Fort Amherst National Historic Site

St. John's, Newfoundland: Feeling the Echoes of the Past

When I visited St. John's, Newfoundland it was like I travelled back in time. As I wander the downtown of one of North America's oldest "settlements" I feel a sense of belonging. This is the land of my birth. The stories my mother told me about St. John's came alive. I was eight years old when I left "the rock" to travel to a new life. My father had taken a job as first mate on the world famous Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Now in mid-life I travel back to re-kindle the years of my childhood.

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St. John's Harbour is surrounded by hills running down to the ocean. Crayon-coloured clap board row houses, quaint shops, and a hodge podge of different businesses still crowd the narrow streets. This is a place where working class people live and the days are long and hard. Echoes of the past are found along these streets. Nothing shouts here. I walk along Water Street and up and down steep side streets and realize I should be exercising more. This is not an easy city to walk. Friendly faces say hello to me almost as though they knew I belonged here.

It is early in the day and I watch the night become morning as the sun slowly peeks it head up over the Atlantic Ocean in the east. From Gower Street I see a lone ocean vessel sneak its way into the harbour. It's silhouetted by the hills that serve as the harbours protective shield.

I purchase the local newspaper the Telegram from a man with an infectious smile who hangs out near the Scotiabank on Water Street. With paper in hand, I heads in for breakfast (yes, the Newfie verbiage is also infectious) at Auntie Crae's Food Shop. The building that houses this business has been in existence since the mid 19th century and was originally a fisherman's material store selling string, and netting. Here I spot foods of my youth. Purity Bakeries (they're a Newfoundland institution that dates back to the 1920's) products are jammed onto weathered wooden shelves that line the walls of this lovely shop.

Hard Bread (tack), a staple of most Newfoundlanders in colourful red packages reminds me of the Fish and Brewis (Brews) my Mom loved to cook for a Sunday dinner. There are the Purity cream crackers, ginger snaps, cookies, candies, jams (especially Boysenberry) and syrups. My memories became thoughts and I was projected out of the present and into the past of my youth.

Auntie Crae's also has a restaurant, something like a poor man Chapters and the place is alive with the sound of morning chit-chat. With a cup of coffee in hand I share a table with strangers who immediately became friends. That's the way it is here. We talked about nothing but it was everything.

As I make my way back to my hotel where I have a room overlooking the city and harbour I couldn't help but wonder for a moment how my life would be different if my parents hadn't moved to Niagara Falls. But, with a snap of my fingers I realize life is what you make it no matter where you live.

Now, looking out the window of my fifth floor room I see it is an outrageously beautiful day and I am alive and well.

For More Information
The City of St. John's at Destination St. John's

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George Bailey is a professional photographer and writer. He is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and can be contacted at

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Updated: January 2, 2017

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