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Trans-Canada at 50: Road to Newfoundland

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Driving through Petty Harbour one of the picture perfect seaside villages that dot the coastline of Newfoundland. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

The Trans-Canada Highway is celebrating its 50th birthday in 2012 and the centennial anniversary of the first coast-to-coast road trip made in the country — accomplished by Thomas Wilby and Jack Haney, travelling from Halifax to Victoria. Vacay.ca writers have hit the road to come up with great tales to tell along this vital and historic route. Previously, Katie Marti suggested tips on how best to see the British ColumbiaAlbertaSaskatchewanManitobaOntarioQuebec and New Brunswick legs of the route, and Adrian Brijbassi took a trek through Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. In the 10th and final installment, he drops in on Newfoundland.

Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor

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Don’t be fooled by the light activity during the day. At night, downtown St. John’s can bustle like a big city. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

ST. JOHN’S, NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR — In the nation’s easternmost province, the arteries of Canada’s cross-country highway are where you want to be. The Trans-Canada zips you across the 800-kilometre-long island efficiently, if not with similar beautiful scenery like you will find on Vancouver Island or in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

But take a turn and you’ll see the splendour of Newfoundland that makes its beauty almost mythic. Here are four spots not to miss in and around the capital of St. John’s.

1. Cape Spear

At the easternmost point in North America (excluding Greenland), the views are remarkable, with fog rolling in and fishing boats pushing out into the Atlantic and the cityscape of St. John’s stoic in the distance. The scene is reminiscent of what you will find atop Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Spear, though, is also rich with Canadian and European history, being a key point for naval operations through the centuries. During World War II, the British forces used Cape Spear to spy for Nazi submarines and vessels trolling offshore. A national park, Cape Spear’s entrance fee is $3.90 per adult.

The drive to Cape Spear will take you through scenic towns, including Petty Harbour, a fishing village ensconced within one of Newfoundland’s myriad coves. At sunset, the painterly light is a photographer’s dream.

2. Portugal Cove 

Twenty minutes north of downtown St. John’s is immaculate Portugal Cove. The Beach House, home to Atlantica Restaurant, which was once operated by the same team that owns Raymonds, is a divine waterfront spot for a weekend escape or a gourmet night out. In Portugal Cove, you’ll find antique shops, a war memorial to Newfoundland’s veterans and a ferry that takes you over to Bell Island, where German subs had infiltrated during WWII. The only threat now is losing your heart to the surroundings in this lovely town.

3. Signal Hill

Famous for Guglielmo Marconi’s experiments with the wireless communications, Signal Hill is a national park ($3.90 entry) with hiking trails, scenic ocean viewpoints, military demonstrations, and fantastic sightseeing of the harbour leading into St. John’s.

4. George Street

The Trans-Canada Highway cuts through Pippy Park in St. John’s and connects with streets leading into downtown. Adjoining Water Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, is George Street, perhaps Canada’s most notorious nightlife strip. Live music, nightly screech-in ceremonies, party atmosphere and the antics that go with it are part of the draw on this short and happy street. Catch good music at O’Reilly’s or Shamrock City, which is on Water Street just south of George, and make sure you grab a pint and a pizza at the YellowBelly Brewery, the No. 4-ranked brewpub in Canada in 2012, according to Vacay.ca judges.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TRANS-CANADA! Have you got a great photo to share or story to tell about the Trans-Canada Highway? Share it with Vacay Nation! Email it to us at editors@vacay.ca and we’ll publish it during this 50th anniversary of the highway, which opened on September 3, 1962 in Rogers Pass, British Columbia. (Photos should be sent as hi-resolution JPEG images.)

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.