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A Kraken World murals botwood

In Central Newfoundland, Captivating Art Stops You in Your Tracks

A Kraken World murals botwood

“A Kraken World” by Newfoundland’s own Craig Goudie is a massive mural featuring panels of sea life. (Ming Tappin photo for Vacay.ca)

While planning my cross-Newfoundland road trip this spring, a tourism specialist suggested I include a visit to Botwood. I had never heard of the town, and when I checked my guidebook I found it tucked in the “Best Kept Secrets” section of Central Newfoundland. Intrigued, I added it to my itinerary.

On a cool and rainy morning as I travelled along the Trans-Canada Highway next to the Exploits River — Newfoundland’s longest — I took a jaunt to the waterfront spot of 2,850 residents to see what it was all about. Just 17 kilometres (10.5 miles) north of the highway off-ramp, the easy detour took less than 20 minutes, and what I saw not only surprised me but became one of the most memorable moments of my adventure.

Luxury Aviation History on Display

One of five murals by Charlie Johnston in Botwood, “Take Off” depicts the legendary flying boat. (Ming Tappin photo for Vacay.ca)

My visit began at the Flying Boat Museum, housed in a long building with rib-like ridges and a triangular roof. Painted on its side is the museum’s namesake, a giant whale-shaped aircraft with four prop engines and a pontoon under each wing. Lisa Hemeon, who looks after Botwood’s tourism, heritage, and special events, walked me through the storyboards and scaled model displays, enlightening me about the town’s importance to Canada’s aviation history. From being an aerial surveying base for the sealing and lumber industries in the early 1920s to a refuelling stop for transatlantic flights (even Charles Lindbergh used its services) and then a strategic military station during WWII, Botwood was small and indeed mighty.

But it was the flying boats that most commanded my attention. Before my visit, I had conjured up images of lumbering cargo seaplanes, so I was delighted to discover that they were actually luxury passenger aircraft. Several airlines — including Pan Am and British Imperial Airways — operated flying boats in the 1930s between New York and Foynes, Ireland. These Boeing 314 Clipper and Sikorsky S-42 stopped at Botwood to refuel, using the watery runways of the fog-free harbour. Their moniker now made complete sense: literally cruise ships with wings, these planes came with deluxe accommodations (there was even a bridal suite), observation decks, and fine-dining restaurants with a uniformed crew serving lavish meals.

Displays and signboards tell the story of Botwood’s aviation history, which can be discovered while touring the Flying Boat Museum. (Ming Tappin photo for Vacay.ca)

Costing nearly $20,000 in today’s dollars for a 14-hour crossing, these flights catered to the ultra-rich and carried illustrious guests such as Sir Winston Churchill and Bob Hope. Sadly, after the war, jet engines and land-based airports ended the era of flying boats, and these winged beasts never took to the skies again.

A Full Depiction of Newfoundland’s Heritage

Continuing across the parking lot, Hemeon brought me to the Botwood Heritage Centre. Two adjoining buildings house comprehensive exhibits of Botwood’s lengthy history, from its furs and fishing days more than 150 years ago to logging, pulp production, and shipping. Botwood flourished during the turn of the century when the railroad arrived, and the Second World War brought 10,000 troops from the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Canadian Black Watch Regiment. As Hemeon took me through a recreated hospital surgery room, past the wall of military muskets and cases full of wartime memorabilia, I appreciated the formidable role that Botwood played in Canada’s history.

“Clash of Cultures” shows the tragic story of Demasduit and the Beothuk people, told through Craig Goudie’s beautiful mural. (Ming Tappin photo for Vacay.ca)

Unfortunately, as we all know, not all of Canada’s history is esteemed. Exhibits in the heritage centre also tell the mournful story of the Beothuk, an Indigenous group of hunter-gatherers who resided across Newfoundland, including the shores of the Bay of Exploits. The arrival of European explorers dealt a blow to the Beothuk and eventually caused the decimation of the entire population. A particularly poignant display about the capture of a Beothuk woman named Demasduit in Botwood is a solemn reminder that, according to Hemeon, the negative and cruel impact of colonialism must be brought to light in order for there to be understanding.

