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History of Newfoundland

The History of Newfoundland and Labrador has moulded the Province's Culture and Heritage.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the first human beings to arrive in Newfoundland and Labrador were of Palaeo-Indian Descent. These people relied heavily on the sea and are referred to by archaeologists as Maritime Archaic Indians. The Maritime Archaic people lived by hunting, fishing and gathering. They moved around constantly from place to place and it is probably their descendants that were in Newfoundland at the time of the arrival of the Europeans. They were known as the Beothuks, as well as other groups such as the Mik`mag and Eskimo. The last Beothuk to die was Shanawdithit, who died in 1829.

The first known European settlers in Newfoundland go back to the year 1001 when the Vikings came from Iceland to Greenland and then to Baffn Island, Labrador and Newfoundland. They called the land "Markland" or "Land of Forest" and settled in L'Anse aux Meadows. This site probably only lasted for a few years.

In 1497, John Cabot arrived in Newfoundland and made landfall at Bonavista. Here he set up the flag of England and claimed the land as a British colony for his leader Henry VIII.

"In the years following Cabot's voyage the Corte-Reals from Portugal visited Newfoundland and probably left a legacy of place-names on the east coast from Cape Race north to Notre Dame Bay."(1) In 1534 Jacques Cartier circumnavigated the Island; and in 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert reaffirmed the ownership of Britain when he claimed Newfoundland for Queen Elizabeth I.

The first colony in Newfoundland was the one established at Cupids in 1610 by a company of London and Bristol merchants which had received a royal charter for this purpose. John Guy was its first governor.

A significant factor in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador was the abundance of fish that was avaialable on the Grand Banks. Fishing and trading ships routinely came from Portugal, Spain, France and England in the spring of the year and returned in the fall with large cargoes of fish.

The European immigrants who settled in Newfoundland brought their knowledge, beliefs, loyalties and prejudices with them, but the society they built in the New World was unlike the ones they had left, and different from the ones other immigrants would build on the American mainland. As a fish-exporting society, Newfoundland was in contact with many places around the Atlantic rim, but its geographic location and political distinctiveness also isolated it from its closest neighbors in Canada and the United States. Internally, most of its population was spread widely around a rugged coastline in small outport settlements, many of them a long distance from larger centers of population and isolated for long periods by winter ice or bad weather. These conditions had an effect on the culture the immigrants had brought with them and generated new ways of thinking and acting, giving the history of Newfoundland and Labrador a wide variety of distinctive customs, beliefs, stories, songs, and dialects.

The First World War had a powerful and lasting effect on the society and on the History of Newfoundland and Labrador. From a population of about a quarter of a million, 5,482 men went overseas. Nearly 1,500 were killed and 2,300 wounded. On July 1, 1916, at Beaumont-Hamel, France, 753 men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment went over the top of a trench. The casualties were staggering; the next morning, only 68 men answered the roll-call. Even now, when the rest of Canada celebrates the founding of the country on July 1, many Newfoundlanders take part in solemn ceremonies of remembrance.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the youngest province in Canada, enjoying the status of a country until 1949. That year, the population voted by a narrow margin to join Canada, whose history, economy, culture and political institutions were significantly different.

The History of Newfoundland and Labrador has been one of struggle and hardship, but also one of courage and happiness. Early settlers found a land of beauty and freedom and one that they were proud of.

Newfoundland History - Commission Government and Rural Education

Dory Fishing in Newfoundland

Amelia Earhart - Aviator Pioneer


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