History

Beothuk Interpretation Centre - Provincial Historic Site, Boyd’s Cove
L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
Colony of Avalon, 17th Century Kitchen Reproduction
War Memorial, St. John's
Signal Hill Tattoo Uniforms
L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site

Newfoundland and Labrador has a long and colourful history. In fact, there isn't a rock, cliff, tree or cave around here without a legend attached.

Early Aboriginal Cultures

The rich and complex human history of this province can be traced to about 9,000 years ago when the first groups of a marine-oriented people moved into southeastern Labrador. By around 8,000 years ago the culture of those first groups had developed into what is now called the Maritime Archaic Indians. Around 7,500 years ago they buried a child in what is the oldest known funeral mound in North America. Around 5,500 years ago their descendants moved into Newfoundland. In the 1960s a Maritime Archaic cemetery was discovered in Port au Choix during excavations for a cinema. The cemetery is now a National Historic Site with a nearby Interpretation Centre which interprets the various pre-contact cultures of that area.

About 4,000 years ago, a separate and distinct culture arrived in northern Labrador. These arctic-adapted people we now call Paleoeskimos spread to the Island of Newfoundland where they lived until around 1,000 years ago.

Some 3,600 years ago a new culture shows up in the Labrador archaeological record. They are known as the Intermediate Indians. These people moved into central Labrador, and shortly after that the Maritime Archaic tradition vanishes from the archaeological record. It is not clear how or if the Intermediate Indians were related to the Maritime Archaic tradition.

Then, about 2,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Innu and the Beothuk are recognized in the archaeological record of Labrador and the island. These Recent Indians were more land-adapted than some of the earlier groups.

The most recent aboriginal group to arrive was the Thule people who migrated across the northern part of the continent from the Bering Strait to Labrador about 1,000 years ago. The descendants of the Thule are today’s Inuit.

The First European Visitors to North America

The oldest known European contact was made here a few thousand years later when Leif Eriksson and his crew of Vikings landed on the Northern Peninsula in 1000 AD. Although they didn't settle permanently, they left their mark on this part of the world at L'Anse aux Meadows – now a National Historic Site and UNESCO World Heritage Site – where you can explore an ancient Viking landing site and recreated sod huts.

Fast forward hundreds of years to 1497, when Italian-born Giovanni Caboto – more commonly known as John Cabot – dropped anchor in Bonavista and "discovered" the New World.

Arrival of Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English migratory fishermen

In the sixteenth century, Basque whalers established the first industrial station in the New World at Red Bay in Labrador to process whale oil. The site was chosen because whales migrated – and still do today – through the Strait of Belle Isle. In June 2013, this mythical place was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of three such designations in Newfoundland and Labrador.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, fishermen from France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and eventually England arrived to feed on the fish of Newfoundland and Labrador. Most of the early permanent settlers came from southwest England and southeast Ireland, with the majority emigrating between 1750 and 1850 prior to the Great Irish Famine.

Although Newfoundland was England's oldest overseas colony, France played an important part in helping shape our history. French explorer, Jacques Cartier, arrived in 1534 and eventually the French established a colony in Placentia in 1662. By then, tiny settlements popped up around Placentia Bay, the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon – still a colony of France today – and beyond the Burin Peninsula into Fortune and Hermitage Bays. During the 17th century, Newfoundland was more French than it was English. Oddly enough, by the middle of the next century, French settlement had disappeared mostly due to military success elsewhere in North America.

Canada's Youngest Province

Before 1949, Newfoundland had a history as a British colony, Britain’s "Grand Cod Fishery of the Universe", eventually becoming equal to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as a full Dominion of the British Empire. Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada on 31 March 1949 and the next day, the leader of the Confederation campaigns, Joseph R. Smallwood, became the new province’s first Premier.

Today, even though we're the youngest province in Canada, we're considered one of the fastest growing in the country with booming oil and gas, mineral exploration, and marine and IT industries. On the cultural side, St. John's is brimming with musicians, artists, writers, dancers, and craftspeople from the province, throughout Canada, and around the world – and all are drawn to Canada's eastern edge by our inspiring natural beauty. In fact, it's been said the city has the highest concentration of artists per capita in Canada.

Helpful Links

The Rooms - Provincial Archives, Art Gallery and Museum

Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website

Inside Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology Blog

Archival Moments - Selections from the Archives