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By Jennifer Van Allen
The arts and culture of Newfoundland and Labrador have been influenced by traditions passed down from generation to generation—from the Indigenous peoples to the early English, Irish, and French settlers, who began arriving in the 17th century to this province on the far eastern coast of Canada. Over the centuries, the area’s signature sense of humor has endured and evolved with a distinctly modern twist.
There is always time to soak in the incredible outdoors here, but to experience this beautiful place as the locals do, there is no better way to immerse yourself in the arts and culture than at a festival—and they have one for every taste. The range of experiences encompass music, comedy, theater, art, food, sports, outdoor adventure, and more.
Festivals to enrich
Starting in June and running through September, Rising Tide Theatre presents the Seasons in the Bight Theatre Festival. And what is a bight, you ask? It’s a bend in the coastline, which in this case cradles 12 distinct communities, each with its own stories and history going back hundreds of years. Since 1978, Rising Tide has presented award-winning works by more than three dozen Newfoundland and Labrador writers in the form of plays, dinner theatre, concerts, and the outdoor Trinity Pageant, which tells the tale of the area’s colorful past. Trinity itself is worth a visit aside from the festival. It’s a picturesque seaside town with spectacular hikes along the ragged coast, fresh seafood to dine on, historic museums and galleries, restored fishing rooms and saltbox houses, and a chance to learn about the quirky history of barrel making. Or, take a boat tour and see the breathtaking coastline from a different perspective while watching for whales, birds, and icebergs.
While on the subject of theater, a quick two-hour drive north from Trinity brings you to the town of Gander. The award-winning Broadway show “Come From Away” was inspired by the days after 9/11 when dozens of jetliners were ordered by the FAA to land in this tiny community. Visiting this place gives you a sense of history, and why those nearly 7,000 passengers were met with overwhelming camaraderie and uncommon generosity form the area’s 12,000 residents.
Sometimes the name of a festival tells you all you need to know about what to expect—and promises surefire fun. How does Trails, Tales and Tunes sound? Yes, it’s a 10-day festival in late May where attendees can experience everything from group hikes and family experiences (trails!) to traditional workshop experiences that range from readings to kitchen parties to stage performances (tales!), and finally, yes, musical concerts galore (tunes!). It all unfolds across Norris Point, on the doorstep to Gros Morne National Park, a never-ending series of wonders and delights. If you’ve ever dreamed of hiking across some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, complete with glacier-carved fjords, breathtaking cliffs, and serene waterfalls, now’s your chance. And with this natural splendor as its backdrop, a rich cultural heritage of music, art, and gathering can be found nearby in towns like Cow Head and Woody Point.
For something completely different, try The Royal St. John’s Regatta, the oldest continuing sporting event in North America, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. About 50,000 people are expected to line the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s, the province’s capital city, to watch teams of amateur and professional rowers compete in more than two dozen races. Throughout the event, friends gather at the concession stands and games of chance, which all help make up what’s known locally as “the largest garden party in the world.” How big a deal is this regatta? It’s the only weather-dependent civic holiday in Canada—held the first Wednesday of August, weather permitting. If the winds are too high (a major consideration for this racing event), it’s postponed until the next day, or until less windy conditions arrive.
Another word to describe a “festival” is a “gathering,” so why not just call your festival “The Gathering.” That’s what the organizers did with The Gathering: Fire, Food, Music, a festival all about celebrating the culture and cuisine of Newfoundland and Labrador. Lasting two days and three nights in late August on the Baie Verte Peninsula, it’s a joyous celebration of music, food and laughs—the brainchild of local comedian Shaun Majumder, which is why it takes place in his hometown of Burlington. The premise here is to bring people together for a summer weekend by campfires where everyone can enjoy a rollicking, and also relaxing, good time with great food. And not just any kind of campfire food, but dishes prepared by some of the best chefs in the province.
You’ve probably eaten dinner in a restaurant or on a patio, and maybe even in a park or on a beach, but have you ever eaten dinner inside a beautiful, historic lighthouse, with sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding ocean? How about Atlantic Canada’s tallest lighthouse, and the second tallest in Canada? For half a century, nobody has dined there, but this year, you can.
Tour Labrador is partnering with Point Amour Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site to offer a rare, exclusive opportunity to dine on a Friday evening inside the place where shipwrecked sailors once took refuge and where a few families lived during its first century. Just imagine the stories that must have been told around that dining room table! The three-course meal includes fresh, local fish, vegetables, and berries, and you can reserve July and August dates now. But don’t wait: Seats are limited (after all, it’s tight quarters inside a lighthouse!) and they will go quickly.
When you’re preparing to visit Newfoundland and Labrador, in addition to packing active wear for the many adventures you can take, remember to bring along a festive spirit and a hearty appetite for food and friends—since here, there’s always something to celebrate.