Friday, November 2, 2007

St. John's Historic West End Walking Tour

Today was a a much needed day off from the constant onslaught of exams and multi page report writing. My initial plans were to take a hike along the East Coast Trail south of St. John's near Maddox Cove, but after consulting the map, I discovered that the trail would require an overnight stay! So, I decided to stay in St. John's and roam the downtown and west end.

The day started with a stop at the Starbucks located on Water Street. There are only two Starbucks on the entire island of Newfoundland - and they close by 5:30pm! So, today I indulged in a grandé caramel macchiato (thank you Kim!) while enjoying views of St. John's harbour. St. John's harbour is a working harbour - not one lined with walking promenades or flowers. Ships can be found docked while cranes unload their cargo - interesting to watch.

The working harbour of St. John's, with Signal Hill, Cabot Tower, and the Battery in view.

From Starbucks I made my way to the tourist information centre to pick up some information on upcoming events. I also found several walking guide brochures. With nothing really planned for the day, I decided to do the historic walk through the historic west end of St. John's. This is a part of the city I had not yet explored, in part because it is located some distance from the major attractions of downtown. The area also has a "rough" appearance.

The tour started at the railway station on Water Street. Newfoundland no longer has a railway but the station is still in use as a terminal for the trans provincial bus service. It also doubles as a museum - very nice! For those who have walked/biked/cross-country skied the Trans Canada trail, mile marker zero is in front of the railway museum.

The railway station located on Water Street.

The Trans Canada trail - it all starts here!

From the museum, I walked down Water Street and could see all of the cargo containers being unloaded off the many ships docked in the harbour. Everything from groceries bound for area Dominion stores to cars and trucks destined for car dealerships. It's something to stop and realize that almost everything that exists on this island has been brought in by air or ship! Of course, I am reminded of this every time I am grocery shopping for bananas as the prices are considerably higher than in the rest of Atlantic Canada. From Water Street I turned north onto Patrick Street and passed by St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church (consecrated in 1881).

Colourful houses along Patrick Street.

Patrick Street with St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in the background.

Turning right on Hamilton Avenue, there was a set of row houses with modest decoration and simple gable roofs - typical of the sort of housing built in St. John's in the 19th century. I later learned that the Hamilton Avenue houses are unique because they are the few houses to survive the Great Fire of 1892. After the fire, most houses were rebuilt in the more fashionable Second Empire style or the simpler bracketted Italianate style.

West end St. John's, Hamilton Street.

The walking tour followed Brine Street, Plank Road, and returned to the railway station. It was a great walk through one of St. John's unique neighbourhoods. On Brine Street is the Martin McNamara House. This is a special dwelling because of its pyramidal roof that has stood since at least 1849. It is unusual in the neighbourhood because it has a central chimney to allow for all of the rooms in the house to be heated from the same source. It appeared as though someone still lives in this house today.

After the walking tour, I made my way over to the zero mile marker of the Trans Canada highway. Although the Trans Canada highway has been extended further east to Quidi Vidi in recent years, the mile marker has remained in front of St. John's City Hall (near Mile One Centre).

Mile marker zero of the Trans Canada highway.

This coming Saturday, a bunch of us from MUN are off to watch some Quebec major junior hockey at Mile One Centre; St. John's Fog Devils versus Saint John Sea Dogs. This won't be confusing! Sounds like fun. I'll keep you posted...

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