The French Ancestors Route (125 km)

Newfoundland gained full control over the west coast only in 1904. For centuries before that, it was known locally as the French Shore because France had exclusive fishing rights there. Today, many French place names remain, and this area continues as the hub of French Newfoundland culture. The traditions, lifestyle and heritage of those early settlers still dominate this small pocket of French-speaking communities.

Take Routes 460 or 490 from Route 1 and experience the French Shore

The parts of the Newfoundland coastline officially designated as The French Shore changed twice during the 18th century as a result of treaties ending wars between France and England. Initially, the area was set from Cape Bonavista to Point Riche in 1713, and then reset to the coast between Cape St. John and Cape Ray in 1783, remaining that way until 1904 when France gave up its fishing rights in Newfoundland. Many French, having lived here for generations, decided to stay, and today their descendants carry on their language and customs.

Stephenville, the main service centre for the St. George's-Port au Port area, was originally known as Indian Creek. It was renamed by a group of Acadian settlers in 1844 for one of their party, Stephen LeBlanc.

Stephenville came into its own during World War II when the United States government built Harmon Air Force base on the outskirts of the town. The Americans moved out in 1966 and the base is now part of the town's industrial park.

During July and early August, the Stephenville Theatre Festival attracts theatre buffs from all over. Its plays range from original works to professional quality productions of Broadway hits.

In Stephenville you’ll find the 305-million-year-old petrified remains of the first mountain trees that produced seeds.

Turn onto Route 462 from Route 460 to Fox Island River

A rewarding side trip on Route 462 off Route 460 takes you to Fox Island River. Halfway along this road is the Point au Mal lookout, which provides an unexcelled view of Port au Port Bay. This stretch of sandy shore is perfect for beach combing.

Geologists and rock enthusiasts will want to take another short drive off Route 460 to Lead Cove where a small cave is all that remains of an early lead mining operation. The quarry also holds 350 million-year-old Mississippian fossils in a huge and rare column of coquina limestone. Small amounts of oil have also been found at various sites, and the search for economically viable deposits is ongoing.

The Port au Port Peninsula is one of many geologically interesting parts of the province, and such minerals as marcasite, galena and calcite are found here.

Return to Route 460 through picturesque fishing communities

Travel west to Campbells Creek – named for its first settler – and through picturesque fishing communities where the traditional way of life is carried on much as it has been for centuries. Photographers will love Abrahams Cove, Jerry's Nose and Ship Cove. Continue on through Lower Cove to Sheaves Cove where just a short distance from the highway you will see a waterfall and spectacular wave-cut terraces.

Every summer the people of the Port aux Port Peninsula host French folk festivals that celebrate their heritage. In recent years these festivals have attracted traditional musicians, singers and dancers from all over the province and a host of visitors and performers from the Maritime Provinces, Quebec and the French islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon.

Then it's on through Marches Pointes, DeGrau and Red Brook to Cape St-George, the heart of French Newfoundland. Things to see include the remains of the lighthouse that was destroyed by fire in 1931, and the small park at Land's End, which is a great place to take photos of the coastline.

From Cape St. George drive to Mainland

Mainland is more than 200 years old. From here you can see Red Island, named by Captain James Cook in 1767 when he noticed its reddish-coloured cliffs. Red Island was used as a fishing station by the Basques in the 16th and 17th centuries, and then by French fishermen from St. Pierre, Brittany and the Acadian communities in Nova Scotia until early this century.

Mainland was settled by emigrants from France and runaways from the French navy who found their way to this and other tiny hamlets on the peninsula. The descendants of these first settlers still live here in such communities as Lourdes, Winterhouse and Black Duck Brook.

The peninsula's coastline has several unusual features, like the rocks at Three Rock Cove – just past Mainland – that give the community its name. On the northern edge of the peninsula is appropriately named Long Point that juts out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. To reach it, continue on through Black Duck Brook. Residents hold a walk between Mainland and Cape St. George every year to mark the feast day of St-Jean-Baptiste, the patron saint of French Canada.

Continue on Route 463, making your way back to Route 1

At Piccadilly on Route 463, there's a sandy shore and a hiking trail along the shoreline. As you make your way back toward Route 1, you will notice the peculiar shape of the Port au Port Peninsula. Residents of the community of Port au Port, which is located on the narrowest part of the isthmus, enjoy the luxury of being able to fish in both Port au Port Bay and St. George's Bay.