Newfoundland and Labrador — History and Culture
As the easternmost and youngest of Canada’s 10 provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador boasts a distinct history all its own. The unique expressions and traditions that many of the province’s settlers imported from England or Ireland two or three centuries ago remain well entrenched in Newfoundland and Labrador’s culture today.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s first residents, the Maritime Archaic Indians, left behind North America’s oldest-known funeral mound in southern Labrador in what is now the L’Anse Amour National Historic Site of Canada. The Beothuk and Innu didn’t arrive until 2,000 years ago, while the descendants of Labrador’s current Inuit population first migrated around 1,000 years ago.
Around 1000 AD, Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula became the first known piece of North American land seen by European eyes when a Viking crew established a camp at the present day L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. After the Viking village was abandoned, Newfoundland remained undiscovered by Europeans until John Cabot docked in Bonavista in 1497.
Once Cabot discovered the plethora of cod swimming beneath Newfoundland’s waters, fishermen from England, France, Portugal, and Spain flocked to the island to catch and take home their share of the bounty. The first permanent settlement was not founded until 1610, when the Conception Bay community of Cupids became Canada’s first English colony. Newfoundland and Labrador’s current provincial capital, St. John’s, was established just a few years later.
Although a few French colonies were established around Placentia Bay during the mid-17th century, Newfoundland’s French settlers eventually became overshadowed by the far larger flow of English and Irish immigrants who arrived between 1750 and 1850. Most originated from southwest England, while the Irish fled their country during the Great Irish Famine. Much of Newfoundland and Labrador’s early history is depicted at The Rooms (9 Bonaventure Avenue, St. John’s), the province’s biggest museum and art gallery.
Newfoundland chose not to join the new Dominion of Canada in 1867, and earned Dominion status in its own right in 1907. Labrador became part of the Dominion of Newfoundland twenty years later in 1927. In 1948, just over 52 percent of the population voted to join Canada, while nearly 48 percent wanted Newfoundland and Labrador to remain independent. Newfoundland and Labrador officially became Canada’s 10th province less than a year later.
Today, Newfoundland and Labrador has managed to maintain its independent spirit and proud culture despite tough economic times, especially the 1992 moratorium on the province’s once prosperous industry—cod fishery. However, growing gas, oil, and mineral exploration sectors have boosted Newfoundland and Labrador’s wealth to the point where it has finally been able to shed its long time ‘have not’ status. The Newfoundland Science Centre (5 Beck’s Cove Town Centre, Building 100, Murray Premises, St. John’s) exhibits much of the province’s latest technologies.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s distinct culture is most strongly displayed in the distinct dialect of its people and the lively kitchen parties frequently hosted in local households. Guests at both homes and pubs are sometimes asked to down a glass of Screech, a Jamaican rum brand often considered an acquired taste, and kiss either a real or imitation codfish as an initation.
Much of the province’s music is inspired by traditional sea shanties with strong Irish, French, and English influences. The Ennis Sisters and Great Big Sea are among the province’s most famous musical groups. Inuit, Métis, and First Nations groups play important parts in Labrador’s culture.