Jelly Bean Houses and Other Delights in St. John’s, Newfoundland

First Impressions

Last month, I took a break from my writing and travelled back east with my husband Rob.

Jelly Bean Houses

View of St. John’s on Signal Hill

After visiting our daughter and family in Toronto, we flew via Montreal to St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland, the one Canadian province we hadn’t been to. St. John’s is the oldest city in North America (first settlers, early 1600s), which I was surprised to discover. Unfortunately, because of three major fires—1816, 1846 and 1892—much of those old buildings no longer remain.

With a population of over 200,000 which includes the metropolitan area, St. John’s is unlike any other city I’ve been to. Quite a few of the city streets are haphazardly laid out, at diagonals at times, criss-crossing in ways that can strike fear in any driver unfamiliar with its peculiar flow of traffic. It’s as if whoever had planned them did them as a joke. But that’s part of this city’s appeal and charm. Nothing is as it should be.

In case you’re wondering why we’re so bundled up in the photo, as it was early June, the weather was below normal when we were there. Still, even when the weather is better, St. John’s is pounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, making it one of the colder cities in Canada. In fact, the capital can get snowfalls as late as June. So, we were prepared but boy, it was bracing.

Jelly Bean Houses

Jelly Bean HousesTake the houses. There are blocks and blocks of brightly coloured three story homes on the hilly streets that rise from the harbour.

We heard that the locals adopted the vivid colours as a way of helping them find their homes after a night of drinking. Especially when the fog rolled in.

The truth is their colourful streets were started by one man, David Webber, who as the executive director of a heritage foundation in the mid-1970s, came up with the idea of painting a sample block in bright colours as a way of refurbishing the grim-looking city centre.

The city council liked it so much they arranged a discount Jelly Bean Houseson paint for others to follow suit.

George Street

And then there’s George Street, a pedestrian only street lined with pubs. We managed to get to one, O’Reilly’s Irish Newfoundland Pub, which was highly recommended by our hostess at the B & B we stayed in.

We lucked out at the pub with not only the food—a delicious freshly caught cod dish—but also with the entertainer. He played his guitar non-stop for a few hours and sang both Irish songs and popular ballads. Of course, you know I’m a sucker for the Irish, having traveled to Ireland and used that beautiful country for a setting in my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep

While he was playing a rousing Irish dance, a couple of elderly gentlemen, who looked like brothers, got up and clogged for a bit. Rob says they shuffled. I thought they did more than that. You be the judge.

Other Highlights

There is no shortage of things to do in St. John’s. The highlights of course were the brightly painted houses, George Street, Signal Hill with its fabulous view of St. Johns, and Cape Spears with its historic lighthouse. The latter boasted the fact that it is the most easterly point of North America.

More To Follow

I’ll be following this post up with more notes on our travels through St. John’s and the rest of the province, one I wish we’d had more time to explore. And more time to talk with the locals. You can’t find a more friendly bunch.

By the way, I took my laptop but did no writing. However, I read three books. All gems. More on that, next post.

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  1. I’ve not yet been to Newfoundland, but it’s on my list. Thanks for sharing those beautiful photos of the jellybean houses. Sounds like you had a wonderful time, and that pub looks like fun. I’m pretty sure one of those fellas is shuffling, though the other is doing a better job of it – not sure I’d say “dance.”

    • Ha. I was sure it was dancing, but now I’m outnumbered by you and Rob. Loved Newfoundland. What a unique place. Would love to go back. Highly recommend this province, but make sure, if you go, to give it more time than 9 days. There is so much to see and do.

    • It was fun, Julia, even though it was freezing. 4 degrees Celsius, so just above freezing for you Americans. 🙂 But we dressed for the weather so we were fine. Besides hitting many highlights of the province, we also hiked and went the theatre. The only thing we didn’t much of was shop, though I did buy a mug, saying Newfoundland and Labrador.

  2. One of the provinces have not been to but thinking next summer will go with friend. Thanks for sharing pictures of the bright homes reminds me of PEI and how I wanted to live in one of those homes. The people from Newfoundland always seem to be very pleasant and welcoming even when up north working.

    • Maureen, you will love it. If you need any tips of where to stay and go, let me know. I’ll be posting more in the next few ones on my blog. Nice to see you here. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jo. I thought they did more than shuffle as well. And yes, you’re right. They are like the painted ladies of San Francisco. We live in a “grey” part of the world with our rain, and I’ve been tempted to have our house painted a bright colour. Tempted only. No plans yet. 🙂 As for snow in Newfoundland, we missed it. They had it before we arrived.