All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Railway/Coastal Boat Service

Coastal Boat Slideshow

Painting of the S.S. Ethie. Artist: Robin Cook.
S.S. Ethie. Artist: Robin Cook

Early transportation was nearly always by water. Cod scattered the first Newfoundlanders among more than 1400 settlements along 10,000 miles of coast. Boats brought them to the fish. Boats brought them to Labrador. Boats connected them to the sea and to each other. More than a thousand little outports were connected to each other and the outside world by boat alone. The interior of Newfoundland, the sixteenth largest island in the world, was almost totally unknown. The boat brought the news, supplies, and medical assistance. It was by boat that people moved away and by boat that some came back. For hundreds of years, isolated communities depended on the arrival of the boats of the fish merchants. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, a more formal coastal boat service operated by government subsidy had evolved. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador lived much of their lives in anticipation of goods and people promised to arrive "by the next boat," their only lifeline to the outside world. Trying to connect all these little outports was a formidable task for the Railway and Coastal Services.

The Newfoundland Railway Company was the only Railway in the world which also operated a coastal Boat Service. One of these steamers connected Newfoundland with the mainland of Canada, while the remainder connected the railway with the outports it did not directly reach.

Come aboard! May the winds be in our favour!

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