The Rock Bottom for Icebergs

The Rock Bottom for Icebergs

Twelve thousand years before bartenders started serving up frosty vodka and tonics, the principle ingredient of an unusual Canadian liquor had already begun its formation. The aptly named Iceberg  Vodka is the only vodka in the world made from icebergs, a source of water so pure that contaminants are undetectable, even in parts per quadrillion. Every spring the Iceberg Vodka Corporation (IVC) harvests tonnes of glacial ice gathered off Newfoundland’s east coast, from the region’s famous Iceberg Alley, and processes the bounty at their facility in St John’s. The iceberg water is blended with alcohol that is triple-distilled from Ontario sweet corn. It’s the purity of the iceberg water that lends the vodka its clean finish, a taste that has IVC vodka top marks at prestigious international tasting events.

Founded in 1994, the company began gathering its first icebergs a year later. During harvesting, the physical challenge of trying to haul a 3-5 tonne chunk of hard ice onto a fishing boat are immense. Some icebergs weigh in at an astounding 500 million tonnes. However, the IVC crew only net “growlers” or “bergie bits” – chunks of ice that have fallen off the main body of an iceberg. The ice is crushed and melted, then blended and bottled locally by the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation. The Government of Newfoundland, which issues water usage permits, regulates the harvest carefully. The environmental impact is minimal given that Iceberg Alley is essentially rock bottom for icebergs as they melt into the Atlantic Ocean on their southerly path.

The “Screech In” Ceremony

The "Screech In" Ceremony


  • 1 victim (a foreign one)
  • 1 native Newfoundlander or more (only ones allowed to perform the ceremony)
  • A real fish (preferably a cod – but any whole fish will do – just make sure it’s dead).
  • A Sou’Wester (or pink woolly hat?)
  • A bottle of Screech Rum


  1. The ceremony host has the victim stand in front of a group of witnesses while wearing the Sou’Wester (does a pink woolly hat count?). The host holds up the fish for the victim to kiss it… on the lips (gruesome!).
  2. The host and witnesses have the final say on whether the kiss is sufficient to continue. Sometimes 2 or more kisses may have to be administered.
  3. Next, the host pours a generous shot of Screech. This is handed to the victim and he or she has to repeat the following, before drinking, and while holding the glass high:
    “Long may your big jib draw”
  4. The victim is then presented with a “Screech In” Certificate – in recognition of their achievement – and welcomed into “The Royal Order of Screechers”.

Cod Kissing, Rum Swigging

Cod Kissing, Rum Swigging

Yay! Lucky Globe Trekker Zoe D’Amato gets to kiss a cod (dead one) and swig the local rum…

Cod kissing  “Screech In” Ceremony is a traditional seafaring way of welcoming outsiders to Newfoundland Island. It’s also the best possible way of going native, that is if you weren’t born there. If you survive the ceremony (and live to tell the tale) you earn the title of “Honorary Newfoundlander”.

So how did it all begin? One theory goes like this… the Americans set up a military base on Newfoundland Island during WW2. At that time West Indies Demerara Rum was very popular with the locals. It was brought in, bottled, and sold in an unlabelled bottles. One night, an American serviceman was out drinking with some locals and – eager to try this potent local tipple – he took a shot of the rum. Mamma miaaa!!! His heart almost stopped beating…!

When he was able to breathe again, the American let rip a loud noise (from his mouth) that was later described as a blood curdling “screech”. The name stuck and the rest is history 🙂

So that’s the story of how Zoe became a true Newfoundlander. But, she’s from Nova Scotia. Does that count?

The Titanic Staircase

The Titanic Staircase

Yesterday our Eastern Canada crew visited Ryan Mansion in St. John’s, Newfoundland Island. This historic home was built by James Ryan during the period between 1909 and 1911 – which is around the same time as the Titanic. Ryan was probably the wealthiest man in Newfoundland and no expense was spared during the construction of his opulent abode. Italian tiles, finely carved mantles, crystal and bevelled glass from Waterford were all imported from the Old World.

Among these treasures, was  a finely crafted staircase carved from English white oak which was custom crafted by the same crafts people that fitted the Grand Staircase of The Titanic. As Titanic was celebrated to be the most luxurious liner of all time, Ryan Mansion (or “The House”) was lauded as the most extravagant home in the history of St. Johns.

Today Ryan Mansion is an exclusive, boutique hotel which offers themed “Titanic Getaways” and “Titanic Dinners” with sumptuous fare served on replica Titanic tableware. Recent illustrious guests include Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.

Enough to give you a bit of a sinking feeling…?

Zoe D'Amato, The Ryan Mansion

Zoe D’Amato, The Ryan Mansion

John Cabot and a Tale of 2 Towers

John Cabot and a Tale of 2 Towers

John Cabot – or Giovanni Caboto in Italian, meaning either “coastal seaman”, or, according to some “big head” – was born in Genoa c.1450. In 1476 he married a young woman called Mattea and, after travelling widely as a merchant, they moved to England and settled in the port of Bristol which was the second-largest seaport in England at that time. From then on  his explorations were made under the English flag and Bristol was his base.

Giovanni Caboto, aka John Cabot

Giovanni Caboto, aka John Cabot

The voyage that saw him and his crew discover the North American mainland – the first Europeans known to do so since the Vikings – took place in 1497, five years after Christopher Columbus‘ discovery of the Caribbean. In May of that year, with the support of the Tudor King Henry VII and a  group of Bristol merchants, he sailed west from Bristol on the 70ft. long Matthew(= Matteo in Italian, he named it after his wife) with a crew of 18, hoping to find a westerly route to Asia and its spice trade. One of his main backers was the Sheriff of Bristol, Richard Amarke, who  asked that any “new found lands” should be named after him in return for his patronage.

On 24 June, 34 days after leaving England, Cabot sighted land – which he mistakenly believed was Asia – called it “New-Found-Land” and claimed it for England. He and his crew  brought back several pieces of evidence of their voyage, including a needle for making nets, a snare for catching animals, and the jawbone of a whale. Cabot returned to England and presented his findings to King Henry.

In May 1498, he set out on a further voyage  from Bristol, with a fleet of 4 or 5 ships. His goal? To discover Japan. However, the fate of the expedition is uncertain – one of the ships returned storm-damaged to Ireland. The others were never heard of again. It’s thought that Cabot eventually reached North America but never managed to make the return voyage across the Atlantic.

Cabot Tower, Signal Hill, Newfoundland

Cabot Tower, Signal Hill, Newfoundland

It seems there are 4 theories about Cabot’s likely fate:

  1. He was lost at sea during a voyage which set out in 1498 (Polydore Vergil Anglica Historia c. 1512-13).
  2. He was killed at a spot in Newfoundland called Grates Cove. The inscription ‘Jo Cabotto’ on a rock in the cove, a broken sword of Italian origin, and silver Venetian earrings were discovered a few years after his disappearance.
  3. He followed the mainland southwards in 1498 and met his fate at the hands of the Spanish. The Spanish adventurer Hojeda reported meeting ‘certain Englishmen’ in the Caribbean at this time.
  4. Last, and most likelyhe returned home safely after this voyage and died later at an unknown date. His pension continued to be paid unti1 1499.



The Cabot Tower at Signal Hill National Historic Site St. John’s Newfoundland, is the city’s most visible landmark. It was built in 1900 to honour two notable events: the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It was also used as a Marconi wireless station – and it was here that Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi famously received his first transmission across the Atlantic from Cornwall, England in 1901.


Cabot Tower, Bristol (UK)

Cabot Tower, Brandon Hill, Bristol (UK)

There’s a second Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill, Bristol (UK). It was built to commemorate John Cabot in 1898, 400 years after The Mattew set sail from Bristol and landed in Newfoundland. Designed by architect was William Venn Gough, it stands 105 feet (32m) tall and is built from red sandstone amd covered with Bath Stone. A winding, spiral staircase leads up to 2 viewing platforms with sweeping views across the city and port of Bristol. At the foot of the tower, a commemorative plaques reads:

“This tablet is placed here by the Bristol branch of the Peace Society in the earnest hope that peace and friendship may ever continue between the kindred peoples of this country and America ‘Glory to God in the highest and on Earth, peace, good will towards men’ Luke 2.14.”

john_cabot_house_veniceBy Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Globe Trekker Eastern Canada

zoe-d-amato-airportWoo, hoo…! And they’re off!
Follow the Globe Trekker film crew and host – Zoe D’Amato – on our Eastern Canada TV shoot. Their 3,000km journey starts on the Avalon Peninsula, in Newfoundland & Labrador, the oldest and most easterly part of North America.

Next, we travel south west to the maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, known for their rugged coastlines, natural beauty and delicious fresh fish. We then head inland and sample Quebec’s European culture and old-world charm and party at the New France Festival.

Last off, we reach Ontario, where we experience the dizzying heights of Toronto’s mega CN Tower and the thundering magnificence of the Niagara Falls.

Yay! Welcome to Eastern Canada!