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Canada Travel

Dildo, Newfoundland Travel Tale

In a province known for wacky monikers like Tickle Cove, Witless Bay and Come by Chance, one place still manages to stand out. Dildo. I had purposely avoided Dildo, not wanting to be another curious tourist stopping by simply because of the name. But as the sun sank lower in the sky, my husband Rick and I began to run out of options.

It’s our last full day in Newfoundland after a 10-day tour. We’re heading back to St. John’s from Bonavista, a 300-kilometre drive. The highways are empty, so we cruise at a leisurely pace, hoping to spend the night outside of the city. But travelling on the fly has its downside. We discover that much of the better accommodation is seasonal, and this is late October – the season is about to end.

Each successive town brings another disappointment, as Rick asks around for suggestions and I dial furiously on my cellphone. “Don’t drive at night,” we are warned. “You’ll hit a moose.”

Moose be damned, I am holding out for four-star lodgings. Unfortunately, the only promising stop on the map is Dildo. Our guide book shows several highly rated establishments that are open year-round, including a four-and-a-half star bed and breakfast overlooking Trinity Bay. My call nets only an answering machine, but we venture in anyway.

Dildo is a small community of about 1,200 people, some 15 kilometres off the Trans-Canada Highway. Fishing and whaling initially attracted settlers, though today the main industry is tourism and heritage preservation. The Dildo Interpretation Centre is well-known for its fine collection of Beothuk Indian and Dorset Inuit artifacts excavated from an island in the mouth of the harbour.

Boat tours to see the archeological digs are also available. We catch an exhilarating whiff of fresh sea air as we enter town, and pull into our bed and breakfast at the same time as the owner.

The Inn By The Bay, built in 1888, is one of two establishments run by the same proprietor. It is right across the road from the ocean, while further up the hill sits George House Heritage B&B, with an art gallery and boutique. Close by is Dildo’s Kountry Kravins ‘n’ Krafts, a coffee shop that also offers local souvenirs.

The inn is welcoming, decorated in a palette of muted earth tones and furnished with tasteful antiques. There is also the odd curiosity thrown in, like a stuffed baby seal. Our room is stylishly elegant, with nary a doily in sight. An overstuffed club chair from the 1940s provides a comfortable spot to relax and the queen bed is dressed in a plush, down-filled duvet. Now assured of a fabulous place to sleep, we go to watch the sun set.

The harbour is sheltered and picturesque. Gentle waves lap against a pebbly beach. Clusters of frame houses perch on the dusky hillside. Half a dozen pricey fishing boats are moored at the docks and beside them, a couple of fishermen sit on a wooden bench, smoking. One of them reminds me of the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island. We stop and chat about real estate, the fishing industry, the weather… just about everything but the town’s name.

It’s not that anyone seems to be shy about using it; there is also South Dildo, Dildo Pond and Dildo Island. The name may have had its origins in the Spanish port of Bilbao, or it may come from the Portuguese, or the native Indians. But no one really knows and no one really cares. I’m sure the locals have heard it all. A while back, a proposal to change the town’s name was strongly voted down.

We meander along the shore, admiring the final pink and orange efforts of the setting sun. Later on, we’ll savour a home-cooked meal at a nearby diner. I’ll enjoy a delicious macaroni and cheese casserole while Rick tucks into a hot turkey sandwich. But right now, as the sun sets over Trinity Bay, the moon is rising over Dildo. And the next time we hear the word, we’ll think of this pretty fishing village instead of, well, the other thing.

This article and illustration was featured in the Globe and Mail.

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