On the edge in Newfoundland's capital

Slice Of The City: St John's - One of the most fascinating and historic of Canada's cities will soon be only a five-hour flight from the UK, says Simon Calder

The first city in North America?

Historically, there are several contenders, but geographically, the claim of St John's is indisputable. Many transatlantic jets make landfall above the capital of Newfoundland just five hours after leaving London. Indeed, jet trails will accompany you on your meanderings through this city on the edge – as, perhaps, will actors such as Russell Crowe. He makes a guest appearance in Republic of Doyle – CBC's hit series about a private investigator entangled with the underworld.

St John's, at the far east of North America, is about as placid as Canada gets. But the producers were lured here by the dramatic backdrops at every turn. Settlers were originally attracted by the stunning natural harbour, today the departure point for whale-watching trips.

Closer up, picturesque rows of houses, decorated in the cheerfully juvenile colours of Fruit Pastilles, straggle down to the sea. Add the edginess of any major ocean port and it was a natural choice.

Start slicing through the city at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist (001 709 726 5677; stjohnsanglicancathedral.org). This handsome church, high above the water, looks as though it had been exported, stone by Gothic stone, from Durham or Lincoln. There has been a church on the site since the last year of the 17th century. It was one of the few of the city's structures to survive the 1892 conflagration, one of several fires to devastate St John's over the centuries. If you can time your visit for Wednesday lunchtime, you will coincide with a free concert on the imposing Casavant organ. And, in summer, the crypt becomes a homely tea-room; the church reassures visitors: "Our crypt has never been used for its original purpose!"

From here walk north-east along Duckworth Street, the busiest thoroughfare in Newfoundland. Peer down over the harbour, and the scruffy warehouse complex where Russell Crowe tells Allan Hawco (writer, producer and star of Republic of Doyle): "Well, Doyle, you've got yourself a situation here." This is not, though, Canada's Mogadishu. The walk along Duckworth Street demonstrates that the charm of St John's rests with its simplicity: unpretentious cafés and primary-painted homes – "row houses" – that seem to have sprung from a child's view of construction. Pilots Hill, to the left, is a good example. Not all the shops are everyday: at 98 Duckworth Street, the lime-green façade of the Hempware store (001 709 738 4367) promises "Clothing, Beads, Funky Local Products".

In St John's you can drift from one side to the other with barely a care: motorists will wave wayward pedestrians across (unless, of course, they are driving as extras for Republic of Doyle). So cross over and call in for replenishment at the Classic Café East, at 73 Duckworth Street (001 709 726 4444; classiccafeeast.com). Its name may carry Oriental overtones, but in fact this is an excellent place to sample Newfoundland cuisine in all its nutritionally questionable glory – such as the touton, a lump of deep-fried dough.

The Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, at 59 Duckworth Street (001 709 753 2749; craftcouncil.nl.ca), offers more digestible products: the provincial wildlife is celebrated in souvenirs.

After no more than half a mile, you start to shrug off the city. Duckworth Street mutates into Signal Hill Road. Follow the road up towards the grassy headland, and you pass the Johnson Geo Centre (see panel) en route to a small stone tower where St John's asserts its transatlantic primacy.

John Cabot arrived in Newfoundland in 1497. Four centuries on, the citizens decided to celebrate the Italian-Bristolian mariner with Cabot Tower – a stubby stone affair that looks rather like a squashed lighthouse. In 1901, radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi chose it as the ideal receiving station for the first transatlantic transmission from Cornwall. A small museum (9am-5pm daily; free) commemorates this precursor of the worldwide web.

Travel Essentials

Getting There

Air Canada (0871 220 1111; aircanada.com) resumes its Heathrow-St John's non-stop flights on 18 May. Daily departures to 29 September; £750 return.

Staying There

The Quality Inn Harbourview at 2 Hill O'Chips (001 709 754 7788; choicehotels.com) has doubles from C$179 (£120) including breakfast.

Go Guided

Newfoundland Tours (newfoundlandtours.com) offers walking tours – and even jogging tours – of St John's.

Further Information

newfoundlandlabrador.com

The big attraction

Newfoundland, and in particular the Avalon peninsula on which St John's perches, is the result of a geological cataclysm. That much is evident from the stratified chaos that comprises the island's shore. But to find out what goes on beneath the surface, explore the Johnson Geo Centre. Just like an iceberg, what you see is less than what you get. The geological museum is carved from rock half a billion years old, and takes you even further back: the other half of the province, Labrador, is almost as old as the planet itself. As the permanent exhibition to the Titanic story reminds you, the power of the planet can enfeeble mankind.

Johnson Geo Centre: 175 Signal Hill Road, St John's (001 709 737 7880; geocentre.ca).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam