In 1840, an American clergyman named Robert Lowell described Newfoundland as “a monstrous mass of rock and gravel, almost without soil, like a strange thing from the bottom of the deep, lifted up, suddenly, into sunshine and storm.” The island of Newfoundland, which forms the southern and eastern portion of the province, is a large triangular-shaped area of some 112,000 square kilometers. The coastline, stretching over more than 17,000 kilometers, consists of headlands, fiords and many small coves and offshore islands. The interiors of both Labrador and Newfoundland have a rolling, rugged topography. Much of the island and southern and central Labrador is covered by a thick forest of black spruce and balsam fir mixed with birch, tamarack and balsam poplar. Northern Labrador has very little forest and is marked by the huge Torngat Mountains, which rise from the sea to heights of up to 1676 meters.
Newfoundland’s climate can best be described as moderate and maritime. The island enjoys winters that are surprisingly mild by Canadian standards, though with a high rate of precipitation. Labrador, by comparison, has the cold winters and brief summers characteristic of the Canadian mid-North. The winter in Newfoundland is very cold and summer is mild. Waterproof clothing is worn throughout the year.
The province’s present population of approximately 574,000 is largely descended from settlers from southwestern England and southern Ireland who immigrated to Newfoundland in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The pattern of settlement was determined by the fishing industry, a population distribution that has persisted to this day. The Avalon Peninsula and northeastern Newfoundland, the traditional base for the fisheries, are the most heavily populated areas.
Newfoundland and Labrador are highly dependent on the resource sector. The province was initially settled because of its rich fishing grounds on the Grand Banks. The mainstay of the province’s fishing industry has been groundfish (primarily cod); however, other important catches are flounder, redfish, capelin, shrimp and crab. The second facet of the provincial economy is mining. This industry ships mineral products valued at approximately $700 million a year, mostly iron ore from Labrador. Other minerals mined in the province are gold, asbestos, lime stone and gypsum. In 1994, a major discovery of nickel, copper and cobalt was made at Voisey Bay and a significant development project is now under way.
The discovery of offshore oil and gas reserves has added a new dimension to the marine resources of the province. The Hibernia discovery in 1979 was Newfoundland’s first significant oil find; reserves are estimated at 615 million barrels. The province’s largest utility industry is electric power. The largest hydroelectric facility is located in Churchill Falls, Labrador.