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).

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?