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Summary Article: Newfoundland
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Canadian province on the Atlantic Ocean, the country's most easterly administrative region, comprising the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador, separated by the Strait of Belle Isle; area 405,700 sq km/156,600 sq mi; population (2001 est) 533,800. It is bounded on the west by Québec, while to the southwest lie the Gulf of St Lawrence and the provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The capital is St John's, and other towns and cities are Corner Brook, Gander, and Goose Bay (Labrador). Industries include offshore oil extraction; fishing and fish-processing; mining (iron, copper, zinc, and uranium); wood-processing and paper manufacture; and hydroelectric power generation. The information technology industry is increasingly important in the St John's area.

Features The island of Newfoundland (French, Terre-Neuve; Latin, Terra Nova) is 565 km/353 mi long, with an average width of 210 km/131 mi. On its southern coast, just off the Burin Peninsula, lie the French islands of St Pierre and Miquelon. In the southwest, the Cabot Strait separates it from Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. The Avalon Peninsula, in the southeast, is home to most of Newfoundland's inhabitants. The island's deeply indented coastline includes Fortune and Placentia bays (in the south), and Conception, Trinity, and Notre Dame bays (in the north). Newfoundland forms part of the Appalachian Mountains system, which runs mainly northwest–southeast. Appalachian ranges include the Long Range Mountains (which form the spine of the island's Great Northern Peninsula) and the Lewis Hills, to the southwest, which rise to the island's highest point (814 m/2,672 ft). The Exploits, Humber, and Gander are the island's main rivers.

Mainland Labrador is bounded to the west and south by the Ungava region of Québec. It has the Labrador Sea to its northeast, and the Strait of Belle Isle at its southeastern corner. The region is a rugged eastern section of the Canadian Shield. To the north, in the Torngat Mountains (which form an edge of the Shield), Labrador rises to its highest point (1,652 m/5,420 ft) at Mt Caubvick, on the Québec border. Labrador is largely uninhabited except for small coastal Inuit and fishing settlements (including Red Bay) and mining communities along the Québec border. Its mineral and hydroelectric resources are of great economic importance to the whole of Newfoundland. The Churchill River in Labrador is the longest river in the province; Churchill Falls, 300 m/975 ft high (the site of a major hydroelectric scheme), and the Smallwood Reservoir, the province's largest lake, are situated along its course. The north of Labrador is tundra, while the south contains extensive coniferous forests.

The population is concentrated around the coast, reflecting strong traditional ties with the sea, and the harshness of the interior. Isolation is an accepted feature of life in the outports, many of which have only tenuous road links with other settlements, or may only be reached by sea. The provincial capital of St John's, which grew up around an excellent natural harbour, and Corner Brook, the island's main paper-milling centre, are the two main island towns. Other significant settlements, with a few thousand inhabitants, are the paper-milling town of Grand Falls, the mining centre of Buchans, and the ports of Harbour Grace, Carbonear, and Placentia. Goose Bay, Battle Harbour, Cartwright, and Nairn are the main ports in Labrador.

Economic activities Fishing has always been one of Newfoundland's chief economic activities, thanks to the huge shoals found in the shallow waters of the Grand Banks that surround the island. The profusion of fish there results from the rich mix of marine nutrients produced by the confluence of the Labrador current and the Gulf Stream. Traditionally, the fish – predominantly cod, but also herring, and salmon in season – was salted and dried outdoors on raised wooden platforms called flakes. The dried fish was then sold to merchants operating out of the larger ports, and sent to southern Europe or South America. The industry was once characterized by the family ownership of small boats, restricted by their size to inshore fishing, but from 1945 deep-sea trawlers, freezer-ships, and super-trawlers with sonar and satellite fish-locating equipment intensively harvested a widening area. The herring catch more than quadrupled between 1964 and 1970. In 1991 the industry was devastated when overfishing resulted in the virtual disappearance of northern cod stocks. Moratoriums imposed on cod fishing were extended to include yellow tail and flounder in 1994, and enormous compensation packages have been granted to the industry. Fleets operate on annual quotas, which may be filled in less than a day. The moratorium is still in progress as there are fears that fish stocks will never recover. No cod are caught commercially, but some of the fish-processing factories work with imported fish. Shellfish has become the chief product, especially shrimp and crab, and aquaculture is of growing importance.

The chief areas of productive forest, all provincial Crown land, lie on the watersheds of the main rivers. Balsam fir, white spruce, and black spruce are the main tree types. Since the demand for sawn timber is very small, most of the wood is converted into pulp and paper for export to the USA and Britain. The Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company established a mill at Grand Falls in 1909, and at Corner Brook in 1925. The Corner Brook site was taken over and expanded in 1938. The mills supply much of the world's newsprint.

Newfoundland's bleak climate, short growing season, poor soils, and limited potential farmland have made agriculture generally impractical. Farming is pursued on the Avalon peninsula, motivated by the presence of St John's and its substantial market. There are also some farms on Port-au-Prince peninsula off the west coast.

A wealth of mineral ores are found in the wide variety of rock types that make up the province. Although their commercial exploitation is relatively recent, minerals are now the most valuable commodity in Newfoundland. Iron was extracted from the Wabana mine on Bell Island from 1895 to 1966, when competition from low-priced Labrador ore led to its closure. The Labrador Trough in western Labrador has the richest body of iron ore in North America. Iron from Wabush and Coral Lake is a significant export. Since 1928, copper, zinc, and lead have been mined at Buchans in central Newfoundland, and more recently at Tilt Cove and Little Bay. A further mining development at Duck Pond near Buchans started in 2002. Fluorspar is mined at St Lawrence, gypsum at Flat Bay, and Canada's only commercial deposit of pyrophyllite, used in ceramics, is found at Manuels. Potential exploitation of a substantial nickel deposit at Voisey's Bay in Labrador has been extremely controversial on social and environmental grounds, and the mineral has not been mined there so far. Most of the minerals are shipped to the mainland or the USA for processing.

The largest single economic undertaking in Newfoundland is the Hibernia oilfield, which was discovered in 1979, 315 km/196 mi east of St John's. It has two early Cretaceous reservoirs of around 3 billion barrels of oil with recoverable reserves estimated at 615 million barrels, 515 million from Hibernia itself and 100 million from neighbouring Avalon. There are also 100 billion cubic metres/131 billion cubic metres of gas. A huge 600,000-tonne production platform was built in Newfoundland. Production started in 1997, and 54 million barrels were produced in 2001. The Terra Nova field started producing oil in 2002, and brought in 29 million barrels in its first year. There are oil-refineries at Come-by-Chance and Manuels, taking advantage of deep-water that can accommodate the largest supertankers.

Apart from the power stations supplying the pulp and paper mills, and several small plants serving St John's, the province's vast hydroelectric power potential has remained largely undeveloped, although there is a hydroelectric power station at Deer Lake. The first phase of the Bay d'Espoir hydro-development plant began in 1967, adding 220,000 kW to the province's grid, and enabling the industrialization of Come-by-Chance. One of the world's largest hydroelectric power stations, begun in the 1950s, is sited at the Churchill Falls; it is scheduled for further expansion in the first decade of the 21st century.

Manufacturing industry forms only a small part of the economy, but new developments have been actively encouraged. A shipyard constructing steel trawlers is located at Long Harbour, and a chipboard factory at Stephenville. St John's, the capital, is the main service and wholesale market focus for the province, and its excellent modern harbour is used by many deep-sea trawlers.

History Newfoundland and Labrador were originally inhabited by the Maritime Archaic People, referred to as the Red Paint peoples because of the red ochre that lines their graves; a burial ground over 7,500 years old has been excavated at L'Ane-Amour, Labrador. Other American Indian cultures included the Dorset, Mi'kmaq, Montagnais/Naskapi and Labrador Inuit. The terms ‘redskins’ and ‘red indians’ (terms no longer politically correct) are believed to derive from the early explorer John Cabot's descriptions of the Beothuks, a now-extinct people of Newfoundland who used red ochre as body decoration.

