St. John's, Capital of Newfoundland and Labrador

St. John's History Goes Back to the 16th Century

Brightly colored houses near ocean
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St. John's, the capital city of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, is Canada's oldest city. The first visitors from Europe arrived at the start of the 1500s and it grew as a prominent location for fisheries for the French, Spanish, Basques, Portuguese and English. Britain became the dominant European power in St. John's by the end of the 1500s, and the first permanent British settlers put down roots in the 1600s, around the same time that the first English settlements occurred in what is now Massachusetts in the U.S.

Near the harbor is Water Street, which St. John's claims is the oldest street in North America. The city shows its Old World charm in winding, hilly streets lined with colorful buildings and row houses. St. John's sits on a deepwater harbor connected by the Narrows, a long inlet, to the Atlantic Ocean.

Seat of Government

In 1832, St. John's became the seat of government of Newfoundland, an English colony at the time, when Newfoundland was granted a colonial legislature by Britain. St. John's became the capital city of the province of Newfoundland when Newfoundland joined Canadian Confederation in 1949. 

St. John covers 446.06 square kilometers or 172.22 square miles. Its population as of the 2011 Canadian census was 196,966, making it Canada's 20th largest city and the second largest in Atlantic Canada; Halifax, Nova Scotia is the largest.  The population of Newfoundland and Labrador was 528,448 as of 2016.

The local economy, depressed by the collapse of the cod fishery in the early 1990s, has been brought back to prosperity with petrodollars from off-shore oil projects. 

St. John's Climate

Despite the fact that St. John's is in Canada, a relatively cold country, the city has a moderate climate. Winters are relatively mild and the summers cool. However, Environment Canada rates St. John's more extreme in other aspects of its weather: It's the foggiest and windiest Canadian city, and it has the greatest number of days of freezing rain per year.

Winter temperatures in St. John's average around -1 degree Celsius, or 30 degrees Fahrenheit, while summer days have an average temperature around 20 degrees Celsius, or 68 degrees Fahrenheit.


This easternmost city in North America --  situated on the east side of the Avalon Peninsula in southeast Newfoundland -- is home to several interesting attractions. Of special note is Signal Hill, the site of the first transatlantic wireless communication in 1901 at Cabot Tower, which is named for John Cabot, who discovered Newfoundland.

The Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden in St. John's is a designated All-American Selections Garden, with beds of award-winning plants bred in the U.S. The garden offers visitors beautiful viewing, with more than 2,500 plant varieties. It has a superb collection of rhododendrons, with 250 types, and nearly 100 hosta cultivars. Its alpine collection displays plants from mountain ranges around the world.

Cape Spear Lighthouse is where the sun first comes up in North America—it sits on a cliff jutting out into the Atlantic on the easternmost point on the continent. It was built in 1836 and is the oldest lighthouse in existence in Newfoundland. Go there at dawn so you can say you saw the sun before anyone else in North America, a true bucket list item.

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Munroe, Susan. "St. John's, Capital of Newfoundland and Labrador." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Munroe, Susan. (2021, February 16). St. John's, Capital of Newfoundland and Labrador. Retrieved from Munroe, Susan. "St. John's, Capital of Newfoundland and Labrador." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).