The True Newfoundland & Labrador

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Jun 10, 2016 12:00 AM
A dory rowing lesson underway in Petty Harbour (Fishing For Success photo)

Come-from-aways looking for authentic Newfoundland and Labrador experiences have much to choose from. Check out the following opportunities that offer a taste of how this province’s people live, or once lived:

The Petty Harbour Way

Based in scenic Petty Harbour, Fishing For Success began as an effort to share the province’s traditional fishing heritage with young people, but has recently expanded to include the general public due to growing demand. To that end, the non-profit organization has developed a Heritage Fishing Excursion, which explores how the fishery was prosecuted in this province prior to advances in technology.

“When the guide takes you out no fish sounder is used, and GPS isn’t used - a compass is used, and the traditional fishing marks are used,” says Kimberly Orren, executive director of Fishing For Success. Cod are caught using a hand line and a single hook, which is how families have fished out of Petty Harbour (a protected fishing area) for generations.

Upon returning to shore, guests find out how to fillet their catch and, for an additional charge, can learn to cook it up with scrunchins on a camp stove. 

“It’s about reconnecting people with heritage, how your grandparents made a living in Newfoundland. And then sharing that heritage with the people who come to visit this province,” says Kimberly.

In addition to heritage fishing excursions, Fishing For Success also offers dory rowing lessons, as well as dory rentals.

Fishing From a Dory

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Four Seasons Tours photo

For those who wish to get out on the water, there is no shortage of boat tours to choose from around Newfoundland and Labrador. But Darren Park of Four Seasons Tours (based in Cox’s Cove) firmly believes the experiences he offers are special, mainly because of the type of boat he uses. The tours take place in a dory, the traditional, flat-bottomed boat with flaring sides and a small stern used for centuries by Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen. 

“You go back years ago and the dory was on the Grand Banks. Newfoundlanders made a living out of the dory, and still are,” says Darren.

Tours are typically four to five hours in length and pass along by bald eagle nesting sites and resettled communities, all the while surrounded by the breathtaking scenery of the Bay of Islands. During his ocean fishing tour, Darren’s guests may try their hands at catching mackerel, perch, flounder and, during the recreational food fishery, cod. Once back on shore, Darren fillets and cleans their catch and puts it on ice. “And they walk away with their supper,” he says.

While many tour operators boast large vessels capable of carrying large groups, Darren says that for him, keeping the experience intimate is paramount. He accepts a maximum of five guests per tour, adding, “Once you call and book, it’s your tour - you [and your guests] only. So it’s very personal, and I like to keep it that way.”

In addition to ocean fishing tours, Darren also offers a bald eagle tour aboard his dory, during which he says it’s all but guaranteed to see the birds up close. Or guests can opt to hop aboard the dory for a ride to Darren’s seaside cabin for a seafood boil-up right on the water’s edge.

A Taste of Local Life

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Cod Sounds photo

When it comes to the food we eat, we Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are a “picky” lot - meaning we pride ourselves on actually picking the fare that adorns our dinner plates. Perhaps no one believes in this lifestyle more passionately than Lori McCarthy, whose business, called Cod Sounds, offers authentically tasty experiences to foodies. 

“It’s how I live and people just seem so fascinated by it,” says Lori, who takes guests on wild foraging tours on the Avalon Peninsula. 

Tours typically take place along the East Coast Trail, where Lori and her guests pick everything from berries and mushrooms to more obscure ingredients, including edible wild flowers and beach greens. “Very fun flavours that most have never tried,” says Lori. With freshly picked ingredients in tow, the tour rounds out by incorporating the delicious finds in a boil up where Lori treats her guests to a lunch that could include toutons, cod’s head stew, mussels, smoked mackerel and other local favourites.

The whole experience is more about showing people a way of life than it is a tour, says Lori, adding she’s entertained a good mix of locals and come-from-aways since starting her business last year.

“The local people are saying, ‘You know what? I’ve never done that, and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never done that,’” she says. 

In addition to the foraging hike and boil-up experience, Lori also offers a dedicated boil-up excursion plus a wide variety of cooking classes and restaurant tours, which sample some of the city’s top spots. 

All Work & Some Play

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Parks Canada photo

Have you ever wondered what daily life was like for the hardworking families of Newfoundland and Labrador’s inshore fishery? The Yaffle of Chores program, offered at Broom Point in Gros Morne National Park, aims to give modern-day folk a taste of those times.

From 1941 until 1975, three Mudge brothers and their families fished from this site on the ocean’s edge. Years later, their family cabin and fish store were painstakingly restored and today their hard work lives on, carried out by guides and visitors to the park. Tend gardens, dry fish and try your hand at doing laundry the old-fashioned way. 

Fit for a Fisherman

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Raleigh Historical Corp. photo

Located near the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, the Raleigh Historic Village is the next best thing to entering a time machine. Guests step into the role of visiting fishermen as they are transported to 1950s Newfoundland. Overnight accommodations are available in traditional bunkhouses - replicas of the simple wooden structures where fishermen from out of town were put up.

“The bunks are made with a feather mattress, handmade by the girls who worked with the Raleigh Historical Corporation over the years. The blankets are handmade, everything that’s there is handmade,” says Noah Smith of the Raleigh Historical Corporation. 

In keeping with the times, creature comforts are few - that means no electricity in the bunkhouses; heat and light come from wood stoves and oil lamps, and going to the washroom means a trip to the outhouse.

“It’s just like it was in the ’50s and ’60s…It’s as close to back then as you can get,” he says (adding that washrooms, showers and laundry facilities - along with a museum - are all located in the Raleigh Historical Corp. building nearby). The historic village also comprises a woodshed, boathouse, cookhouse and several wharves.

During their stay, guests can participate in a number of activities to gain a deeper understanding of the lifestyle of that period. Those who take part in the fishing workshop learn traditional skills including how to mend nets and make paddles; during the craft workshop guests learn how to hook mats.

Guests may choose to head out on a guided coastal hiking tour, or join a boat tour aboard a 30-foot trap skiff complete with an old putt-putt motor. 

“It’s a slow ride, but it’s a great ride,” says Noah. A highlight of the boat tour comes upon arrival at a cave known as the Big Oven, where guests board a small punt to explore its dark interior. 

For Lobster Lovers

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Oceanside Excursions photo

Join veteran fisherman Jody Caines, owner of Oceanside Excursions, for a lesson in lobster fishing in the waters of beautiful Bonne Bay. Jody departs the boat launch at Neddies Harbour, Norris Point for the four-hour excursion. The whole family can get hands-on during a lobster fishing demonstration, hauling lobster pots and practising banding skills (demo lobsters are made of rubber - so no worries about nipped fingers). Guests may also try fishing for mackerel or, during the recreational food fishery, cod. 

Jody rounds out the experience with a lobster boil on a beach, where guests enjoy a feast of lobster boiled in seawater, plus all the fixings: potato salad, coleslaw, a roll, drinks and homemade dessert.