When you first walk onto a beach in Newfoundland it’s like nothing you’ve experienced before on the mainland. Sure it’s a beach, but not like the ones you’ve known. It’s that crisp clean salt air that fills your lungs and the smooth fist sized beach rocks beneath your feet, as you hobble towards the water’s edge. The endless horizon of fog that creeps still over the water and up the cliffs, It tangles through the forests of pine and maple trees; the home to foxes and bears and moose. There’s the sharp wind makes you shove your hand in your pockets and it turns your cheeks cherry red from the cold sting. Even in the summer most days you still have to wear a jacket or sweater because the air is still damp. You feel it in your bones. This is Newfoundland.
Newfoundland is home to about 528,448 inhabitants. Half of which live on the peninsula. From one end to the other it take only about 9 and a half hours to drive. Needless to say it’s small.
“It’s Probably the Most Irish place besides Ireland” my grandfather jokes. He’s in his early seventies and have never lived anywhere else other than on this island “you knew everyone around the bay, growing up”. The Bay being the Avalon Peninsula. “I grew up in town and your Nan is from the bay.” I can hear my grandmother call out from the distance “Born and bred from the bay I am! Gramps is a Townie and I’m a baygirl.” They remember when the trans-Canada highway was built and how Nan’s little house used to stand in the middle of it right before you turned off the road they live on now.
“There was no busses to get you around like they are in Montréal” my mother pauses for a moment to take a sip of her tea.“ only on the weekends and it was just a school bus that picked you up at around 10 am dropped you off into town and would drive everyone back around 5pm.” When asked if she was close with the people around the community growing up she said “ I hung out with my cousin Donna a lot, but you kind of knew everyone. Everyone was like a friend of a friend.”
Growing up on “The Rock” is one thing but moving there is a different story. Sheila Aguilar moved to Newfoundland in 2013 from Havana Cuba to live with her Aunt and Uncle. We became friends after idlely wandering around the gym when our entire school was forced to take a walk down the Manuels river Trail. Not knowing anyone forced us to walk together.
“When I first moved here I was very self-conscious of my [Spanish] accent.” She rolls her eyes at me through monitor on our lagging skype connection. “It was high school and everyone wants to fit in. it made me a bit nervous because everyone knows each other and has known each other for so long. I already grew up on an island, but there are so many people in Havana.”
Cuba dwarfs newfoundland’s population. about 11.27 million people live on the island and about 2 million in her home town of Havana.
She continues “ I’m still not used to recognizing strangers faces in multiples places I go, didn’t happen often in Cuba or the Dominican [where father lives]”
This tiny island in the Atlantic ocean is home to so many who love the closeness of the community and the vastness of the ocean around it. It no wonder people come from all around to visit.