Newfoundland and Labrador


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Newfoundland (or Newfoundland and Labrador as it is properly known) is a province of Canada. It is Canada’s most easterly province and its newest, having only joined the Confederation in 1949.

Looking at Newfoundland and Labrador on a map, you will see that Newfoundland is an island (often called “The Rock” by residents) and is located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Labrador is located on the eastern part of the Canadian mainland. Newfoundland and Labrador has a total area of 405,720 square kilometres (Newfoundland contains 111,390 square kilometres of land and Labrador contains 294,330 square kilometres of land). The province’s population as of April 2013 is 513,568, making it the least densely populated province in Canada. Newfoundland has an extremely unspoiled natural beauty, remarkable scenery and a complex geology. Its several provincial parks, national parks and forests are popular destinations for campers and hikers.

Newfoundland was the site of the earliest European contact in North America. In 1497, Giovanni Caboto - a Venetian explorer (while in the employ of England’s Henry VII) - landed at what he named Bonavista and claimed the island for England. In 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert landed at St. John’s and took possession of the island for the English. Notwithstanding their actions, Newfoundland continued to be used by the native people, as well as the French, Basque, Portuguese, Spanish, Irish and English migratory fishermen who fished on the Grand Banks. Newfoundland is perhaps best known for its historic association with cod fishing, seal and whale hunting, mining operations, and today for its natural gas and oil discoveries.

Newfoundland’s political history has been just as interesting. It was the first British North American colony and in 1824, became an official British colony. It was self-governing from 1855-1934, held dominion status from 1907-1949, and it voted to join Canada on 31 March 1949. However, this vote was contentious and due to Newfoundland’s isolation and independent nature, even as late as 2003, 72% of Newfoundlanders’ continued to identify themselves primarily as Newfoundlanders and secondarily as Canadians.

Newfoundland is made up of electoral districts which are grouped into seven regions: Avalon, Bonavista-Exploits, Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, Labrador, Random-Burin-St. George’s, St. John’s North, and St. John’s South.

Newfoundland is more commonly divided into twenty historical districts for purposes of family history research (these districts are those designated for the 1921 census and electoral boundaries). They are Bay de Verde, Bonavista Bay, Burgeo & La Poile, Burn, Carbonear, Ferryland, Fortune Bay, Fogo (Notre Dame Bay), Harbour Main, Harbour Grace, Labrador, Placentia and St. Mary’s, Port-De-Grave, St. John’s Main City, St. John’s East, St. John’s West, St. Georges, St. Barbe, Trinity Bay, and Twilingate (Notre Dame Bay).

Newfoundland’s largest city and capital is St. John’s, located in the Avalon region. Newfoundland’s population is made up primarily of those with English, Irish, French and Scottish ancestry. Newfoundland is the site of the only authenticated Norse settlement in North America, and Newfoundland is home two UNESCO World Heritage sites – Gros Morne National Park and L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site – both located along the Viking Trail on the west coast of Newfoundland.

Some Additional Resources to help you get started in your exploration of Newfoundland and Labrador:

Community Infrastructure Mapping System - This mapping program for the Province allows you to overlay various infrastructure for easy reference (including communities, heritage archives, universities, libraries, and museums). It was developed by the Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency.

Newfoundland Labrador– This is the official Province site and provides links to all government information (including census data).

Newfoundland's Grand Banks – This website was started and is maintained by volunteers. It provides genealogical and historical data for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. While it began as an effort to transcribe the 1921 census for Newfoundland, volunteers quickly expanded the resources available and this is definitely the first online stop for any Newfoundland research.

Newfoundland History - This website provides a clearinghouse of sorts for all online resources relating to Newfoundland – including its history, geography, politics, economy and culture. The site is maintained by Claude Belanger of Marianopolis College (located in Quebec, Canada). It is important to remember that Newfoundland was populated by and shares a long history with the French as well as the English, Irish, Spanish and Portuguese, due to the exploration and expansion in the 1600-1800s into the ‘New World.’

Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage – This website contains a wealth of information including data and papers on the environment, native peoples, society, economy, culture, exploration and settlement, government and politics, and the arts as it relates to the Province and is maintained by Memorial University of Newfoundland. A great feature of this website is that the information is also provided in a format for grade school and high school students, which makes learning the history of Newfoundland informative and interactive (and is available both in French and English!).

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