Great Canadian Parks / Newfoundland

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The Parks / Newfoundland & Labrador / Gros Morne National Park


We now know that Vikings ‘discovered’ the New World around 1000 AD, and created a settlement on the tip of the western peninsula at L'Anse Aux Meadows. But a harsh climate, dangerous seas and disputes with native peoples, whom they called Skraelings, eventually sent them home.


Jacques Cartier proved to the Europeans that Newfoundland was an island by sailing through the Strait of Belle Isle in 1534, reputedly anchoring in Gros Morne's Cow Cove. Basque whalers visited the park's Bonne Bay during the 1600's, but the west coast remained wild and largely uninhabited even as Captain James Cook was charting the popular fishing waters in 1768. By the Treaty of 1713, the French retained fishing rights to the western shores, even after Britain gained sovereignty. It wasn't until the late 1700's that a few transient fishermen, tired of the long voyages home, began to erect fishing shacks along the coast in order to overwinter. A trading station founded in 1809 is the earliest indication of permanent settlement.


Life on the coast has always been a challenge, tied to the fortunes of fish stocks and the vagaries of the sea. The park was established in 1973 and, as was the policy at that time, residents were offered land to relocate outside park boundaries. As local services like schools, banks and shops closed down, many left their homes and moved to larger centres. But the tenacity of the Newfoundland people is not to be underestimated, and many people would not be moved. As a result, Gros Morne is one of the few National Parks to include seven enclaves of privately owned land within its boundaries. The people of Rocky Harbour, Woody Point, St. Paul's and Sally's Cove are now as likely to be employed in tourism or park management as in fishing.

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