I recently had the pleasure of spending a week in Newfoundland, which became a Canadian province in 1949. Jutting into the Atlantic from the most northeastern point of North America, The Rock dazzles both with its natural beauty and unique cultural heritage, half Canadian/half British Isles. With the soundtrack to the hit Broadway musical Come From Away blasting in the car, I saw a moose, hundreds of puffins, half a dozen whales, one small iceberg, and a perfect double rainbow. I kissed the cod, learned about plate tectonics, ate superb seafood, hiked many kilometers, explored tiny fishing villages, and twacked around the capital of St. John’s, all in search of the best and most interesting signs and plaques. Here are my top ten. That’s a lie – there are actually eleven. But the last one is universal and my favourite.
These signs are everywhere in Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site on the west coast of Newfoundland. Moose, a species not native to the island, have become a real problem for drivers in the province, who are regularly advised not to drive at night. Warnings abound that in the fight between animal and car, animal will win every time. We did see one moose, a female without antlers, in the road at dusk in the park. Luckily, the alert driver in front of us slowed down in plenty of time, and the moose made her gawky way into the forest.
Clearly I’m not the only person in the world obsessed with signs. While I choose to document mine on the web, the person who owns this building in Norris Point near Gros Morne apparently prefers to keep them visible closer to home.
I’ve never seen a sign like this and likely noted it only because my mother is quite allergic to shellfish. Posted in the Discovery Centre in Gros Morne, it makes sense since lobsters are prolific on the Newfoundland menu, and many communities are extremely isolated and far from medical care.
As a writer, I always notice literary signs, like this one posted in Woody Point, just outside Gros Morne. Project Bookmark Canada looks exactly like my kind of thing! “Project Bookmark Canada is a one-of-a-kind, Canadian cultural innovation. Though many countries have tangible tributes to literature and writers, no other initiative in the world creates a permanent series of site-specific literary exhibits using text from imagined stories that take place in real locations. Our vision is to blaze a Canadian literary trail connecting hundreds of Bookmarks in cities, towns, and other areas across the country.” By the way, Woody’s Point also hosts an annual writers festival.
A sign for an absolutely beautiful coastal walk in Gros Morne, it’s noteworthy because of the term “tuckamore.” Also known as krumholz, tuckamore is a uniquely Newfoundland term for stunted, wind-sculpted forests found in subarctic regions. There I am, sitting in front of a copse (a grove?) of tuckamore.
Newfoundlanders are known for their warmth and welcome to any soul who happens upon their shores. As the events on September 11, 2001 unfolded, American airspace was closed, and hundreds of airplanes were forced to land. The uplifting hit Broadway Musical, Come From Away, chronicles the story of the 38 planes that unexpectedly touched down at Gander. You can listen to the whole soundtrack and story online. As a tribute to the power of kindness and community, the only place outside the United States to have a piece of steel from the collapsed World Trade Center is Gander International Airport in Newfoundland.
This gets my vote as the cutest sign of the trip, seen on the door of a shop on Water Street in St. John’s where we spent an afternoon “twacking” (which is Newfoundlander for window shopping). I’m fairly obsessed with puffins and had the privilege of seeing hundreds of them during a boat tour I did a few days earlier. Alas, these little guys – the toucans of the subarctic – are nearly impossible to take a photo of while in flight. This depiction is much better.
Mallard Cottage in the Quidi Vidi section of St. John’s is now a charming inn as well as a popular restaurant serving a delicious Sunday brunch. As mentioned on the marker, “Mallard Cottage is typical of houses built by the immigrants who came from southeast Ireland to Newfoundland in the first half of the 19th century.” Incidentally, I did not see any ducks.
I saw this sign also in Quidi Vidi, a former fishing village now a quaint part of St. John’s. I’ve never seen a more unique yet fitting sign, its importance becoming apparent when a boat pulled up nearby filled with live fish.
This could be my favourite sign anywhere of all time. Spotted at The Merchant Warehouse in Woody Point, which dishes up spectacular views of Bonne Bay along with the fish and chips, this sign made me laugh so hard.