Viking explorers led by Leif Ericsson sighted Labrador's southern coast in around AD 1000, naming it Markland (‘land of forests’). (The name Labrador, from a Portuguese term for ‘landholder’, has been in use since the 16th century.) They then sailed south to overwinter; a settlement dating from this time was discovered in 1960 (and declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978) at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland's northeast peninsula. It is thought to be the site of the encampment that Ericsson referred to as ‘Vinland’. Thereafter, fishermen from Ireland (in the 6th century), and England and Brittany (in the 8th century) may have visited the island before an English expedition under the Italian navigator Giovanni Caboto landed there in 1497. Within a few years of Cabot's return, fishermen from England, France, Portugal, and Spain were operating in the waters around Newfoundland, attracted by his report of large shoals of fish. Basque whalers also operated out of Red bay, Labrador, during the 16th century. In 1537 Newfoundland was proclaimed British territory, but efforts to establish permanent settlements there, for example in 1564, failed when faced with the antagonism of the various fishing concerns, and the continuing conflict between Britain and France over sovereignty. Newfoundland became England's first official colony in 1583, following a claim made by the English soldier and navigator Humphrey Gilbert. In 1634 Charles I gave authority over any port to the first ship's captain to enter it during its open season, an arrangement that lasted for nearly 150 years.

The French finally relinquished all claims on Newfoundland and recognized British sovereignty in 1713, being granted in return fishing rights on the northwest coast (or ‘French coast’), which they retained until 1904. Following the appointment of the first governor in 1729, a number of settlements or ‘outports’ were founded, but little control was exercised by the Crown. In 1763, after their defeat in the French and Indian War, the French ceded Labrador to Britain in return for the islands of St-Pierre et Miquelon (which have thereafter remained an overseas possession of France). The Newfoundland colony offered limited economic opportunities offered to potential settlers, and its development was slow. In 1855 it was the last of Britain's possessions in North America to become a self-governing dominion.

Newfoundland opted to stay out of the Canadian confederation in 1867, and continued to govern itself until hit by economic crisis during the depression. In 1934 a British Crown-appointed commission of government assumed responsibility for governing the island and Labrador. The referendum held in 1949 to decide Newfoundland's political future voted in favour of union with Canada by a 2% majority after a second ballot, and it became the country's tenth province. The definition of the border between Labrador and Québec, set by the Privy Council in 1927, remains contentious.

Geology The Appalachian mountain system on Newfoundland island was formed in the Ordovician period. It appeared with the subsidence of the landmass and the invasion of the sea during Palaeozoic times. Repeated uplifts and peneplanation (wearing down) have reduced the formerly high mountains to their present form. Existing elevations suggest that the most recent uplift was greatest in the west, where the Long Range Mountains of the Newfoundland Highlands form a highly dissected plateau rising to 807 m/2,650 at Gros Morne. The Central Lowland and southeastern Atlantic Upland are much lower, 500 m–260 m/1,640–853 ft, and have suffered less erosion. The southeastern region is characterized by a drowned coastline, where valleys forming large bays are separated by elongated peninsulas such as the four fingers of the Avalon isthmus, and the Burin and Bonavista peninsulas. On the western shore, a narrow coastal plain is part of the St Lawrence Lowland region. The effect of glacial activity has had an enormous impact on land use, possibly greater than its geology. Repeated glaciation has stripped loose material from the mountains, and covered the lowlands with an uneven deposit of coarse morainic (glacial debris) matter. River valleys were deepened, disrupting the drainage pattern, and resulting in the formation of extensive peat bogs in the low-lying basins.

Labrador lies within the gently sloping plateau (200 m/656 ft–1,000 m/3,280 ft) of the Precambrian Canadian Shield, a heavily eroded mountain system. The region has also suffered intensive glaciation, leaving wide areas of barren rock and lake-filled depressions.

