A Newcomer’s Guide to St. John’s
Newcomers will be drawn to the rich maritime history of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Welcome to North America’s easternmost city – the sweet maritime hamlet of St. John’s. The capital of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador can be found at the tip of the Avalon Peninsula at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Rugged, full of character and famous for its ‘kitchen parties’ of Irish music, this is a welcoming and friendly place to live.
A brief history of St. John’s, Newfoundland
Newfoundland and Labrador is home to four different First Nations groups today: the Innu, the Mi'kmaq, the Inuit and the Southern Inuit of NunatuKavut. The original inhabitants of the island were the Beothuk – Algonkian-speaking hunter-gatherers. These people disappeared as a result of colonization.
British explorer John Cabot sailed into the harbor of St John’s on June 24, 1497 (or 1494; historians do not agree), and named the settlement after the feast day of the Nativity of John the Baptist. Here, he encountered a community of Basque fishers and whalers who had been working in the area for decades. A second theory about the name states that it was named for a city in the Basque region – San Juan.
The city appears on maps as early as 1519, making it one of the oldest (and some say the oldest) in North America. That said, it was not officially incorporated as a city until 1921.
By the late 1500s, the surrounding area came to be dominated by Britain as it became a global naval power. Britain built a series of fish stores, wharves and warehouses throughout the harbor and these became known as Water Street. This is the oldest commercial street on the continent.
While St. John’s was mostly known for its importance as a fishing resource, the population slowly grow over the 17th and 18th centuries. A series of battles over the city occurred throughout the 18th century, as the French and British jockeyed for position. During the Napoleonic Wars, starting in 1791, the demand for salted fish grew exponentially. The population of St. John’s boomed, as many Irish immigrants were attracted to the high fish prices. To this day, the island has a strong Irish heritage.
Who lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland? Social demographics
St. John’s is Canada’s 20th largest metropolitan area with a population of 219,207 (according to 2016 Census data). After Halifax, it is the second largest metropolitan area in Atlantic Canada.
The Ethnic composition of St. John’s, Newfoundland:
Ethnic Origin, 2016
According to the 2011 National Household Survey, the religious composition of St. John’s is as follows :
The weather in St. John’s is often a hot topic of local conversation! If you are planning a move to this maritime city, you will certainly be interested in learning about the climate.
St. John's climate is classified as a ‘humid continental climate,’ but it has a lower seasonal variation than the normal average for its latitude because of the Gulf Stream. The average temperature in the summer is just 16 degrees C, while the thermometer rarely falls below freezing in the winter. It is a very windy and rainy climate, known as the rainiest in Canada, other than coastal British Columbia. It is also the foggiest city in Canada.
St. John’s is serviced by a public bus system called Metrobus, which operates throughout the city and the nearby community of Mount Pearl. An adult cash fare is $2.25, and you will need to pay in exact change. A monthly or semester-long M-Card pass is available at shops in the region, as well as online on the Metrobus website.
Top 5 Things to do in St. John’s
Kiss the cod – No list of things to do in St. John’s would be complete without getting ‘Screeched in’ and ‘kissing the cod!’ This is a time-honoured tradition in which you ‘become a Newfoundlander’ by drinking a shot of Screech rum and kissing a raw cod on the lips. It may sound crazy, but locals love this tradition – and you will, too!
Visit the Signal Hill National Historic Site – Every newcomer to St. John’s simply must visit the city’s most famous landmark. It was built in 1898 to honour John Cabot and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Visiting in the summer is a treat, as soldiers dress up in their 19th century Royal Newfoundland Company regalia and perform a tattoo. Admission is $3.90 and free for kids.
Spend time in wonder at The Rooms – a wonderfully wacky and fascinating museum! See a giant squid, take in sound sculptures and admire weaponry at The Rooms historical museum, art gallery and Newfoundland’s archives. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children. Admission is free on Wednesday from 6-9pm.
