Ruby-throated Hummingbird
You know summer is just around the corner when these little guys turn up in Eastern Canada after spending the winter in Central America!

Learn more about hummingbirds.
What to put in your hummingbird feeder.

Photo Credit: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton via photopin cc



Newfoundland Lans Aux MeadowsHow much would you pay for a nice, cool drink of iceberg water? In Canada we may not be prepared to pay much. However, considering that 1 in 10 people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, it becomes a little more valuable.

If you took all the water on earth, 97% of it would be undrinkable. Of the remaining water, up to 2% of that is frozen in glaciers, ice and snow. The remaining 1% is fresh groundwater, soil moisture, lakes, swamps and rivers.

Icebergs are an incredible source of fresh, clean water. The largest iceberg on record in the north was  near Baffin Island in 1882. An average iceberg is around 200,000 tonnes, but this one was over nine billion tonnes! It was 13 kilometres long, six kilometres wide and stood about 20 metres above the water. This iceberg had enough fresh water to supply the world’s population with one litre a day for over four years.

The icebergs you may see off the coast of Newfoundland come mostly from the glaciers of Greenland.  Over thousands of years, snow is packed down, layer upon layer until the accumulated weight turns the lower layers into ice. Under its own weight, a glacier moves outward. The glaciers in Greenland move relatively fast at 7 km per year. As a glacier moves into the ocean, pieces of it break off and become icebergs. Since icebergs are made from snow, icebergs are pure fresh water.

They drift south with the cold Labrador current and can take 2 to 3 years to reach Newfoundland. They melt fairly quickly once they reach the Atlantic and rarely make it much farther south than 40º north latitude, a few hundred kilometres south of St. John’s. They make a fizzing, popping sound as they melt as air trapped for thousands of years is released. Although an iceberg may look big from what is above the water, 7/8ths of it is below the water!

Icebergs can be dangerous if you get too close to them because occasionally they decide to roll over. This can make harvesting icebergs for fresh water particularly dangerous.

The best time to see icebergs off Newfoundland is in the spring and early summer.

BOOKS: Lulie the Iceberg, by Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado, Kodansha International, 1998 (picture book)

PROJECT: Track icebergs on their way south using icebergfinder. Read about harvesting icebergs.

FILM: Watch the trailer to Chasing Ice.

Atlantic Cod

Would you know a codfish if you saw one?

Atlantic_codBasque whalers called Newfoundland the Island of Cod. When John Cabot came to Newfoundland over 500 years ago, he claimed they were able to catch fish just by putting a weighted basket in the water. For years, cod fishing was the way of life for many who lived in or came to Newfoundland. Those who fished the coastal waters would rise early in the morning, row out to their favourite fishing spot, let down their jiggers and if they were lucky would have a boatload in a few hours. They would row home, split and clean the fish and put them in a salt brine. The salted fish from the day before would be washed and then spread out on flakes to dry. In the late afternoon or if it was going to rain, they would all be gathered up again. It was a family affair.

Those who fished the Grand Banks, would go out in big schooners, 25 men at a time. They would row out from the schooner in dories to set out trawls, then split and salt the fish and put them in the hold. They could be away for weeks.

Later on fishing was mostly done by big boats and big nets which were dragged along the bottom and covered large areas and would catch more than just fish. This helped to mark the end of the cod fishery. In a period of forty years, cod stocks decreased by 97%.

Cod live in waters less than 400 metres deep from Baffin Bay south to Georges Bank. They usually migrate to shallower waters during summer, but some may live their whole life cycle in one bay. They will eat pretty much anything smaller than themselves, even their own young, and feed near the bottom. You can tell how old a codfish is by counting the rings in small “ear stones” in its skull. They take 5-8 years to mature and by then are usually 2-3 kg, and 60-100 cm long. The number of eggs a female lays depends on its size, but a 120 cm female may lay 2 million eggs. However, only 1 in every 2 million survives to reach maturity. The average age of fish caught is 7 years old.

Commercial cod fishing was banned in 1992. Although limited fishing was allowed a few years later, it was banned indefinitely again in 2009 because there was very little, if any, improvement.

Jigging – fishing with an artificial lure or a weighted, unbaited hook attached to a line and jerked sharply upwards. Common to jig for squid and then use it for bait.

Trawl – long row of fish hooks on one main line. Hooks are baited with pieces of herring, mackerel or squid and dragged behind a moving boat.

FIELD TRIP: If your local grocery store has a fish counter, have a look at what is there. Perhaps some of it has come from the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps you can go to a fish and chip shop for a treat.

PROJECT: Find out about sustainable fishing: Marine Stewardship Council, Fishing CSA

BOOKS: Hold On McGinty, by Nancy Hartry, Doubleday Canada, 1997 (picture book), Saltbox Sweater, by Janet McNaughton, Tuckamore Books, 2001 (childrens fiction).

Place Names

Waterside, St Johns

If you have looked at a map of Newfoundland, you will have noticed that it has some very unusual names: Come By Chance, Happy Adventure, Heart’s Desire, or Seldom… Other names refer to geographical location, such as Flower’s Cove, Cape Broyle, Chapel Arm, Lark Harbour, Leading Tickles, Little Burnt Bay, Lushes Bight, Port aux Choix.

Here are the definitions of some of the geographical terms used:
BIGHT – a curve or recess in a coastline or other geographical feature
TICKLE – a passage between islands
COVE – a small sheltered bay
CAPE – a headland or promontory
PORT – a town or city with a harbour
POINT – a narrow piece of land jutting out into the sea
BAY – a broad curved inlet of the sea
ARM – a narrow body of water or land projecting from a larger body
HARBOUR – a place on the coast where ships may moor in shelter
NOSE – promontory or headland
FJORD – long, deep and narrow sea inlets formed by glaciers

PROJECT: Find an example for each term on a map of Newfoundland and notice how it fulfills it’s meaning.

Newfoundland Dogs

Dogs have always been a friend to mankind. They are the domesticated descendants of wild dogs and wolves. They have been bred to develop certain characteristics producing many different breeds of dogs.

Dogs are built to be able to run down their prey. They have thick footpads which protect their feet when running and claws which protect their toes. Their claws are also useful for digging out their prey. They have a lean, muscular body with a coat of hair.

Dogs show emotion through their actions. If you are acquainted with a dog, you will know how they show with their body their affection, friendliness, anger, fear, shame or excitement.

A dog’s most important sense is that of smell. They use their keen sense of smell to recognize friends and to acquaint themselves with strangers. That’s why dogs come up and sniff at you. Their noses are usually damp which helps them to smell.

Newfoundland DogNewfoundland has a very special breed of dog. It is called a Newfoundland. They are a breed developed from dogs brought by European fishermen hundreds of years ago. It has some Saint Bernard, Great Pyrenees and French hound in it.

Newfoundlands were bred for their environment which is cold ocean, snowy winters and fishing. It is unique in that it has webbed feet – a growth of skin between its toes. It also has large powerful legs, a strong tail that acts as a rudder and lungs that are larger than other dogs its size. This makes it able to swim long distances. It also has an inner coat of fine hair like a mink or muskrat and a thick outer coat of long fur. This keeps it warm and dry in cold water.

Newfoundlands are intelligent, gentle, brave and loyal. They are good with children and will protect their family. They were bred as working dogs to haul sleds or carts of wood, fish and fishing gear, deliver milk and move loads. They are also wonderful water rescue dogs. They were kept on sailing ships to rescue those who fell overboard.

PROJECT: How many dog breeds do you know? What are the different ways dogs are used? If you have a dog as a pet, what breed is he/she and what was he/she originally bred for? Find pictures of different breeds of dogs and paste them on a page identifying the breed and if you can find out, what they were specifically bred for.

BOOKS: Heroes of Isle aux Mortes, by Alice Walsh, Tundra Books 2001 (picture book); Sailor, by Catherine Simpson, Tuckamore Books, 1998 (picture book); Star in the Storm, by Joan Hiatt Harlow, McElderry Books, 2000 (novel); Thunder from the Sea, by Joan Hiatt Harlow, Aladdin Paperbacks, 2005 (novel).

Song of the Sea Wind

by L.M. Montgomery

WHEN the sun sets over the long blue wave
I spring from my couch of rest,
And I hurtle and boom over leagues of foam
That toss in the weltering west,
I pipe a hymn to the headlands high,
My comrades forevermore,
And I chase the tricksy curls of foam
O’er the glimmering sandy shore.

The moon is my friend on clear, white nights
When I ripple her silver way,
And whistle blithely about the rocks
Like an elfin thing at play;
But anon I ravin with cloud and mist
And wail ‘neath a curdled sky,
When the reef snarls yon like a questing beast,
And the frightened ships go by.

I scatter the dawn across the sea
Like wine of amber flung
From a crystal goblet all far and fine
Where the morning star is hung;
I blow from east and I blow from west
Wherever my longing be-
The wind of the land is a hindered thing
But the ocean wind is free!

PROJECT: Can you make a poem from what you have learned about the ocean? There are several different types of poetry. You may want to try an alphabet or acrostic poem. Write the word OCEAN vertically on your paper and then find words that describe the ocean for each letter. Or you could write ocean in the middle of a piece of paper and brainstorm about the ocean using your five senses. Then select your favourite images and begin each line with The Ocean is… These kind of poems can be rhymed or unrhymed, long or short. When you are finished, copy your poem out neatly and illustrate it.

Newfoundland’s Anthem

Newfoundland was claimed by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583 for England and was England’s first land claim in North America. It remained a British colony until 1949 when it’s people decided to join Canada.

The Anthem for Newfoundland and Labrador was written by Sir Cavendish Boyle, governor of Newfoundland from 1901 to 1904. The music was composed by Sir C. Hubert H. Parry and the anthem was adopted in May 1904.

The Ode to Newfoundland

When sun rays crown thy pine-clad hills
And summer spreads her hand,
When silvern voices tune thy rills,
We love thee, smiling land.
We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, smiling land.

When spreads thy cloak of shimmering white
At winter’s stern command,
Through shortened day and starlight night,
We love thee, frozen land.
We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, frozen land.

When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore,
And wild waves lash thy strand;
Though spindrift swirl and tempest roar
We love thee, wind-swept land.
We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, wind-swept land.

As loved our fathers, so we love;
Where once they stood we stand;
Their prayer we raise to Heaven above,
God guard thee, Newfoundland.
God guard thee, God guard thee,
God guard thee, Newfoundland.

BOOKS: Ode to Newfoundland by Geoff Butler, Tundra Books, 2003 (picture book).

Come to Newfoundland and Labrador


Sailor’s Warning by Reilly Fitzgerald

Far on the eastern side of Canada, reaching the furthest east of all North America, lies the rocky island of Newfoundland. On the mainland to the west, across the Strait of Belle Isle, lies it’s counterpart, Labrador.

It wasn’t until I came to live on the east coast of Canada that I realized how isolated Newfoundland is from the mainland of Canada. Getting to St. John’s by boat is an 11 hour ferry ride from the northern tip of Nova Scotia. If you want to visit the western side of Newfoundland, it is still a 6 hour ferry ride. Going by air from Halifax is almost as far as going from Halifax to Toronto. And some places along the rocky coastline are still only accessible by boat.

Newfoundland is sometimes called “The Rock” because it is mostly rock. It is part of the old Appalachian mountain chain that also includes Nova Scotia, the Gaspe and eastern United States. In times past, glaciers scraped most of the soil off and pushed it into the ocean. Although this certainly decreased the possibility of agriculture, it helped to build up the Grand Banks off the coast which made for good fishing.

Along the southwest side of Newfoundland is a range of rounded mountains, called the Long Range Mountains. The tallest mountain in this range is Gros Morne at 806 metres. Gros Morne National Park is about halfway up the coast and is known for its amazing fjords (long, narrow, deep sea inlets created by glaciers) and breath-taking views of steep gorges and lakes. Most of the rest of Newfoundland is a highland plateau sloping down to the coastal lowlands. It is a land of forests strewn with ridges and hummocks of rock, thousands of lakes, ponds, streams and bogs.

Labrador, on the mainland of Canada, is part of the Canadian Shield. Only five percent of Newfoundland and Labrador’s population live here. The south is covered in thick forests of black spruce and balsam fir. The north is treeless tundra where the ground is permanently frozen. On the far northern tip lie the Torngat Mountains, with Mount Caubvick reaching a height of 1652 metres. A mighty river runs through Labrador on it’s way to the sea called the Churchill. At one time Churchill Falls was an amazing 75 metre waterfall, higher than Niagara Falls. However, it is now the site of one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world.

It is mostly cold in Labrador. During the summer it usually has highs of only 15-20 degrees Celsius and during the winter can reach lows of -45. Newfoundland on the other hand is slightly warmer and wetter. The capital city, St. John’s, on Newfoundland’s east coast is known to be the foggiest major city in Canada, as well as the snowiest, wettest, windiest and cloudiest! The fog is caused by the frigid air coming down with the Arctic current and meeting the warm air over the Gulf Stream.

PROJECT: Find Newfoundland, Labrador, the Strait of Belle Isle, Churchill Falls, and St. John’s on a map.

SIGHTSEEING: For some beautiful photos of Newfoundland and other places on the east coast of Canada, you might like to visit this blog:

Who lived here first?

Totem PoleIt is estimated that when the Europeans arrived in North America, the land that makes up Canada was already populated with 500,000 native people. Each tribe had its own hunting and fishing grounds and lived pretty much to themselves. They had learned to live with what was available to them and had rich cultures which they developed and passed down through the generations.

The Inuit lived, and still do, in the far north where it is cold and snowy most of the time. Their main food was meat and blubber. They built igloos (houses built of snow blocks) and also lived in tents made of caribou or seal skin. They burned seal oil for heat and to cook their food. They used dog teams to pull their sledges. They also invented the kayak and the umiak. The kayak was a one-person boat made for hunting from skins stretched over a bone framework. The skins would draw right up around the waist of the person so that it would be water-tight. The umiak was a larger boat also made from skins stretched over a bone framework. It could fit entire families and could be used for hunting whales.

The Subarctic People lived in the cold northern forests all across Canada. They were nomadic following the animals they depended on for food as they migrated. They hunted moose, caribou, and deer and some smaller animals such as rabbit and beaver.

The East Coast People depended on the wildlife of the forest for their food. They moved their camps whenever it became hard to find food. They lived in wigwams during the winter that looked like the tipis of the Plains people but were usually covered with birch bark or rushes. They made canoes constructed of spruce and covered with birch bark.

The Eastern Woodlands Farmers lived in villages in large longhouses made from a framework of poles and covered in birch or elm bark. Although they did hunt small animals, they were farmers and therefore didn’t move around very often. The women looked after the longhouses and did the farming. They grew three crops: beans, squash and corn which they called the Three Sisters. They recorded the history of their tribe and the laws and customs on Wampum belts using beads made from sea shells. The keeper of the wampum belt memorized the visual and symbolic stories and relayed them to the next keeper of the belt.

The Plains People lived on level, grass covered country. They lived in tipis made of poles and buffalo skin which could be easily folded for carrying whenever they decided to move on. They followed the buffalo herds which they depended on for food, clothing and shelter. Originally they kept dogs who could drag heavy loads with the use of a travois. When the Europeans brought horses to North America, they quickly learned to use them. The different tribes spoke different languages so they developed a sign language that had around 750 different signs so they could communicate with each other.

The Mountain People lived in the valleys and plateaus of the Rocky Mountains. They left mysterious paintings on the sides of cliffs and boulders that can still be seen today.

The Totem Tribes lived along the Pacific coast. They lived in large one-room cedar lodges that housed 40-60 people. They carved majestic totem poles that told the history of the clans who carved them. They made colourful masks for ritual dances and ceremonies. Their main food was the salmon which came up the coastal rivers every year, but they also hunted sea otters, porpoises, seals and halibut in cedar dug out canoes.

Sadly the population of native people dropped rapidly when Europeans arrived bringing new diseases and taking over traditional hunting grounds.

PROJECT: What native people lived or lives close to you? Find out more about them: their way of life, their legends, their crafts, and how they keep their culture alive today.