The Paleoindians walked into Labrador 9000 years ago, and realized it was damn cold. The Vikings, led by Leif Eriksson, washed ashore further south at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland in AD 1000. They established North America’s first European settlement – 500 years ahead of Columbus – but it was still cold, so they headed home to Iceland.
John Cabot (Italian-born Giovanni Caboto) sailed around the shores of Newfoundland next. It was 1497, and he was employed by England’s Henry VII. He returned to Bristol a hero, with news of finding a new and shorter route to Asia. For his troubles, the king rewarded him with the royal sum of £10. While Cabot was badly mistaken, his stories of cod stocks so prolific that one could nearly walk on water spread quickly throughout Europe.
Soon the French, Portuguese, Spanish and Basques were also fishing off Newfoundland’s coast. There were no permanent settlements on the island, and the fishing crews returned to Europe with their bounties at the end of each season. The English fishers’ primary base was St John’s, while the French congregated around Placentia and the Port au Port Peninsula. In the end it was the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht that finally ceded all of Newfoundland to England.
Despite fighting so hard for the territory, England spent more than a century trying to stop English settlement here. Laws were passed against everything from farming and tree cutting to having a stove in a shelter. England believed settlements would be less valuable than the migratory fishery. The fishery was also the informal training ground of the mighty English navy. In the end, the persistence of Newfoundlanders won out, and their lives would thrive on the fishery until the late 20th century.
The settlements did not have the same thriving effect on the Beothuk, however. Newfoundland’s Aboriginal people fared poorly against the diseases and land conflicts introduced by Europeans, and by 1829 the Beothuk had died out.
Ever true to its independent spirit, Newfoundland was the last province to join Canada, doing so in 1949. Labrador teamed up with Newfoundland in province-dom in 2001, and thus the official name became Newfoundland and Labrador.