An artist's guide to falling in love with St. John's: Jellybean Row and murderous provincial plants
From wildlife to women's history, Wendy Rose shares the ultimate guide for gettin' on the go in St. John's
Everyone knows about the art scenes in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — but what about Lethbridge, Sudbury or Victoria? In CBC Arts's new series "I He(art) My City," a local artist offers an insider's guide to the city they call home. Here, local arts journalist Wendy Rose shows you her St. John's.
Perched on the edge of the Atlantic, on the most easterly tip of North America, there is a big little city I call home.
With influence from the Irish, French, English and Indigenous peoples, Newfoundland and Labrador's unique culture is cultivated by over 500 years of determination, hardship, isolation, predictably unpredictable weather, community kinship and salt fish. Today, the island has a population of about half a million people, with 100,000 of them settled in scenic St. John's. With a huge and vibrant arts and entertainment scene, "mainlanders" from all land masses have been repeatedly tempted to relocate to this wonderfully strange foreign land.
Though the fog, wind, rain and cold temperatures may inspire you to layer up in Newfoundland, our amazing arts scene will entertain, inspire, stimulate and hopefully influence. (After all, we don't live here for the weather.) From a born and raised Newfoundlander, proud down-Townie and part-time bayman, here's the ultimate guide for gettin' on the go in St. John's.
The St. John's downtown core is filled with cute, brightly coloured houses, hence the Jellybean moniker. However, "Jellybean Row" is a bit of a myth — there is no specific block or street that boasts the iconic name. Find your favourite colour combination by getting lost in the downtown residential area. My personal favourite is my old apartment on Prospect Street, lovingly dubbed "The Cotton Candy House," with its baby blue paint and light pink trim. The streets between Duckworth Street and Military Road offer some of the best views. After loading up on droolworthy Instagram snapshots, cool down your sensory overload at Moo Moo's. The black and white cow-print ice cream shop will stand out amongst the rainbow rowhouses.
Art gallery crawl
A 2005 Hill Strategies Research study on "creative neighbourhoods" put St. John's as having four times the national average of "artistic concentration" in the A1C postal code. And with a high concentration of artists comes a high number of art galleries. All in the A1C, check out Red Ochre Gallery, Eastern Edge Gallery, Christina Parker Gallery, Leyton Gallery Of Fine Art, Emma Butler Gallery, Hancock Adey Gallery, Ultramarine Fine Art Studio, Gerald Squires Art Gallery, Richard Steele Gallery, Craft Council of Newfoundland & Labrador and of course, the provincial cultural facility, The Rooms. How many can you hit in one day?
Before climbing the mini-mountain to the Signal Hill National Historic Site, take a jaunt down through The Battery, one of the most iconic neighbourhoods in St. John's. The tiny two-way street is not for novice drivers — this is a road best travelled on foot. Before heading out Battery Road, hop on the App Store and download Inside Outside Battery, a location-based audio tour that fills your ears with tidbits and tales from the neighbourhood. Created by passionate Battery resident Chris Brookes, the app aims to add a "layer of human experience" to the sights and sounds.
Since you've already been through The Battery, let's flip the script on the views you just took in. Head across the St. John's Harbour, travelling out Southside Road to historic Fort Amherst. Dating back to the late 1700s, Fort Amherst holds notable historical significance for St. John's: it defends The Narrows, the harbour's only entrance. These days, the Fort serves as a sightseeing destination, giving visitors a panoramic view of the city skyline and access to the harbourfront, uninterrupted by the north side's heavily protested and widely criticized harbourfront security fence.
Women's History Walking Tour
If your feet aren't tired yet, the Women's History Walking Tour may just "take the good outta ya," as Mudder would say. Created by the Women's History Group in 1997, the Women's Walking Tour is a rich resource of interesting information about the many influential and inspiring women of yesteryear. The table of contents from the 1997 pamphlet is still available online, listing just over 30 individuals and groups who made their way into the male-dominated history books. Each name and title brings you to a page of information about the person/group and includes addresses of historic sites and the private homes of these early feminists. Employ Google Maps to find your destination, reading en route about the fierce female associated with the location, transcending time as you channel their energy and share this familiar view.
