Coast Versus Coast
From sea to sky, Newfoundland has many of the same virtues as its Pacific fraternal twin.
The most obvious parallel between Canadaís easternmost and westernmost provinces is the abundance of natural playgrounds. In Newfoundlandís case, many are linked by 540 kilometres of purpose-built walking trails. But these are not metre-wide pea-gravel trails built for easy ambling. Constructed to follow the rugged traditional paths that joined 32 small shorefront communities long before there were roads, the East Coast Trail system would challenge any Gore-Tex-clad British Columbian. The only concessions to convenience are a few boardwalks over rough terrain and stepping stones through bogs. At La Manche, south of St. Johnís, thereís even a suspension bridge so narrow it feels like you could get your backpack stuck. Though it may be slightly less harrowing than Vancouver Islandís more famous version, locals still scoff that the West Coast Trail is a knock-off. Sights well worth seeing include the Pulpit, a clifftop perch near Bay Bulls, and the Spout, a natural wave-carved cave in the cliff near Cape Spear that shoots a column of ocean straight up through the rocks.
What about sea kayaking, that most British Columbian of maritime diversions? From the high ground in Cape Broyle, you can watch as the neophytes leave Stan Cookís wharf like a column of nervous yellow ducklings. Thereís a thriving community of kayakers here, hitting the surf for more months of the year than seems sensible. Bird and whale tours? The stars of the show in Newfoundland are not grey whales or pods of killer whales. Here itís mostly minke whales Ė known locally as potheads, a visual clue youíll understand when you see one Ė and massive humpbacks that put those Pacific guppies to shame. Both cruise the shoreline looking for schools of a small food fish called capelin, as do the colourful puffins that make for a bonus attraction. Try either OíBrienís Boat Tours or Gatherallís Puffin and Whale Watching.
But the West has the mountains, you say; Newfoundland canít compete with that. Well, the East has its own mountains Ė ice mountains, to be more specific. Early summer brings these impressive glacier fragments south from Greenland on the Labrador current. From the East Coast trail, you might spot as many as 10 bergs at a time. Which brings us to the big difference between the two that youíll probably notice if you arrive having packed for the other coast. Sure, itís a tad chillier in the land of the icebergs than in the land of the lotus-eaters. But if youíre tempted to stay indoors a bit, youíll discover more of Newfoundlandís under-appreciated charms.
From Sarah McLachlan to Neko Case, B.C.ís music scene gets more than its share of the limelight. But George Street in downtown St. Johnís has Vancouverís Gastown beat in a few important categories. Take density: Only a few blocks long, George Street has 42 bars, with another 40 or so in the immediate vicinity. Many boast live music, supporting St. Johnís vibrant indie band scene, but donít forget the late kickoff: bands in St. Johnís even start on British Columbia time. If you want to catch, say, the reggae-inflected Idlers at the Ship, you wonít hear so much as a sound check until well after midnight. Of course, no George Street outing is complete without a visit to OíReillyís for traditional Newfoundland music like the Masterless Men Ė something youíll never find in B.C.
(Russell Wangersky is a St. John's writer and editor whose latest book, Burning Down the House: Fighting Fires and Losing Myself, won the B.C. National Prize for Non-Fiction, and was a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book for 2008.)
TOP IMAGE: PETER HELM
NIGHTLIFE: PETER HELM
PUFFINS: O’BRIEN’S WHALE AND BIRD TOURS
ICEBERGS: DAVID HEBBARD PHOTOGRAPHY