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The capital of the province of Newfoundland in Canada. It is situated on the avalon peninsula which is on southeastern corner of the island. Has a population of over 100 000 people. St. John's is the oldest city in North America.

When Europe discovered the wealth of fresh codfish in the Grand Banks to the southeast of Newfoundland, the Basques, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese that were fishing there found that they had need of a safe harbour nearby to salt the cod to preserve it for the long journey home. (That didn't save them from having to find a way to make salt cod palatable...but I digress.)

There is a sheltered harbour on the eastern tip of the Avalon peninsula which fit the bill. The entrance to the harbour was a narrow gap between two hills, but once past "The Narrows" the harbour opens up the the west. This is where the city of St. John's stands today.

St. John's has been under the control of the English, French, Basques and even once by the Dutch. Reminants of Fort Townsend and Fort William can be seen today as well as Fort Amherst. It's safe harbour was in heavy use during both world wars, as is seen in the gun emplacements at Cape Spear, and Fort Amherst, as well as at Chain Rock, the attachment point of a net to keep U boats out of the harbour. The Americans established Fort Pepperrell, now known as Pleasantville (I shit thee not) in the city but it was closed in the 60's.

Some of the sights to see in and around St. John's:

  • Cabot Tower: Built in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Newfoundland by John Cabot and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee on top of Signal Hill. Also the site of the first trans-Atlantic wireless signal, recieved by Guglielmo Marconi in 1901.
  • Cape Spear: The oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland on the easternmost point of North America. There are actually two lighthouses there; the modern active one and the historical one. A great place to go whale-watching if it's not foggy.
  • The Colonial Building: The House of Assembly for the Newfoundland Legislature from 1850 until 1959. Now houses the provincial archives.
  • Water Street: The oldest commercial street in North America, in the heart of downtown St. John's.
  • George Street: The self-proclaimed party capital of the world. A street in downtown which contains nothing but bars. Try to survive a pub crawl here! There is a George Street Festival each year where the street is closed off, but one ticket gets you into all the bars, there are live performances on the stage outside. Essentially the street becomes one big bar. Not to be missed.

The peculiar little city gripping the steep sides of a small harbour seems magical at first sight. Its streets are are a senseless maze, the map of a drunk's progress. Its wooden row houses are painted the most audacious colors to combat the dreary agency of persistent fog and drizzle. The people, the Townies, seem friendly, generous with colorful opinions, spoken with a distinct mongrel brogue of Irish and English influence. They are surprisingly worldly. For the people of the many outports along the coast of Newfoundland, St. John's was Sin City, impossibly cosmopolitan and jaded for such a small place. No wonder it had suckered so many souls. The people that really lived in St. John's, the ones who hadn't gone away too long or hadn't fallen under its spell during a brief visit, the real Townies, new better. They could see the old world weariness in the new, but still smell the wood smoke of the frontier. They knew that St. John's was, beneath the pink and powder blue paint, the political capital of a four-hundred-year legacy of misery and deprivation, a desperate colonial outpost of missed opportunities.

Ed Riche, Rare Birds (Toronto: Doubleday Canada Limited, 1997) 24.



This is the St. John's, the Newfoundland that we who live there recognize. Our gaze penetrates through the tourism ad campaigns, the fog, the endless span of the ocean, which falls out of sight as the earth curves away from us and provides the British Isles and Continental Europe with a place to situate themselves. That is our past. To the west we see the expanse of our domain, which once again meets the water of the atlantic ocean and is in this way separated from our political tether.


Beneath it all, there runs a sentiment (deep enough to be nothing more than a trace at times), an impulse within the exhausted acceptance of where we are today. We are the far east of the Western hemisphere, forever on the outside, drifting, remembering, waiting. We wait for the end, because we live and have lived it. We are the sentinels, the vanguards of an everlasting twilight.

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