Celebrating the Soul of French America

Celebrating the Soul of French America

Fêtes de la Nouvelle France / New France Festival (August 4th – 8th, 2011)

One thing has remained constant in the heritage of Quebec City: It has always been the heart and soul of French North America.

Zoe D’Amato visits Old Quebec and travels back in time to the 18th century where thousands of people roam the cobbled streets dressed in period costume, enjoying the food and entertainment on offer.

She meets a small army of characters: from musicians, singers, dancers, street performers, storytellers and costumed pioneers – to a parade of 16ft. papier maché giants of historical characters: Captaine Vaillant, Monsieur de Taillon and Nicolas dit Noble Coeur.

From all over Quebec, Acadia, Canada, and Louisiana (the Cajuns), people of French heritage return to be immersed in French history and culture.

Zoe D'Amato at Fêtes de la Nouvelle France, Quebec

Zoe D’Amato at Fêtes de la Nouvelle France, Quebec

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! The very lucky 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