Climate An almost continuous procession of cyclonic storms, drawn into the Newfoundland area from the continent, dominate the weather pattern. Winters are long, with January temperatures on the island between −10°C/14°F in the west and −4°C/25°F in the east, and −16°C/3°F at Goose Bay, Labrador. The cooling influence of the pack-ice that encircles the island until the end of April results in a remarkably late spring. Summers are short, but pleasant; temperatures averaging around 15°C/59°F in the interior, dropping slightly lower around the coast, and occasionally climbing to 30°C/86°F, even in central Labrador. The notorious fogs of the island region result from the mixing of warm air above the North Atlantic Drift (Gulf Stream) with cooler air over the southward-moving Labrador current. The entire island has at least 25 days of fog, and this increases to 103 days in the north. Precipitation shows very little variation throughout the year, reaching a total which ranges from 1,200 mm/47 in the south, to 900 mm/35 in inland, an average of 2,500 mm/98 in. The greatest precipitation, 5,000 mm/197 in, falls in the southwest.

Transport and tourism Access to the island is by air, with sealinks from Nova Scotia to Argentia and Channel-Port au Basques, Québec to St Barbe, and Labrador to Lewisporte. There is a ferry port at Blanc Sablon, part of a completely isolated coastal strip that runs 60 km/38 mi from Porteau, Québec to Red Bay, Labrador. The ‘Newfie Bullet’ rail link opened in 1896, connecting Port-aux-Basques with St John's, although passenger services were discontinued in 1969, and replaced by a bus service using the Trans-Canada Highway. The highway is the backbone of the island, from which numerous side roads reach out to the coastal settlements. There is no road around the island. The Québec, North Shore and Labrador Railway links Labrador with Québec province. Newfoundland came to prominence in the early days of trans-Atlantic air travel as a refuelling point. During World War II, the airfield at Gander, Newfoundland, was developed into a major transit base, from which heavy bombers, built in Canada to aid the British war effort, were flown across the Atlantic. It thrived as a commercial airport immediately after the war, but suffered a decline after the introduction of long-haul aircraft. The province is now served by the international airport at St John's, Newfoundland. There is also a large NATO military airbase at Goose Bay, Labrador.

Conservation areas that attract a growing number of tourists keen on wildlife and birdwatching include: the Avalon Wilderness Reserve with its huge herds of caribou; the Witless Bay seabird sanctuary; the gannet colony at Cape St Mary's; the Terra Nova National Park; and the Gros Morne National Park, designated a World Heritage Site in 1988 for its geological importance. National historic sites include Port au Choix, Newfoundland, and L'Anse-Amour, Labrador, containing displays of the prehistoric remains of Maritime Archaic peoples; and L'Anse aux Meadows, with its reconstructions of Newfoundland's Viking settlement.

People and culture The Beothuks of Newfoundland Island were severely depleted by the arrival of European settlers. The last Beothuk, a young woman called Nancy Shawanahdit, died in 1829. Surviving indigenous people are concentrated on the mainland. For example, about 16,000 Innu live in Labrador and Eastern Québec (which they call ‘Nitassinan’). Two villages are in Labrador itself. Their lives and those of the other native peoples of Labrador – the Naskapi, Métis, and Inuit – remain largely untouched until the region's mineral and power resources began to be exploited. Since then, mines and dams have altered the ecology of their native lands. In particular, the extensive damage caused by military exercises around the Goose Bay airbase has provoked active protest by the Inuit.

Settler culture gave rise to a distinct Newfoundland dialect, which includes words and phrases deriving from 17th-century Irish and southwestern English, and mostly relating to the land, weather, and fishing. The province has its own dictionary with over 5,000 entries. The largely Irish and Scottish descent of Newfoundland's people, familiarly known as ‘Newfies’, has generated a characteristic Celtic style of music.


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