Two years ago, when Toronto writer and poet Souvankham Thammavongsa was working on her last book, the Giller Prize–winning How to Pronounce Knife, she needed a quiet, distraction–free place to write. It didn’t take long for her to land on Carbonear, Newfoundland and Labrador. She’d come across the small town on the Avalon Peninsula on a previous trip to the East Coast and was struck by the kindness of the people there. Plus, she knew it had all the things she needed in a writing retreat. “I wanted a place where I could go for nice walks and be isolated.” When she wasn’t writing, though, she was exploring the town and making friends with locals, one of whom invited her to his shed for a Jiggs’ dinner, a Newfoundland spin on a Sunday roast. “The food was as beautiful and tasty as anything you’d find in a high–end restaurant – it was phenomenal.”
A guide to Carbonear: Iceberg–watching, Jiggs’ dinners and where to stock up on snacks.
Souvankham’s 5 Spots in Carbonear
Railway Station Museum —This used to be a real train station. There’s still an old, rusted train that sits on the track. I loved soaking up the sun on the platform, which is open to the public.
Butt’s Esso & Convenience —Carbonear’s mayor, Frank Butt (who was running for provincial office at time of writing), owns the gas station and you can sometimes catch him filling in for the cashier. (It is a great place to get to know people, rather than sitting in an office.) There’s a good selection of snacks, including the most delicious homemade pies.
Green Door Book Store —The selection here is wonderfully curated by the owner, an English–literature professor from Alabama who has excellent taste in books and records. While I was there, I bought Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, Janis Ian’s Between the Lines and Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I Might See. And I bought The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers. I have many copies, but any time I see this book I always make sure I buy it so I can give it away.
Sophia’s Heritage Inn —This isn’t like a hotel where every room looks the same, so it’s beautiful to see the artistic choices they made. It’s a 19th–century home and each suite is individually decorated with its own bedding, textiles and paint colour – like deep red and dusky pink. Some rooms have a view of the ocean or garden, and they all feel different. And the chef is amazing; every morning, she makes the most wonderful breakfast – I don’t know how she does it, but somehow, eggs and bacon just taste better here.
Baccalieu Coastal Drive —There are so many pretty towns along this route, but when you get to Carbonear there is an openness and warmth that makes you want to stay just a bit longer. Driving along, you might see an iceberg floating majestically offshore. You can also often spot whales. Maybe it will just be a spout of water, or a back breaking the surface, or the tip of a tail – regardless, you hold your breath.