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When Vikings from Greenland wintered in Newfoundland about the year 1000, they called it Vinland (Wineland) the Good. Although the site of the first known white settlement on the North American mainland was at Newfoundland, Canada's easternmost province was the last to join the dominion. In 1949 the coast of Labrador and the adjacent island became the tenth Canadian province.
Five centuries after the Vikings abandoned their Vinland colony, the island was rediscovered by John Cabot, who called it the "new founde lande." Ships from England, France, Portugal, and Spain anchored at the island for almost a century before England claimed it in 1583 as its first overseas colony. At that time St. John's, now the provincial capital, was a flourishing settlement. The city lies adjacent to the Grand Banks, the world's richest fishing grounds, and boasts the best natural harbor in the country.
St. John's represents the progress of Canada's youngest province. Modern buildings stand beside structures dating from the reign of Queen Anne. Oceangoing vessels powered by diesel engines pass masted fishing boats in the harbor. At Cabot Tower, which guards the entrance to the harbor, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message (see Marconi). Since the island is more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) closer to Europe than is New York State, it is the major terminus for most transatlantic cables (see Cables). It is also an outpost of Canadian and United States defense.
The island lies across the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, separated from Nova Scotia on the southwest by the 60-mile- (97-kilometer-) wide Cabot Strait. The Strait of Belle Isle, only 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 kilometers) wide, separates it from Labrador. The area of the island is 43,359 square miles (112,299 square kilometers). Labrador covers 112,826 square miles (292,218 square kilometers). The Avalon peninsula in the southeastern corner of the island is the easternmost point of North America after Greenland. On April 15, 1912, the British liner Titanic sank south of the Grand Banks.
Province of Two Natural Regions
The entire island of Newfoundland is within the Appalachian Region. This is part of the highlands region that extends southward to Alabama in the United States. A very small part of the Labrador coast on the Strait of Belle Isle also belongs to this physiographic region. All the rest of Labrador is in the vast, rocky plateau called the Canadian Shield, or Laurentian Plateau, which covers about half of Canada. (See also Canada, "Natural Environment"; Appalachian Highlands; Laurentian Plateau.)
Appalachian Region. The island of Newfoundland is shaped roughly like an equilateral triangle with sides of about 300 miles (480 kilometers). The coastline is deeply indented. The island's many large bays are dotted with smaller islands and provide sheltered harbors.
The Appalachian Region has several subdivisions. The highest elevations are along the west coast in the Newfoundland Highlands. The Long Range Mountains reach a maximum height of 2,673 feet (815 meters) in the Lewis Hills northeast of Cape St. George. On their western edge the mountains fall steeply to a low coastal plain, the Belle Isle Coastal Belt. The Humber River rises in the Long Range Mountains. It flows through Deer Lake, cuts a deep gorge through the mountains, and enters the sea in Humber Arm. Corner Brook, Newfoundland's second largest city, is located here.
The Grand Lake Lowland splits the Newfoundland Highlands in the northwest. It extends inland from White Bay to the south end of long, narrow Grand Lake. South of Boone Bay are such isolated uplands as the southern Long Range and Anguille mountains, the Blue Hills of Couteau, and the Annieopsquotch Mountains. They are separated by deep valleys and fjords that extend inland for many miles. The St. George's Lowland borders part of the southwest coast and separates the Anguille Mountains from the southern Long Range Mountains.
From the coastal mountains the plateau slopes downward to the southeast. The elevation reaches 2,000 feet (610 meters) above sea level. It is a rocky land with low ranges of hills called Partridgeberry Hills and Middle Ridge. There are many lakes and bogs and broad, shallow river valleys. Heavily forested areas alternate with treeless barrens. The plateau falls to the southern coast in cliffs 300 to 500 feet (90 to 150 meters) high.
The Baie d'Espoir Lowland extends inland into the Atlantic Uplands from the head of one of the southcentral bays. The Terra Nova is the chief river in the Atlantic Uplands. St. John's, the capital and largest city of the province, is on the Avalon peninsula in the southeastern part of the uplands.
West of Bonavista Bay is Terra Nova National Park. It covers an area of 152 square miles (394 square kilometers). The coastal edge of the park is spectacular with rocky headlands and deep fjords. The interior is a wild region of forests, barrens, and rocky hills.
In the north-central part of the island between the two highland areas is the Central Lowland. It reaches an elevation of 1,000 feet (300 meters). The Exploits and Gander are the longest rivers. Grand Falls and Windsor, located on the Exploits River, and Gander are the area's largest communities.
Canadian Shield. Labrador is a great plateau 1,000 to 3,000 feet (300 to 900 meters) in elevation. In the extreme north, Cirque Mountain in the Torngats reaches 5,160 feet (1,573 meters). This is the highest point in the province. The bleak, treeless coastline is steep and forbidding. Almost all of Labrador is drained by the Churchill River, known for Churchill Falls.
Labrador's few people live in small fishing villages in sheltered bays on the coast and in the communities at the iron mines on the Quebec border in the west. Goose Bay and its suburb Happy Valley have grown up on the outskirts of Goose Bay Airport.
The climate of the island varies considerably. On the west coast it is sunny both winter and summer. In the southeast it is damp and foggy much of the year. The fogs are caused by warm, moist winds blowing off the Gulf Stream mixing with cold air over the Labrador Current from the Arctic Ocean. Winter may last from November to May, but the temperature seldom falls below zero. At St. John's the average January temperature is 26.1o F (-3.3o C) and the July average, 61.1o F (16.2o C). Annual precipitation at St. John's totals 41.57 inches (106 centimeters) with snowfall of 141.5 inches (359 centimeters).
Labrador has a far more severe, subarctic climate. Temperature extremes of 100o F (37.8o C) at Goose Bay and -55o F (-48.3o C) at Ashuanipi, on the upper course of the Churchill River, and Sandgirt Lake have been recorded.