Justin Fong was in a business meeting when he saw something odd out his picture windows overlooking the Quidi Vidi fishing village near downtown St. John’s.
It was one of those crisp October mornings when mist rises from the snug harbour locally known as the Gut. Its protected waters extend toward a narrow passage past rocky headlands and sun-bleached wharves to the fierce North Atlantic beyond.
“A bunch of taxis start showing up and these huge men start getting out, stripping down and just diving straight into the Gut,” Fong recalled.
Turns out they were rugby players from Australia who’d been at Christian’s Bar in the city’s famous George Street district the night before. Someone had told them part of the screech-in ceremony to become an honorary Newfoundlander includes rising by 10 a.m. the next day and swimming naked at Quidi Vidi.
“It wasn’t warm out,” Fong said, still laughing at the bizarre scene.
Visitors from around the world have increasingly arrived at this most photographed enclave where it’s still possible to step back in time so close to a bustling city.
Quidi Vidi is usually pronounced “Kiddy Viddy” or sometimes ”Kwy-dah Vy-dah” but there’s little agreement on where the name comes from or what it means. It could derive from the French name Quidville, according to Destination St. John’s.
Racier theories suggest there was a woman named Kitty Vitty who once ran a brothel there.
The first settlers likely arrived in the early 1500s. Quidi Vidi also played strategic military roles over the centuries as British and French forces fought for control.
Today, it’s a powerful magnet for tourism.
“It’s so much busier in the last few years,” said Fong, sales and marketing manager for the Quidi Vidi Brewery. Its craft labels, especially local favourite Iceberg Beer, sell out every summer.
The brewery is located in the former village fish plant. Quidi Vidi, like the rest of Newfoundland, felt the effects of a commercial fishing ban on northern cod in 1992 as stocks collapsed. Tourism has grown over the years, especially in the last decade.
The brewery used to host tours a couple of days a week and on weekends. They’re now daily in summer, with lineups out the door for The Kitchen Party, held Friday nights from February to November. And production has more than tripled with more expansion planned.
It’s a short walk from there to Inn of Olde, where the sign offers ”stories, beers and wood burning stoves” with owner Linda Hennebury. Pints and bowls of soup are served up in a pub mesmerizingly festooned with hundreds of collectible spoons, hockey memorabilia and other treasures.
Just down the road at Mallard Cottage, chefs at the revamped 18th-century heritage home have been showcasing local produce, wild game and fresh seafood since 2013. Reservations are strongly recommended.
The adjacent Inn by Mallard Cottage is one of Quidi Vidi’s most recent additions, opening in June. Its eight rooms offer a throwback taste of simple, comfortable outport life including colourful quilts and woolly ankle-sock slippers called “vamps.”
A few minutes by foot in the other direction is the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation, a craft hub with spectacular views and 10 studios. It helps artists develop full-time businesses and is open to the public year-round with no admission fee.
Visitors can watch as pottery, clothing, jewelry, paintings and other crafts are designed by hand and offered for purchase.
“This has always been a majestic, beautiful place,” said Erin Callahan St. John of Saucy Pots Pottery. Her cheeky creations feature all manner of Newfoundland sayings from “Who Knit You” to “Yes B’y” and much saltier lingo.
“(Quidi Vidi is) definitely in the top three things to see,” she said.
“There’s Gros Morne, Quidi Vidi, Signal Hill — if you really have the smallest amount of time.
“There’s not a lot of villages left, the way you see this, in Newfoundland.”
IF YOU GO:
For information about visits to the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation and the village:
For information on travel to Newfoundland and Labrador:
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Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press