours. That’s very enticing, isn’t it? Additionally, the eastern seaboard of the United States isn't that far away. Who's up for a weekend in New York?
From shipwrecks to WW2 bunkers, history buffs love it here
I've been hearing rumours of more people relocating to the east coast from out west. Most feel like they are being priced out of home ownership and life in general. If you take an honest look at what the east coast provinces offers, it's not really any different than life in the west. The slower pace affordability are two major draws to get people to leave the west. Your lifestyle doesn't change much - you can still do the same things. Sure, we might get a bit more snow depending on where you live, but frigid temperatures are virtually non existent like they are in the rest of Canada, save for south western BC.
I think it's time to discover what you've been missing.
If one were to ask me what my favourite trail is, I would reply, “The next one”. But that’s not the purpose of this article. However, I find it difficult to pick one trail as my all-time favourite, but I’ll narrow it down to sentimental value.
Ladies Only, Mount Fromme - North Vancouver, British Columbia.
An iconic North Shore trail built by the legendary Todd “Digger” Fiander. Although Ladies Only is far from my current favourite, it has a special place in my heart. It was my first introduction to North Shore mountain biking back in the mid-90s when I was first learning how to ride. Back then, I stumbled upon this trail almost by accident. And after seeing it for the first time, I thought it was a hiking trail. I was convinced nobody in their right mind could ride it.
Since I just started mountain biking, most trails were daunting to me. I took this as a challenge and set out to learn how to ride these challenging North Shore trails, like Ladies Only. It was almost an addiction to keep pushing my riding abilities and honing my craft. Like a lot of North Vancouver’s mountain bike trails, Ladies has a double black diamond rating due to a few butt-clenching features, like the Big Stupid - an off-camber rock roll at the end of the trail that exits through two narrow trees. Alternatively, there is an even sketchier exit that features a very steep fall line filled with bald roots and slippery rocks (see photo).
I rode Ladies Only (that sounds so wrong) so many times that it became my training trail for racing downhill. I would push my 40-plus-pound downhill bike up there and loosely time myself, before the invention of smartphones and Strava. This trail almost single-handedly allowed me to make it to the elite ranks in downhill racing.
That was nearly 25 years ago. Back then I didn’t mind it if there were ladder bridges and log skinnies on a trail. Now, you can find me avoiding those trail features at all costs. Still, Ladies Only holds a special fondness that will always stick with me. I don’t ride it very much anymore, trading in slow tech lines with speed and flow. But I still like to go up there, sometimes without a bike, just to look around at all the old lines.