Exploring the Kittiwake Coast

This seven-day tour along the Kittiwake Coast includes islands, beaches, a national park, and a rich history, spanning thousands of years.

Day 1 – The Exploits Valley

We begin this coastal tour in Buchans, which is about as far away from the sea as you can get on the island of Newfoundland. It was founded as a mining town, and although the principle mine here closed decades ago, there is still some small-scale mining and a lot of mineral exploration. Continue along Route 370 to Millertown where a small museum tells the town’s history, and then continue onto Route 1 and drive east to Grand Falls-Windsor.

Just west of the town is the Loggers’ Life Provincial Museum, a recreation of a 1920s logging camp. Logging remains an important part of the economy of central Newfoundland.

The Mary March Provincial Museum in town is named for one of the last Beothuks. The museum provides an overview of Beothuk life, the geology of the region and the region’s logging and papermaking industries. A newly-added extension features travelling exhibits. An intriguing attraction in town is the Salmonid Interpretation Centre where underwater viewing windows allow you to see, in season, salmon migrating up the river to spawn in their natal waters.The Mary March Provincial Museum in town is named for one of the last Beothuks. The museum provides an overview of Beothuk life, the geology of the region and the region’s logging and papermaking industries. A newly-added extension features travelling exhibits. An intriguing attraction in town is the Salmonid Interpretation Centre where underwater viewing windows allow you to see, in season, salmon migrating up the river to spawn in their natal waters.

The Exploits River, which spans a large portion of the island’s interior, long separated the eastern and western parts of Newfoundland. It wasn’t until the railway was built that a permanent bridge crossed over it. The railway is gone, but the train trestle remains at Bishop’s Falls, which also has a heritage centre devoted largely to the railway and logging.

Head now for the Bay of Exploits and the town of Botwood. Known mainly as a port where newsprint is shipped to markets around the world, it was also an important location in the history of transatlantic aviation. The town’s Heritage Park and Museum is centered on the former seaplane base, where Pan American Airways and British Imperial Airways used to test the feasibility of transatlantic passenger flights on large seaplanes called flying boats, between 1937 and 1940.

Off Route 1 and onto Route 351, head to Norris Arm where a reconstruction of a 1930s seaplane hangar serves as the town’s museum. There are exhibits on the railway, forestry and, of course, pioneering aviation. Look for ospreys hunting along the shoreline. And, if you feel like stretching your legs, the T’Railway Provincial Park is accessible from here.

Our last stop of the day is in Lewisporte at the By the Bay Museum and Craft Shop where a 28-foot hooked rug illustrates much of the town’s history.

Day 2 – Road to the Isles

Having reached Notre Dame Bay, now head north along the Road to the Isles, passing through fishing outports settled by people from England’s West Country in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Our first stop will be the Boyd’s Cove Beothuk Interpretation Centre, which is the province’s main exploration of this now-vanished culture. Archaeological work undertaken in the 1980s, uncovered a major Beothuk village along the shores of Notre Dame Bay that had been occupied in the 17th and 18th centuries. There’s a 1.5 km walking trail from the centre to the actual dig site, with interpretive signs along the way.

Head north again to a series of large islands connected by causeways, and our next stop will be the first building on Twillingate Island - the Prime Berth, a fishery and heritage centre. It’s a cross between a museum, a craft shop and living interpretation centre.

Continue on towards Twillingate, stopping at the Moreton’s Harbour Community Museum for a cup of tea and a chat with the hostess. Moreton’s Harbour was once a major shipping port, and the museum is devoted mainly to the foreign-going trade.

In Twillingate, visit the Twillingate Museum, located in the former Anglican rectory. In addition to collections of Maritime Archaic artifacts and genealogy, there’s a fascinating exhibit about a young woman from here who became an opera star in Europe in the late 19th century. Georgina Stirling, known as the Nightingale of the North, performed as Maria Toulinguet at La Scala and other opera houses in Europe and North America.

Day 3 – The islands experience, part I: Change Islands

Today we visit Change Islands, which bills itself both as the home of the Squid Jiggin’ Ground and as the fishing stage capital of the world. The first reference is to the famous song of that name, in which fishermen get up to all kinds of hijinks while waiting for the squid – which they used for bait – to migrate to shore. To get there, take Routes 340 and 335 to Farewell from where the ferry sails to both Change Islands and Fogo Island.

A visit here is truly a step back in time. While fishing stages and stores – the wooden wharves and drying racks where fishermen cured their catches – have disappeared from many outports, Change Islands still has about 200 of them. There are Newfoundland ponies in a special refuge, an interpretation centre, and a small museum. There’s also a hiking trail and a boat tour.

The main buildings in the town are on either side of Main Tickle, which separates the two sides but for a causeway that was built in the 1960s - the same decade autos arrived.

Day 4 – The islands experience, part II: Fogo Island

Today we take the ferry to Fogo, about a 20-minute run from Change Islands. There are about a dozen towns and villages on this largish island, which derives its name from the Portuguese word for the fires (fuego) at Beothuk campsites on the shoreline of Notre Dame Bay which the early Europeans saw from here. Most of the island was settled by West Country English fishermen, but one community, Tilting, was settled by the Irish.

There are several museums on the island, and we will visit a representative sample, starting with Bleak House in the town of Fogo. The structure dates from 1816 and was later a merchant’s house. The displays are of 19th and 20th-century artifacts that would have been common in merchant houses of the day.

The Brett House Museum in Joe Batt’s Arm – supposedly named for a deserter from one of Captain James Cook’s voyages here in the 1760s – is notable for its hand-carved siding and stained-glass windows.

Tilting is the province’s first heritage district, and there are several historic properties in the town. The Irish settled here beginning in the 1750s, and the people have retained an Irish outlook and way of life. They were isolated from the other communities on the island by distance and religion, and so kept their ways. Land use patterns here are unique. When a house was sold, the property usually didn’t change hands, so the building was moved on logs and rollers to a new site.

Currently, a newly revived interest in the island’s heritage is sweeping the area. There are newly built artist studios for artist-in-residence programs, which have been drawing international publicity, as well as sustainable fishing techniques that supply the local restaurant, and theatrical and musical performances. The annual Fogo Island Punt Race between Fogo and Change Islands has also spurred an interest in traditional boat-building techniques.

Day 5 – Road to the shore

Today we take the ferry back to Farewell and drive along the coast on Routes 335, 331 and 330. The first stop on our tour is at the Fishermen’s Museum in Musgrave Harbour. It was originally a store built and operated by the Fishermen’s Protective Union, which worked to improve the lot of fishermen in the second and third decades of the 20th century. A mural painted on the exterior examines the history of the fishery.

Our next stop is Newtown in New-Wes-Valley where we explore Barbour Living Heritage Village Barbour Living Heritage Village. Newtown calls itself the ‘Venice of Newfoundland,’ because it is built across 17 islands. This particular combination of land and ocean is warmer in winter than adjacent areas, so not only was this location nearer the fishing grounds, it was also slightly more temperate, and both those considerations affected settlement. The ‘must-see’ here is Alphaeus Barbour House, an early 20th century Queen Anne-style merchant’s mansion that is not only custom built, but is full of original furniture and decorative objects dating back to 1910. Just a short walk away is an unusual double house, also owned by the Barbours. Benjamin Barbour House dates back to the late 19th century and has two front doors and two staircases to accommodate the two related families who lived there.

The site has a craft shop, a display on sealing and the Neptune Theatre, which is home to the Seabird Theatre Festival.

The Bonavista North Regional Museum in nearby Wesleyville has displays on the fishery and domestic life of the early 20th century. Of note is a horse-drawn hearse. There’s also a contemporary art gallery. One of the best-known contemporary artists in Canada, David Blackwood, hails from here and his dark lithographs reflect the hardships suffered by people who lived along the coast and fished for a living.

Our next stop is Greenspond where the old courthouse is the attraction. Built 1900-01, it was the only courthouse along the northeast coast, so it had a jail. Its front and back bay windows and mansard roof are typical of the architecture of that period. Greenspond was developed before autos arrived in the second half of the 20th century, so the best way to explore the community is on foot.

The final stop today is Gambo, home of Joseph Smallwood, the man who led Newfoundland and Labrador into Confederation with Canada in 1949, and served as Premier for 23 years thereafter. The Smallwood Interpretation Centre here is devoted to his life and work.

Day 6 – Road to the beach

A short drive south on Route 1 brings us to Route 310 and we take this to Glovertown on Alexander Bay for a relaxing drive along the coast to Eastport. The sandy beaches here are a perennial attraction for vacationing families in summer. This was once a thriving agricultural area due to its sandy soil, which was ideal for growing potatoes, and a few farms are still operating.

The main cultural attraction in the town is the Beaches Heritage Centre which hosts a variety of events throughout the summer. Depending on the time of your visit, you may happen upon an accordion festival, kids’ concert, play, traditional music concert, or the Winterset in Summer Literary Festival where book lovers get a chance to rub shoulders with some of their favourite authors. There’s also an art gallery with contemporary exhibitions.

Most events are held at night, so a stopover is recommended.

Another historic attraction is the Burnside Archaeology Centre. Here you’ll find a large collection of aboriginal artifacts dating back as much as 5,000 years. The Maritime Archaic, Paleoeskimo, and Beothuk peoples all lived here at one time. The centre operates a boat tour to the Beaches, where the remains of a large Beothuk settlement have been found, and to a quarry where aboriginal people made stone tools.

Day 7 – Gander bound

Today we retrace our steps through Glovertown to Route 1 and back to Gander and the final stop on our tour of the Kittiwake Coast. Gander is an airport town and the natural location for the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. During World War II, thousands of bombers were delivered to England from here. At the museum you’ll learn about the famous flyers who passed through Newfoundland - and sometimes Labrador. Alcock and Brown, who were the first to fly the Atlantic; Charles Lindbergh, who made a famous flight from New York to Paris, passing over Newfoundland along the way; and Amelia Earhart, who was the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo. The museum also has a number of vintage and modern airplanes, including a Hudson Bomber, a Tiger Moth, and even a Voodoo jet.