The historical boasting continues at Fred's Records, the province's oldest independent record store, goin' steady since 1972. Located on Duckworth Street, the purple and yellow shop may even be the oldest record store in Canada after the April closure of Ontario's Moondance, also established in 1972. In its 46 years, Fred's has been an institution in the local music scene, acting as a launching point for musical careers, consistently giving local artists a place to stock their works, and providing free entertainment and promotion through in-store performances. Find your favourite music in any physical format, as Fred's stocks vinyl records, CDs, cassette tapes, DVDs and more. And don't miss out on the massive local selection — the knowledgeable staff can help you out when you get overwhelmed by choice. (Full disclosure: I'm a very part-time employee, but it's such a legendary shop that I hear stories of people who travel to NL just to hit Fred's!)
Quidi Vidi and the Quidi Vidi Brewery
A fishing village once upon a time, Quidi Vidi (pronounced Kiddy Viddy) is another historic neighbourhood that has prospered and bloomed from bringing new ideas into old spaces. Stare out into the Quidi Vidi Harbour, referred to localled as "The Gut," from inside Quidi Vidi Brewery, the province's largest microbrewery. Sip on an Iceberg beer — made with water collected from actual icebergs — and envision the neighbourhood in the 1800s. Solidify that vision by snagging a bite at nearby Mallard Cottage, one of the oldest wooden buildings in North America.
If you're in the capital city in early August, check out the Regatta, a series of rowing competitions that holds the title of North America's oldest annual sporting event. Yeah, we're old.
Late night nightlife
The legendary George Street is just that — legendary. Featuring the most bars per capita and allegedly, the most bars per square kilometre in Canada (or so I've been told/been telling people). A pedestrian-only street during its prime nighttime hours, George Street is lined with bars, pubs, clubs, and restaurants, all offering diverse experiences.
Get rowdy at an Irish bar before twerkin' at a dance club, or take in a variety of genres of live music. If you stumble off of George St., check out some other gems like The Ship Pub, The Black Sheep, Erin's Pub, The Duke of Duckworth, The Crow's Nest Officers Club, or the Inn of Olde. Remember to rest up before you get messed up — in Newfoundland, bars stay open until 3 a.m. and serve liquor until 2 a.m., coincidentally the same time that corner stores stop selling beer.
Churches and cemeteries
Cleanse yourself of your George Street sins on Sunday morning. St. John's has a number of gorgeous churches that double as architectural gems. The Basilica, Gower Street United Church, the Anglican Cathedral, Cochrane Street United Church, and St. Patrick's Catholic Church will delight and enlighten, and many churches also have museums and tours. When I travel, I like to take independent tours, typically forgoing the church in favour of its cemetery. St. John's graveyards typically offer lovely views, beautiful foliage, a dose of history, and the usual startling self-awareness of one's own mortality — but in a good way. The Anglican Cemetery on Forest Road, the General Protestant Cemetery on Waterford Bridge Road, and Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Cemetery off The Boulevard are my top three personal favourites.
East Coast Trail
Had enough of the city? Immerse yourself in nature's rugged beauty via the East Coast Trail. With over 300 kilometres of trails to choose from, the ECT is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The many trails pass through over 30 communities around the Avalon Peninsula, featuring eight different lighthouses and an infinite number of unique and breathtaking views. Ranging from 2km to nearly 18km, hikers can choose their trail based on a number of factors: location, difficulty, length and time. In between snapping pictures of jaw-dropping cliffs shaped by an unruly ocean, keep an eye out for local wildlife like sea birds, seals, whales, moose and more, as well as flora and fauna like the carnivorous pitcher plant, the provincial floral emblem which can be found in bogs and marshes. (Just do us a favour — leave our badass emblem in the bog where it belongs.)
More local arts essentials:
- book: Annabel by Kathleen Winter
- movie: Maudie
- album: The Body Knows by Green & Gold
- play: Isle of Demons by Robert Chafe
- TV show: Codco
- comedian: Michael Lynch (and his alter egos Cecil O'Brien and Randy Lee)
- visual artist: Phillippa Jones
- poet: Agnes Walsh
Check back every week as we add new guides!