Sea Change | Atlantic Canada's Unlikely Cultural and Culinary Outpost
A look at the places fuelling Newfoundland and Labrador's growing reputation as an unexpected cultural destination
Despite its nearly 70 years as a province of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador still holds an air of rugged mystery for both locals and visitors alike. But if your idea of a trip to St. John’s at the eastern edge of North America still features poor but friendly mariners hocking fish and chips on the side of the highway, you’re overdue for a sea change. The port city has been welcoming strangers for nearly four centuries, offering a sense of adventure and cosmopolitanism you might not otherwise expect to find in this lonely outpost on the north Atlantic. Not only is St. John’s one of Canada’s best culinary cities, but it is home to one of the country’s oldest and most vibrant cultural scenes.
Halfway up the sloping stairs of Bates Hill above George Street, Chinched Bistro is a delightful delicatessen in the heart of downtown St. John’s. It’s a testament to co-owners’ Shaun Hussey and Michelle Leblanc’s abiding love for local food. Everything inside—down to the cheeky pig-themed portraiture—is designed to bring out the beauty in butchery. The modern fixtures in the lounge evoke a 1920s New York City deli-cum-speakeasy, while the dining room upstairs makes for a very cozy, very carnivorous date night. And for any guests mesmerized by offerings available in the restaurant, most of the food sourced from local producers and harvesters is also on sale in an adjoining shop.
Housed within the Classical facade of the Commercial Cable Company Building on Water Street, Raymonds is the finest dining available on Canada’s Atlantic coast. It straddles both old and new Newfoundland - a fact reflected in the name itself, an homage to both head chef Jeremy Charles’ grandfather Raymond Baggs and sommelier Jeremy Bonia’s father Raymond Bonia. The towering windows of its gold-papered dining room showcase a stunning view of the Narrows—assuming you can take your eyes off the food in front of you. This is the real magic of Raymond’s: traditional staples long derided as ‘peasant food’—pickled mackerel, pineappleweed, dandelion, sea urchin—are transformed into meals fit for royalty through the hands of a passionate chef. Served humbly on your rural grandmother’s old dishware, of course.
MUN Botanical Gardens
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is as vast as it is beautiful. Unless you’ve got a month or two to spare, you can forget about exploring most of the island—let alone the Big Land. Fortunately, the Memorial University Botanical Garden has you covered. Located atop Mt. Scio, a rural respite in the heart of the city, the Botanical Garden offers hours of walking trails through nearly every ecosystem Canada’s northeast coast has on offer. Anyone unable to roam the rugged wilds for marvels can still immerse themselves in the land’s natural beauty, or take in the finely curated displays of local plants and those around the world that can thrive in our weather.
Dominating the St. John’s skyline, The Rooms represents the architectural fusion of Newfoundland and Labrador’s past, present, and future. Once the hub of community life in rural outports, the modest fishing stage (or “rooms”) is here now writ large against the heavens in aluminum, stone, and glass. Like its namesake, The Rooms too serves as a hub for the province’s cultural life. In addition to a rotating art gallery showcasing the best of both local and Canadian artwork, it also houses an enormous natural and cultural history museum, as well as the provincial archives.
Located a stone’s throw from the St. John’s harbourfront, Eastern Edge is the oldest artist-run centre for visual arts in Newfoundland and Labrador. Established in 1984, it has been both the bleeding edge of contemporary local art but a vital lifeline for Canadian and international artists to showcase their work on the island.