Heart-stirring Murals in Botwood

The story of Demasduit along with Botwood’s multi-faceted history are beautifully captured in murals painted on the sides of various buildings and sites. They perfectly sum up Botwood. I met up with Mike Shainline, chairman of Botwood Mural Arts Society, who drove me to each site and regaled me with stories about the artists and the inspirations that led them to their creations.

Honouring our Fallen botwood murals

Belfast artist Ciaran Gallagher’s mural called “Honouring our Fallen, Supporting our Future” commemorates the Canadian heroes. The painting is on the side of the Botwood Legion Branch 5 building. (Ming Tappin photo for Vacay.ca)

Inspired by the murals of Chemainus, a town on Vancouver Island, Shainline and his community established an ambitious plan in 2010 to introduce mural art to Botwood, leading to the town hosting the Global Mural Conference in 2018. The resulting 18 spectacular murals are indeed world class, created by accomplished Canadian and international muralists.

As we visited each piece, I was awestruck by the visual feast and remarkable talent of each artist, who painted in a variety of styles from the Trompe l’Oeil technique on “High Flying Heroine” by German artist Steffen Junemann to the slightly abstract “Answering the Call” by Russian street artist Marat Danilyan. Manitoban Charlie Johnston painted five murals here, with his 450-foot “Come Home”, which depicts the railway and its effect on the people of Botwood, being the largest in Atlantic Canada. My favourite? They are all fantastic, but I’m partial to “A Kraken World” by Newfoundland’s own Craig Goudie. Gracing the loading bay doors of the Exploits Valley port building, the five yellow-framed panels depict more than 100 species of local marine life in a sea of azure shades, punctuated by the pop of orange on its titular character.

Weeks after my visit, as I reflected on my journey across Newfoundland, my day in Botwood — albeit rainy and cold — was a bright spot on the map. Who would have expected this small, off-the-beaten-path place in Central Newfoundland to be such a treasure trove? I think I shall write a note to the province’s guidebook editor about next year’s issue: Update Botwood from “best kept secret” to a place “not-to-be-missed.”


Come Home botwood murals off highway newfoundland

“Come Home” is Manitoban artist Charlie Johnston’s 450-foot mural — the largest in Atlantic Canada. It illustrates how the railroad affected the lives of Botwood residents. (Ming Tappin photo for Vacay.ca)

Getting There: Botwood is located on the Bay of Exploits. From the Trans-Canada Highway 1, head north on the Botwood Highway 350 just east of Bishop’s Falls. Turn right towards Botwood at Fernwood Drive. I suggest spending at least half a day in Botwood for a comprehensive visit. Pack a picnic or pick-up lunch from the local café, and take the short walking trail from the Flying Boat Museum to Killick Island for a scenic lunch break.

Flying Boat Museum & Botwood Heritage Centre: Located across from each other on Airbase Road, both facilities operate on a seasonal basis. Call +1-709-257-4612 or email botwoodheritage@hotmail.com for opening dates and times.

Murals: Contact Mike Shainline (phone number on the mural society’s website) for a guided tour as the murals come alive through his detailed commentary and fascinating background stories. It will make each one so much more meaningful. You can also take a self-guided tour if you choose.

Travel Tip: Make Grand Falls/Windsor or Bishop’s Falls your Central Newfoundland home base. Located on the Exploits River, both are on the Trans-Canada Highway, approx. 37 km (23 miles) and 22 km (13.6 miles) from Botwood, respectively. In addition to the scenic falls that flow over both towns, enjoy the Salmonid Interpretation Centre at Grands Falls/Windsor and the beautiful train trestle bridge (now a walking trail) at Bishop’s Falls. River rafting and salmon fishing tours are also available.