Admire the sweet houses of Jellybean Row – The so-called ‘Jellybean Row’ is known for its brightly coloured houses, all decked out in primary colours . Historically they were decorated in bright hues to help fishermen find their way home in the fog. Today, they are a beloved local landmark.
Visit the Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site – Cape Spear is located on a rugged cliff overlooking the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Spend the night nearby so that you can enjoy the most easterly sunrise in North America. No other place in Newfoundland is more evocative of the province’s maritime history.
Immigrant Services in St. John’s, Newfoundland
As a newcomer to Canada, you can access the following services to help you settle into your new home:
The Association for New Canadians – The Association of New Canadians has been helping immigrants in St. John’s settle for over 40 years. They offer free English classes, assistance with job hunting and many other aspects of integration. Address: 144 Military Rd, St. John’s, NL, A1C 2E6
Refugee Immigrant Advisory Committee – The RIAC works to create a community free from prejudice and empower newcomers to Canada. They offer legal advice, job skills and placement, and community building events. Address: 50 Harbour Drive, Neal Building, Second Floor, St. John’s, NL A1C 6J4
Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism – The official government Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism can provide you with advice and assistance about immigrating to Newfoundland and Labrador. Address: Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Confederation Building. P.O. Box 8700, St. John’s, NL A1B 4J6
The St. John’s, Newfoundland Public Library
In addition to lending out books, DVDs, CDs, and magazines, they are gathering places for the community. Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries have 94 branches, including 3 in St. John’s:
AC Hunter Public Library
Michael Donovan Public Library
Marjorie Mews Public Library
Getting to and from St. John’s, Newfoundland
St. John’s is located on the island of Newfoundland and is accessible only by boat or by air. It is well serviced by a regular ferry system, and long-distance buses operate to and from mainland Canada.
Air Canada, Porter and WestJet operate regularly scheduled flights to St. John’s International Airport, as do many other international airlines. The flying times are approximately 1.5 hours to Halifax, 3.5 hours to Toronto and 5 hours to London, UK.
Australian Traveller Media (2018). Kiss the cod and become an honorary Canadian in Newfoundland. [online] International traveller magazine. Available at: https://www.internationaltraveller.com/north-america/canada/newfoundland-and-labrador/100-kiss-the-cod-in-newfoundland/ [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].
Government of Canada, Statistics Canada (2016). Census Profile, 2016 Census - St. John’s [Census metropolitan area], Newfoundland and Labrador and Newfoundland and Labrador [Province]. [online] Statcan.gc.ca. Available at: https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=CMACA&Code1=001&Geo2=PR&Code2=10&Data=Count&SearchText=St.%20John [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].
Heritage Newfoundland (2016). Aboriginal People. [online] Heritage.nf.ca. Available at: https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/aboriginal/aboriginal-peoples-introduction.php.
Heritage Newfoundland (2020). Irish Migration. [online] Heritage.nf.ca. Available at: https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/society/irish-migration.php [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].
Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada – Official Tourism Website. (2019). Climate & Weather. [online] Available at: https://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/about-this-place/climate-and-weather [Accessed 5 Mar. 2019].
Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada – Official Tourism Website. (2020). Flights. [online] Available at: https://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/getting-here-and-around/flights [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].
Statistics Canada (n.d.). St John’s - Population by Religion and Sex. [online] Available at: https://www.stats.gov.nl.ca/Statistics/Topics/census2011/PDF/REL_Religion_2011_NHS.pdf [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].
Stjohns.ca. (2019). History of St John’s | City Of St. John’s. [online] Available at: http://www.stjohns.ca/living-st-johns/your-city/st-johns-history/history-st-johns.
Stjohns.ca. (2020). Transportation | City Of St. John’s. [online] Available at: http://www.stjohns.ca/living-st-johns/newcomers/getting-settled/transportation [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].
Williams, M. (2016). Jellybean Row: The Color of St. John’s. [online] Encounter Newfoundland. Available at: https://encounternewfoundland.com/jellybean-row-the-color-of-st-johns/ [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].