The title of this month’s article tells all… or does it? Those of you who have been to Canada’s eastern most province certainly know what the words mean. Those of you who haven’t, probably remember them from that good old song, which we all learned in our youth, “I'se the B'y that builds the boat”.
I have had the pleasure of travelling to ‘The Rock’ about 16 or 17 times, and must admit each visit has been a wonderful experience. I have met some great people, visited some amazing restaurants and best of all, have seen some unbelievably beautiful scenery.
My memories of Newfoundland range through the four seasons. I vividly recall standing on Signal Hill in a windbreaker watching an iceberg in the harbour, while being pummelled by sleet and hale and strong gusty winds. My client Ivan, was wearing a parka and laughing at the foolish easterner shivering, while watching one of our planet’s most amazing sights.
Signal Hill, overlooking St. John’s Bay, is home to a monument erected to commemorate Marconi’s first trans-Atlantic signal sent from Newfoundland to Europe, back in 1901. Newfoundland was of course, separate from Canada at the time. They embraced the Marconi opportunity by erecting a more permanent tower at Cape Spear, North America’s eastern most point.
One of my very first visits to our last province offered me the opportunity to become an official Newfeneezer by being ‘Screeched’ in. At the time I had no idea what that meant, and assumed I would be offered a certificate or maybe asked to recite a few words.
I entered a hall filled with people and was asked to approach a long table, jam-packed with numerous local items. First I had to wear a South Wester’ hat (which I still have), and although there were no seal skinned snow shoes it was explained to me that I had to pretend to be wearing them.
Next was to eat a Newfie steak, which after tasting it, made me realize I was munching on a slab of fried bologna. To stabilize my pallet I was offered some Purity Rum n’ Butter Kiss candies, which were delicious, although chewy, to the point where I thought my caps would be jostled loose.
Thinking I was near the end of the ceremony I was surprised to find we had only just begun. I was offered a glass of Newfie Screech, which I was about to drink when I was told I must recite the Screech creed. “Indeed it is me ol’ cock and long may your big jib draw”. I had (and still don’t have) a clue what it means, but I happily drank the Screech and suddenly was overcome by a burning in my throat which made me dive for the nearest water cooler.
I guess I was not the only person to have this sensation, because two ladies immediately offered me a glass of water. For those of you who are not official Newfies, I should explain that Screech is made from the syrup on the walls of rum barrels, which come from Jamaica. Newfoundlanders began to trade rum for fish when the great sailing ships used to visit the area. That is why fish is the national dish in Jamaica and rum is the drink of choice in Newfoundland.
The name ‘Screech’ has an interesting origin and was first coined when, during WWII, an American soldier visiting Newfoundland, took a taste of the unnamed rum. The sound that came from his lips made people stop and stare and one soldier yelled “What the cripes was that ungodly screech?” A taciturn Newf simply replied, “The screech?” ‘Tis the rum, me son” and the name stuck.
Once I had recovered from what I thought was alcohol poisoning I was offered an opportunity to ‘kiss the cod’. Were they joking? Surely not a real fish, but before I could run away I was standing face to face with a half metre long fish, which I was sure was still alive. I closed my eyes and puckered my chops and still recall the wet soggy feeling of the lips of that fish (if indeed a fish has lips).
I was finally nearing the end of the ritual and was given a piece of Hardtack to chew on... chew was an understatement. Hard tack is a biscuit, usually used to hammer nails into wood. The few remaining caps left in my mouth would surely fall out by chomping on the cement-like bread.
Finally I was finished and received my certificate. I was an official Newfoundlander with all the spoils accompanying such an honour. It made me feel different about visiting other areas in the province… almost like I belonged.
Speaking of other areas, Cape Spear and the entire Avalon Peninsula is spectacular to see. Lighthouses and quaint restaurants, picturesque villages and colloquial slang make up this wonderful province.
I can write dozens of pages on the uniqueness and beauty of Newfoundland, but would suggest you experience it for yourself. It is an opportunity not to be missed.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com