DescriptionOne of the oldest cities in North America, St. John's is the capital, principal port and commercial center of the island. It is believed to be named for the feast day of St. John the Baptist, since it was on that day in 1497 that John Cabot discovered Newfoundland and Labrador. The city's perfectly sheltered harbor drew many European explorers and fishermen during the 1500s, until Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed into the harbor on Aug. 5, 1583, and reaffirmed possession of Newfoundland and Labrador by claiming the land for the British.
St. John's achieved much of its importance because of its geographic position. It is closer to Europe than any other city in North America. From Lester's Field within the city boundaries, Capt. John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Brown flew to Clifden, Ireland, in 1919, completing the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 16 hours.
History is commemorated with several memorials. The Sir Humphrey Gilbert Plaque on Water Street marks the area where Sir Humphrey planted the Royal Standard of Elizabeth I in 1583. Above the plaque is the National War Memorial, honoring Newfoundland and Labrador's war dead. A statue of Gaspar Côrte-Real, on Prince Philip Drive in the city's north end, recognizes the significance of the explorer and his country, Portugal, in Newfoundland and Labrador history.
On King's Bridge Road is the Commissariat House Provincial Historic Site, the Georgian home of the assistant commissary general who was responsible for outfitting the British garrison in town. The 1818-21 house, furnished in period, is most accessible through a walking tour of the city because parking is limited; phone (709) 729-6730 or (709) 729-0592.
Memorial University of Newfoundland was founded in 1925 as a memorial to the province's World War I dead and has achieved a world reputation for cold-ocean research.
Of historical interest northeast of St. John's is Torbay, the 1762 landing site of Lt. Col. William Amherst and his troops. From Torbay, Amherst marched to defeat the French at Signal Hill. Fort Amherst, the first lighthouse in the province, was originally built by the British Military Garrison in 1810 and reconstructed in 1951. It is located at the base of the Southside Hills, opposite Signal Hill.
The Arts and Culture Centre on Prince Philip Drive at Allendale Road offers a theater and library; phone (709) 729-3900 for the box office, or (709) 729-3650.
A popular reminder of the city's past is the St. John's Regatta, held on Quidi Vidi Lake the first Wednesday in August; if the weather is unfavorable for rowing, the regatta occurs the next favorable day. Dating from 1825, the regatta is considered one of the oldest continuing sports events in North America; music and games of chance supplement the racing fun.
The East Coast Trail runs south of St. John's along the Avalon Peninsula to Cappahayden and north to Cape St. Francis, offering hikers an unparalleled view of the Newfoundland and Labrador coast, its historic sites and settlements. When completed, the route will extend 540 kilometres (335 mi.) to Trepassey. Trail segments range in difficulty and walking distance, from 1.5 to 10 hours. Phone (709) 738-4453 for trail guides and information.
The Grand Concourse Walkways comprise a 160-kilometre (99-mi.) system of trails traversing the city as well as nearby Mount Pearl and Paradise. Phone (709) 737-1077 for more information.
Visitor InfoThe City of St. John's Economic Development, Tourism & Culture 348 Water St. ST. JOHN'S, NL A1C 5M2. Phone:(709)576-8106
Self-guiding toursWalking and driving tour information is provided in the St. John's Visitor Guide, available at 348 Water St. and at the airport.
ShoppingWater Street, one of the oldest thoroughfares in North America, has been the commercial center of St. John's for more than 400 years. The street is lined with a variety of stores, restaurants and pubs. Duckworth Street, running parallel to Water Street, has an array of boutiques and ethnic restaurants.
Things to SeeAnglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
SIGNAL HILL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE