Newfoundland island lies at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and is bounded on the north, east, and south by the Atlantic Ocean and separated on the northwest from Labrador by the Strait of Belle Isle. Off Newfoundland's south shore lies the French overseas department of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. Labrador, part of the Labrador-Ungava peninsula, forms the northeastern tip of the Canadian mainland. It is bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean down to the Strait of Belle Isle and on the south and west by Quebec. Cape Chidley, Labrador's northernmost point, is on the Hudson Strait.
Newfoundland has a rocky, deeply indented coast. Most of the island is a plateau, with many lakes and marshes; forests cover less than half the area. The inland wilderness abounds with fur-bearing animals, waterfowl, and fish; caribou graze on the tundra of the north. The Grand Banks, south of the island, was once one of the best cod-fishing areas in the world, but overfishing has severely depleted stocks, and the Atlantic cod fisheries were closed in 2003. The province has a generally cool and moist climate. In Labrador, the cold Labrador current brings below-freezing temperatures eight months of the year.
Most of Newfoundland's inhabitants are of English or Irish descent, but in sparsely populated Labrador the inhabitants are largely Inuit and Montagnais-Naskapi. The Beothuk, an indigenous people on the island of Newfoundland, died out in the 19th cent., presumably of European diseases. The population is centered on the island's southeastern Avalon Peninsula, the province's most important commercial and administrative region. The capital and largest city is St. John's. Corner Brook is the third largest city (following the St. John's suburb of Mount Pearl) and the second urban center in importance.
Labrador's cold climate and lack of transportation facilities have combined to retard economic development. However, Labrador is rich in mineral resources (iron, zinc, copper, asbestos, gold, oil, natural gas, nickel, cobalt), timber, and water power. Exploitation of the tremendous iron reserves in the southwest, begun in the 1950s, and the growth of the logging industry have brought new towns and roads, and the province provides about half of Canada's iron ore. There is a giant hydroelectric project at Churchill Falls. Oil fields discovered off the Newfoundland coast began production in 1997. Enormous newly found nickel-copper-cobalt deposits at Voisey's Bay, in NE Labrador, have been explored but not yet exploited.
Flounder, redfish, herring, salmon, lobster, and crab are among catches in the coastal waters. The processing of fish and the manufacture of wood products are also important. There are large pulp and paper mills at Grand Falls and Corner Brook, both on Newfoundland. Agriculture in the province is limited by the unfavorable soil and climate, and much of the food supply must be imported.
Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland is at St. John's.
Vikings visited the area of Newfoundland c.1000 and briefly established a settlement (the sole confirmed Viking site in North America) on Newfoundland at L'Anse aux Meadows. After the two voyages of John Cabot at the end of the 15th cent., fishermen and explorers from several European countries came to the area. In 1535-36, Jacques Cartier sailed through the Cabot Strait and the Strait of Belle Isle. Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed Newfoundland for England in 1583, and the first year-round settlers arrived in 1610. France contested England's claims, and Newfoundland changed hands several times.
The Treaty of Paris of 1763 definitively awarded Newfoundland and Labrador (where the French had established trading posts) to Great Britain. France retained the fishing rights on the northwest coast of Newfoundland that had been granted by the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 and was also awarded St. Pierre and Miquelon. In 1783 the "French Shore" was redefined to include the entire western coast.
In the early 19th cent. the Hudson's Bay Company developed the fur trade, and this, together with the expansion of the fishing industry, led to increased immigration from Europe, particularly Ireland. Representative government was introduced in 1832 and parliamentary government in 1855. The port of Heart's Content became the western terminus of the transatlantic cable in 1866. In 1869, Newfoundland voters rejected union with Canada; in 1895, after a disastrous fire in St. John's and the failure of local banks, negotiations to join Canada resumed but were unsuccessful.
Relatively little attention had been paid to Labrador, but in 1895 iron ore was discovered in the Grand Falls (now Churchill Falls) region. As part of the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale of 1904, France abandoned the French Shore. Possession of Labrador was disputed by Quebec and Newfoundland until 1927, when the British privy council demarcated the western boundary, enlarged Labrador's land area, and confirmed Newfoundland's title to it. The Canadian government accepted the decision, but Quebec has never officially recognized the boundary.
During the depression of the 1930s, Britain suspended Newfoundland's self-government and assumed administrative and financial control. Actual authority was exercised by a joint commission of Newfoundlanders and British. During World War II, U.S. and British military bases were established in Labrador and on Newfoundland.
After the war Newfoundland voted to join Canada, and in 1949 it became Canada's 10th province. Joseph Smallwood, a Liberal who led the drive to join Canada, became premier and held office until 1972, when the Progressive Conservatives gained a majority under Frank Moores and later (1979) A. Brian Peckford. Peckford was displaced 10 years later by Liberal Clyde K. Wells, and Wells was succeeded in 1996 by Liberal Brian Tobin, who was reelected in 1999. In the mid-1990s the province faced high unemployment and was hurt by the collapse of the cod-fishing industry, although a 1992 government ban on all cod fishing was partly lifted in 1997. Liberal Roger Grimes succeeded Tobin as premier in 2001; the province was officially renamed Newfoundland and Labrador the same year. The reclosing of the Altantic cod fisheries in 2003 led to tensions between the province and the national government. In the 2003 assembly elections the Progressive Conservative party swept the Liberals from power; Danny Williams became premier. In 2005, as a result of a land claim settlement, Nunatsiavut, a large, self-governing Inuit area in N and central E Labrador, was established. Williams and his party won handily again in 2007.
Newfoundland and Labrador sends six senators and seven representatives to the national parliament.
See D. Henderson, The Heart of Newfoundland (1965); G. W. S. J. Chadwick, Newfoundland: Island into Province (1967); R. South, Biogeography and Ecology of the Island of Newfoundland (1983); P. F. Neary, Newfoundland in the North Atlantic World, 1929-1949 (1988).