A Very Brief and Incomplete History
In 1497 John Cabot, on a expedition to the New World, sailed into Cape Bonavista and discovered teaming schools of cod fish. His discovery started years of conflict between France and England for control of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. It was also responsible for the unique pattern of European settlement in Newfoundland. At first fisherman spent only the summer, catching fish, salting them and spreading them on the rocks to dry. This cycle was repeated until the early 1600s when the French and English began to establish colonies. Eventually almost every little cove was settled. Many settlements were very small consisting of a few families who were not only isolated from the rest of the world but also from the other settlements. Fishing and general supplies came by ship from Europe and dried fish were taken to Spain, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean Islands where they were a staple food for the slaves on sugar plantations. Cod fishing remained an important part of Newfoundland’s economy until 1992 when the cod fish stocks had been depleted to such an extent that Canada declared a moratorium on fishing. 60,000 Newfoundlanders moved off of the island to find work. No large commercial fisheries remain but limited harvesting of cod along with other fish, lobster and shellfish still provides a living for coastal communities.
Two ferry routes, which depart from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, connect Newfoundland to the mainland of North America. One docks on the west side of the island at Port aux Basques, the other on the east side at Argentina. The trip to Port aux Basques takes about 6 hours and to Argentina about 12. The ferries are huge and we felt very little rocking motion. Passengers must arrive at least two hours before departure time. Loading is quick and professional. Passengers who need space to deploy a wheelchair lift will be parked close to the elevator with plenty of maneuvering room. A ramp is available to bridge a high threshold at the elevator. The seating areas do not have empty spots for wheelchairs so parking is in the aisles or at the snack bar tables. Accessible restrooms are in the center of the ship.
The Trans Canada Highway was built in 1965. It connects Port aux Basques to St. John ( almost 600 miles) and closely follows the path of the old rail line. The highway is in good condition but isn’t a limited access road and varies from four lane to two lane with a third passing lane at well spaced intervals. Secondary roads vary from excellent to barely drivable.
Newfoundland is a really big island. We visited for 3 1/2 weeks which wasn’t enough time to see it all.
When the TCH was built all of the little villages finally had access to the rest of the island. Until that time people either walked or traveled by boat to visit between villages. The road also bought conveniences such as electricity and running water to the villages. A process of resettlement was begun to centralize schools, local government and other public services so some of the smaller villages were abandoned but there are still hundreds along the coasts. Many have tiny museums, walking trails and tours to attract tourist traffic. There are dozens of roads that either dead end or form large loops so, unless you have unlimited time, deciding what to see is difficult. Visiting involves a good bit of driving but the scenery is magnificent.
Be prepared for all types of weather. Our first week of sunshine and blue skies was followed by a couple of weeks of overcast skies accompanied by mist, fog and short rain showers. Our last few days on the island were sunny and warm. If you’re planning on an excursions to see icebergs, whales and sea birds check the weather forecasts and plan accordingly.
We stayed one night in a national park campground. The rest of the time we boondocked or stayed at Walmarts.
95% of Newfoundland is crown land. Crown land is similar to US forest and BLM lands so camping is permitted almost everywhere but since flat areas along the coasts are settled and most of the inland is covered with small, densely packed trees, finding good spots isn’t easy. Although they’re not very scenic gravel pits, which were created when building the TCH, are the most convenient, numerous and easy to find boondocking spots.
Phone and Internet
Before we entered Canada we added a $30.00 plan onto our phone plan which gave us 80 minutes of time using Rogers cell towers. This was fine in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia but only worked in St. Johns in Newfoundland. Adding a Canadian internet plan to our US plan was too expensive to consider so we relied on hotspots and were very happy to find very fast, free internet at almost of the Walmarts in Canada. Most of them also allow overnight RV parking of which we took full advantage.
When we crossed the border from the US into New Brunswick there wasn’t an agricultural inspection so we were surprised to find one before boarding the ferry in Newfoundland for our return trip to Nova Scotia. All raw, unpeeled root vegetables are confiscated to stop diseases common on the island from spreading to crops on the mainland.
Few attempts have been made to provide wheelchair access at outdoor attractions. The visitor centers at the national parks and historic sites are accessible but the trails are not. Most trails are rough and rocky but accessible boardwalks trails can be found in the medium sized towns. We would have loved a chance to walk/roll along some of the trails along the coast so hopefully someday they will be surfaced with hard packed stone making wheelchair access possible. Even so we really enjoyed visiting Newfoundland!