This is the second part of my August trip to Newfoundland. First part is here.
We flew on Monday in a tiny propeller plane from Deer Lake to St. John’s to avoid the long driving slog across the island. We rented a car at the airport and drove to Harbour Grace, a former second city that has hollowed out due to job loss. Harbour Grace is also where my maternal grandmother was born. We stayed two nights at the super comfortable Rose Manor Inn. We hung out there a little more than I normally would on a trip because there is not a lot to do in this area. Fortunately, they have adirondack chairs looking out over the harbor and these were a peaceful two days.
We walked around and explored the Conception Bay Museum and the Harbour Grace visitors’ center. These are staffed by polite, charming, but very bored teenagers who obtained summer work grants from the government. There was a sort of palpable sense of “OMG why would anyone want to look at this old stuff?!” It was equally interesting to talk to them and hear what their plans were. We had a couple of beers at the almost deserted bar of the Hotel Harbour Grace, where there were just us and a few locals playing the video slot machines. We ate dinner both nights at the Rose Manor Inn because there literally were not any other restaurants open in the area. Fortunately the Inn’s dinners are fancy and delicious.
On Tuesday, we drove to Harbour Main. We visited Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic church and looked at the house where my maternal grandfather was born. (We didn’t knock, so I don’t know who’s living there now.) Finally, we drove up a dirt lane and into someone’s back yard to visit the old “Irish” cemetery where my great-great-great-grandfather Vincent Costigan from Co. Tipperary is buried. We had lunch afterwards at Crooked Phil’s in Carbonear which served the platonic ideal of a ham sandwich and curried chicken soup.
On Wednesday, we went back to St. John’s and visited The Rooms. There was a very moving exhibit focusing on the 100th anniversary of the Beaumont-Hamel offensive in the Battle of the Somme, where the Newfoundland Regiment had an 85% casualty rate. I am not a military history person but this exhibit was amazing. They even had an area devoted to the keepsake photos that soldiers took before they left, including the original camera from the main photo studio. I have one of those photos from my family history files. The Rooms has an online exhibit about Newfoundland and WWI.
The whole museum was great. There was an exhibit about the influence of Irish culture and I learned that Waterford crystal was founded with money made in Newfoundland and was extremely popular in Newfoundland. I had never realized that my mother’s and grandmother’s fierce brand loyalty to Waterford crystal had any connection to their Newfoundland roots. We had a great lunch (crab cakes and salad) in the museum cafe, which has amazing views of the harbor.
After The Rooms, we returned the rental car and checked into the Quality Hotel in St. John’s, which was conveniently located downtown. We rested a bit and then embarked on perhaps the most expensive activity of the entire vacation: dinner at super fancy Raymond’s, one of the top ten restaurants in all of Canada. I had the charcuterie platter (shared), the fresh pasta, and the salmon. Also wine and some kind of lemony dessert. It was festive and fantastic. We had drinks beforehand at the The Fifth Ticket where there was a cheerful but inexperienced bartender. Nevertheless, my Blow Me Down Blueberry Mojito was delicious.
On Thursday I visited the offices of the Family History Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, where I confirmed that there are no sources I am overlooking and other people are reaching my same conclusions, so I’m not wildly offtrack in my family history research. After that I went to the small Fluvarium, which is basically a wall of windows built into the side of a river so you can watch the wild fish. I have never seen such enthusiastic aquarists as the Fluvarium staff. We had dinner with a friend of my brother’s at Chinched Bistro, more charcuterie and pasta, absolutely delicious.
On Friday we ended up walking around downtown because the weather cancelled our whale watching plan. We wandered along the harbor and did some souvenir shopping. We had fish and chips at the Duke of Duckworth pub. We had tea in the crypt of the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. We visited the Peter Lewis art gallery which had some terrific abstract pieces by Susan Doyle. In the evening I met up with a potential 4th cousin at Bernard Stanley Gastropub, which serves an excellent cheeseburger.
And then vacation was over and I had to return to Brooklyn and the new school year which has prevented me writing this up until now. I loved this trip. The people are friendly, the vibe is very laid-back, the air and water and streets are clean. There are local problems with unemployment and the government seems to be cutting services like libraries and schools. So I can’t really say it’s actually paradise. It seemed obvious that many people make most of their money in the tourist season and survive off that the rest of the year. But a lot of places in New England are like that too. There was not much diversity outside of St. John’s. The high prices were offset by a favorable exchange rate for the US dollar, but that exchange rate could change and has in the past. Most of all, the Canadian government has prioritized tourist services which makes it easy, for the most part, to travel around and see things: there are logical schedules and good signage. I would love to go back and see more of the province and also spend more time in St. John’s.
Here is a google map of the trip: