Newfoundland and Labrador

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Exploring the Past in Newfoundland and Labrador

Archaeology and History Sites in Newfoundland and Labrador

L’Anse-aux-Meadows

Situated at the very tip of Newfoundland are the remains of wooden-framed peat and turf buildings. These are similar to those found on Greenland and Iceland, and generally accepted to have been made by Norse Vikings. L’Anse-aux-Meadows is now accepted to be the only known Norse settlement in North America, and that this is the earliest evidence for Europeans on the continent. Parks Canada manage the site and visitors centre, with reconstructions and exhibitions about the discovery and excavation of the site.

Battle Harbour National Historic District

Located on the Labrador coast, Battle Harbour developed during the late 18th century as a prominent fishing settlement. A major fire in 1930 devastated the community and led to increasing numbers of inhabitants moving elsewhere. In the 1960s government project encouraged further resettlement, leading to it becoming a seasonal settlement. Many of the historic buildings nevertheless survive, and the Canadian government have classified Battle Harbour as a National Historic Site since 1996.

Boyd’s Cove Beothuk

Boyd’s Cove Beothuk near Lewisporte is a coastal area that has seen human activity for at least 2000 years. Archaeologists excavated the site during the 1980s, revealing evidence for 18th century settlement by the Beothuk people. European settlement followed in the 19th century. Since 1995, Boyd’s Cove has been a National Historic Site of Canada. Fewer than 200 people now live in the village, which now houses an interpretation centre devoted to its heritage.

Cape Bonavista Lighthouse

Built in the early 1840s, the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse stands along Newfoundland’s eastern coast, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It continued in use until 1962, after which it became a heritage attraction following restoration in the 1970s. Visitors are given the opportunity to climb the tower and examine the historic oil-powered lamp that was originally used in the 19th century. A great place for bird spotters as well as archaeological explorers.

Castle Hill

Castle Hill stands on an area of high ground overlooking Placentia. Originally a French fortification established in the 17th century, it later fell to the British during the 1690s. Canada’s government have classified Castle Hill as a National Historic Site since 1968. Various ruined walls and earthworks remain to this day, while visitors can also learn more about the site by spending time in its information centre.

Colony of Avalon

Visit the town of Ferryland in Newfoundland and see the archaeological remains of the Colony of Avalon, one of the earliest European settlements in North America. Although the colony was founded in the early 17th century, the natural harbour had been favoured by migratory fishermen for decades. The town was destroyed at the end of the 17th century when French settlers were at war with the English. Archaeological excavations commenced in the 1980s, and now visitors can see a 17th street, with the remains of a mansion house and a reconstructed herb garden.

Commissariat House

Built between 1818 and 1820, the Commissariat House at St John’s served as the residence and main office of the Assistant Commissary General, the individual responsible for overseeing supplies to the British military forces stationed in Newfoundland. In 1871 it became an Anglican church, continuing to be used for this purpose until 1969. The house now operates as a visitor attraction, with its rooms furnished to appear as they would have done during the 19th century.

Cupids Cove Plantation

The Cupids Cove Plantation was established by English colonists under the leadership of John Guy, a merchant from Bristol, in 1610. The earliest English colony on the land that would later become Canada, it soon saw a range of structures erected here, including a fort, a gristmill, a brewery, and a sawmill. Annual summer excavations continue at the site, with visitors able to get a glimpse at this archaeology in action.

Fleur de Lys Soapstone Quarries

The Fleur de Lys Soapstone Quarries were used by indigenous communities from around 400 CE. Soapstone was considered a valuable material, being used in the creation of a range of different artefacts. Today, the quarries can be explored via a ramble along a boardwalk, which at points also offers impressive seascape views. There is also a small soapstone museum nearby. Canada’s government have recognised the quarries as a National Historic Site since 1982.

Heart’s Content Cable Station

The Heart’s Content Cable Station was the western terminus of the first permanent trans-oceanic submarine telegraph cable. Established in 1866, it remained in use until 1965, at which point new technologies rendered it largely obsolete. The cable station nevertheless remains as a testament to the successes of 19th century engineering. Interpretive displays accompany the original machinery that is still on display within the simple Gothic Revivalist style building.

L’Anse Amour Burial Mound

The L’Anse Amour Burial Mound in southern Labrador represents one of the visible features of a larger settlement inhabited between around 7000 and 0 BCE. Archaeologists refer to the inhabitants of this settlement as members of the Maritime Archaic culture. Once containing the burial of a child, the mound was created between 6100 and 6600 BCE, making it the oldest known burial tumuli in North America. The settlement has been a National Historic Site since 1978.

Mockbeggar Plantation

The Mockbeggar Plantation in Bonavista was once the home of Frederick Gordon Bradley, a politician who was a prominent advocate for Newfoundland’s merger into Canada, the project which achieved its goal in the late 1940s. Today, the house contains a range of displays focusing on Newfoundland life in the 1930s and 1940s. Dramatic views of the adjacent seascape await visitors to this historic property. Joint tickets are available with the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse.

Museums in Newfoundland and Labrador

Admiralty House Museum

The Admiralty House Museum in Mount Pearl focuses attentions on the history of radio telecommunications and the famous inventor Guglielmo Marconi. Its collection also includes material on life in early 20th century Canada. Admiralty House itself was one of eleven identical stations built around the world; the Marconi Telegraph Company constructed it in 1915 to serve the Royal Navy, after which it was used to intercept transmissions from the German Navy.

Barbour Heritage Village

Located in Newtown, Barbour Heritage Village is an open-air museum bringing together 19 historic structures for their long-term preservation. The assembled structures give visitors a taste of life in Newfoundland as it existed in the late 19th century and the opening decades of the 20th. Many of these structures are internally decorated with authentic period furnishings. A particular focus is the life of the Barbour family, who were prominent in Newfoundland’s fishing industry.

Bell Island Mine Museum

Mining was formerly a key part of the economy of Newfoundland, something that visitors can learn more about on a visit to the Bell Island Mine Museum. A combination of old photographs and artefacts used by the miners themselves are accompanied by material pertaining to the German U-boat attack on the area in 1942. Visitors are taken on guided tours into the old mine itself. A range of special events take place throughout the year.

Grenfell House Museum

Occupying a structure built in 1909-10, the Grenfell House Museum in St Anthony is devoted to local heritage. The structure is of a New England architectural style and was initially home to Dr Grenfell and his family, from whom the museum takes its current name. It later became a residence for mission workers before passing to the Grenfell Historical Society in 1978. They oversaw renovation before opening it as a museum in 1981.

Isles Wooden Boat Builders Museum

The Isles Wooden Boat Museum in Twillingate is open to visitors during the summer months. It explores the important role of timber boats in the heritage of this coastal area, with a number of examples in its collection. The museum is attached to a workshop where wooden boats continue to be made today, helping to keep this form of cultural heritage alive. An ideal place for those interested either in carpentry or in boats.

Norstead Viking Village

Norstead Viking Village near L’Anse aux Meadows is a recreation of the medieval Scandinavian settlement that archaeologists discovered nearby. As well as including a range of longhouses and other structures, the village is home to a recreated longship, the Snorri. Reenactors in period costume help to ensure a more immersive living history experience for visitors. One of the few locations in North America where one can really gain a tangible sense of the Viking Age.

North Atlantic Aviation Museum

Opened to the public in 1996, the North Atlantic Aviation Museum in Gander brings together a range of displays and objects associated with the history of the aviation industry. Topics covered include the Gander International Airport and its role in the Second World War, as well as its subsequent involvement in international civilian travel. Aircraft on display include a Lockheed Hudson Bomber, a PBY-5a Canso Waterbomber, and a CF-101 Voodoo.

Prime Berth Fishing Museum

The Prime Berth Fishing Museum in Twillingate is dedicated to the heritage of the fishing communities in this part of Newfoundland. The term “Prime Berth” is local fishing slang, used to refer to the best location where a fisherman could place his cod traps in the summer; fishermen held a draw in the spring to see who would win that coveted space. The museum is run by a couple who are themselves engaged in fishing.

Railway Coastal Museum

Opened in 2003, the Railway Coastal Museum in St. John’s is devoted to the heritage of the Newfoundland Railway. The museum occupies a former railway station that once ran along the railroad, although the tracks have since been removed amid wider urbanisation of the surrounding environment. Since 1988 the Canadian government have classified the structure as a National Historic Site. A range of events take place at the museum throughout the year.

St. Lawrence Miner’s Memorial Museum

The St. Lawrence Miner’s Memorial Museum focuses on the lives of the mining community who were once a prominent part of this local area. The museum also explores a dramatic incident during the Second World War when the St. Lawrence Miners saved the lives of 186 sailors who were shipwrecked aboard the USS Truxtun, the USS Pollux, and the USS Wilkes. A small museum, but likely to interest those fascinated by the history of mining.

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