Archive for September 12, 2014

St. John’s, Newfoundland, then home

     The morning of August 13 found us docked at St. John’s, the capital and largest city (about 100,000) of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  It is also the easternmost city in North America (not counting Greenland). While it was incorporated only in the 1920’s, Europeans have been living here since the 16th Century. The name may have come from the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which was reputedly the day in 1497 that John Cabot became the first European to set foot here. While it was first claimed by the English in the late 16th Century the town was subsequently attacked several times and briefly held by the Dutch and the French.  The last battle of the French & Indian War was fought here.

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     Well, it had been a long trip & we were both still under the weather so we decided to just walk around town for a few hours & then spend some time relaxing on the ship. It was a very gray & sometimes drizzly day but St. John’s is a city of very colorful buildings that kept it from being too gloomy.

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     In addition to spending time in some of the shops on the first couple of streets from the harbor we passed the massive grey stone St. John’s Courthouse, built in 1904.

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     Further down the street we came upon the National War Memorial. Dedicated on July 1, 1924 by British World War I Field Marshal Douglas Haig plaques have since been added on its side commemorating Newfoundlanders who died in World War II, the Korean War & Afghanistan.  Since Newfoundland did not become part of Canada until after World War II, the “National” in its title refers to the old Dominiion of Newfoundland rather than Canada. Around the memorial were wreaths dedicated mostly to regiments, perhaps because the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I was only a few days before we visited. The monument was located on a plaza with a broad stairway that was ringed by old metal lights topped by white glass globes.

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     We walked further up the very steep hill. St. John’s is sometimes compared to San Francisco partly because of the steepness of its streets & its colorful houses..

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      Up the hill we visited two churches named (as the city was) for St. John the Baptist.  At the very top is the Catholic Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist., considered the mother church of Roman Catholicism in Newfoundland. It was built in the middle of the 19th Century. Imposing on the outside with two prominent bell towers, at the time of its completion it was the largest church in North America. On a balcony is a pipe organ with more than 4,000 pipes. Beneath the altar is a sculpture of “The Dead Christ.”

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     Since the Basilica is on the top of the hill its front steps give a fine view of the city’s large harbor, which is well protected from the sea.

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     We walked down the hill to the other cathedral named for St. John, this one Anglican. While it lacks the dramatic stature of the Catholic cathedral on the outside we thought the inside of this one had more warmth and interest.  Begun in the middle of the 19th Century and completed in 1885, the church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of 1892. Rebuilding was completed in 1905, although it still lacks the spire it was originally designed to have.  The congregation is currently raising funds to build one. The church says that this parish, founded in 1699, is the oldest Anglican parish in North America. This church also has an impressive pipe organ with four banks of pipes, two of which appear to have been added on.

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          We were getting tired by now, with all the up and down walking, so we finished our shopping and headed back to the ship.  Throughout the day we passed a number of nice flowers (not wildflowers, this is a city), along with a very unusual utility box & more colorful buildings.

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    The ship left St. John’s at about 3:00. We were told that as we sailed past Signal Hill we would be saluted by musket fire. We were, but I could not see the shooting even though I scoured the top of the hill.  It must have been coming from somewhere else, maybe the hill on the other side of the ship. Anyway, Signal Hill is where the fortifications defending the harbor stood for several hundred years. The last battle of the French and Indian War in 1762 was the Battle of Signal Hill.  Its name stems from a signal flag mast that was used to signal the town when a ship was coming.  The Cabot Tower was built there at the end of the 19th Century to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s initial visit and also Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. On December 12, 1901 Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless transmission on this hill, sent from Cornwall in the United Kingdom.

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     We sailed out of the harbor, past some birds on a cliff and some rocky waterfront cliffs.  The next day we were in Bar Harbor, Maine.  But we were still feeling poorly and we had been there before and weren’t very interested in seeing it again. Besides, it was a very gray day, it was a tender port and we had to pack and prepare to disembark in Boston the next morning.  So we took a pass on Bar Harbor & spent a relaxing day on the Veendam. Disembarking in Boston the next morning, August 16, we retrieved our car from the motel where it had spent the trip & drove home. It was a long drive, but we were very happy to be in our own be again after a long and rewarding trip.

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