How to Get Hands On with Geology in Newfoundland and Labrador

Did you know that Newfoundland and Labrador is home to some of the most unique geology in all of North America? It’s no wonder our popular nickname is “The Rock.” This province boasts fossils and geological features not found anywhere else on the continent, from billion year-old rocks to the first sign of multicellular life on Earth and exposed pieces of the Earth’s mantle. Experience it all for yourself, hands on. 

Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve

On the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula, you’ll find Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the oldest fossils of complex multicellular life found anywhere on Earth. Start with a visit to the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre; here you can learn all about these important fossils before heading out on a guided tour of the fossil site. A 6 km round-trip hike will reward you with breathtaking coastal scenery and the opportunity to view the first signs of life on Earth, beautifully preserved in 565 million-year-old sea floors. It’s a real walk back in time.

Gros Morne National Park

There’s no better place to begin your journey to the centre of the Earth than Gros Morne National Park, a World UNESCO Heritage Site. Here, at the Tablelands, is one of the few places in the world you can experience the Earth’s mantle, a layer of silicate rock typically found miles deep beneath surface. This site helped prove the theory of plate tectonics when scientists realized the rusty-red rock was in fact the Earth’s mantle. A trip to Gros Morne gives you a preview of how the world slowly shifted and formed the landscapes we see today.

Torngat Mountains National Park

It’s no wonder the Torngat Mountains are known as the place where rocks revel in their freedom. Out here, you can share unspoiled, timeless moments with some of the oldest rocks in the world dating back 3.9 billion years. The exceptional preservation of these sedimentary rocks are one of the few places in the world where you can clearly see the formation of oceans through plate tectonics, from initial continental rifting to the culmination of the Labrador Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Discovery UNESCO Global Geopark

The Discovery UNESCO Global Geopark is a collection of 10 geologically significant sites on the upper half of the Bonavista Peninsula. Scattered around the coast are some of the best-preserved fossils in the world, dating back to over half a billion years ago. Walk the Murphy's Cove-Lodge's Pond Trail and keep an eye out for the location where the Haootia, one of the world’s oldest complex animal fossils was discovered, or explore the rock surface of the Port Union National Historic District Boardwalk for fossils from the Ediacaran Period.

The Geopark is not just about fossils; Elliston's root cellar history—influenced by the area's natural landscape and soil composition—also contributed to the park's UNESCO status. As did the the Sea Arch in Tickle Cove, pictured above, and The Chimney in Spillars Cove, two geological wonders carved by the power of the Atlantic Ocean through coastal erosion.

Bell Island

To learn more about the province’s mining history, head to the Bell Island mines, where you can tour extensive underground tunnels that were once filled with men (some as young as 12) working by candlelight to extract the island’s precious iron ore.

St. Lawrence

This small and charming town on the Burin Peninsula is where you’ll find the world’s largest fluorspar deposits. A visit to the Miner’s Museum will open your eyes to the harsh realities of life in the mines before the era of safety regulations, while the story of the Truxton and Pollux naval disaster will show you the strength and resilience of the community despite its struggles.

The Rooms

Newfoundland’s provincial museum, The Rooms, is always worth a visit, but geology buffs will be especially interested in the Haootia Quadriformis: the world’s oldest muscular animal. Discovered on the Bonavista Peninsula in 2008, this half-billion-year-old fossil provides some of the earliest evidence of muscle tissue in the world’s biological record.

Interpretation Centres

Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre 

Embark on a geological journey at Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre, located just outside of St. John’s in Conception Bay South. This is where you’ll find granite and volcanic rock, which are remnants of the region’s origins as a fiery chain of volcanoes. Younger layers along the river are home to many fossil trilobites and shells, some types of which are not found anywhere else in North America. Spend an afternoon exploring the river’s trails on your own, or book a guided hike to ensure you don’t miss anything!

Fortune Head Geology Centre

A scenic four-hour drive will bring you from St. John’s to the bottom of “The Boot” – the Burin Peninsula. Here you’ll find Fortune Head, yet another of Newfoundland and Labrador’s geological gems. From the Fortune Head Geology Centre, take a guided walk to see fossil evidence of Earth’s first intelligent life. The rocks at Fortune Head mark a geologic time boundary between the Precambrian era and the Cambrian period, when life forms evolved to begin burrowing for food or shelter and developed protective shells. Simply put, these fossils show us the geological moment when life forms began to “get smart” about survival!

Johnson Geo Centre

Complete your geological journey at the Johnson Geo Centre where you’ll learn all about the rocks upon which our capital city was built, while standing far below the ground! The Geo Centre was built into a natural rock basin below the Earth’s surface, giving it the unique quality of having 550 million-year-old exposed rock walls. What better way to learn about the geology of this region than to stand within it?

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