Canada being the second-largest country in the world, we’re somewhat spoilt for etymological choice. We could talk about the origins of canola, the vegetable oil – and the species of rapeseed from which it is made – whose name is at least partly derived from that of the country where it was developed. We could also talk about the origin of the expression Canadian mosaic, a term coined in the 1920s to refer to the patchwork of ethnicities and cultures that comprised twentieth-century Canada.
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We could explain why Jerusalem artichokes are also known as Canada potatoes, or why windcheaters are sometimes nicknamed canadiennes (spoiler alert: it’s the weather). Or why a sofa that can be folded out into a double bed is known as a Winnipeg couch (spoiler alert: no one knows).
But our final stop in North America before heading back across the Atlantic Ocean is the easternmost of Canada’s thirteen provinces. Newfoundland, a former colony of Great Britain, rescinded its independence to become the tenth province to join the Canadian Confederation in 1933. In 2001 it officially changed its name to Newfoundland and Labrador to reflect the geographical and cultural divide that splits the region in two.
Geographically, the Labrador peninsula forms the province’s mainland half, while the Atlantic island of Newfoundland comprises the rest. Despite being attached to the mainland, and despite being more than twice the size of its partner, Labrador has a population of just 27,000 people, compared to Newfoundland’s 470,000. And culturally, while Newfoundland has long had historical ties to Europe and has welcomed many English, Scottish, Irish and French communities, Labrador is home to many native Inuit peoples.
The pair may have much to set them apart, but they do at least have one thing in common: both their names have since been given to two of the world’s most popular dog breeds. And what’s more, both breeds have a common ancestor on the island of Newfoundland.
The St John’s water dog, also known as the ‘lesser Newfoundland’, was a working dog that originated on the island in the sixteenth century. Probably derived from a random crossbreeding of English, Irish and other European dogs that were brought to the island by colonists at the time, the St John’s dogs were strongly built and fiercely intelligent, with dark brown or black fur, and distinctive white patches on the chest and chin. Many of these characteristics were passed on to the two breeds that eventually emerged from the St John’s gene pool over the centuries that followed: on the one hand were the retrievers, including the modern Labrador and golden retriever, and on the other were the Newfoundlands.
As their name suggests, the heavier-built Newfoundland dog probably originated on the island of Newfoundland itself: native St John’s water dogs were probably crossbred with mastiffs in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, increasing the breed’s build and strength over time to create the Newfoundland. As for the Labradors, they were partly developed on the island and partly on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Great Britain.
After the first St John’s dog that was brought to England arrived there in the early 1800s, breeding programmes were put in place to create a breed of retriever that was smart, fast and energetic. The breed that emerged kept the name of the dogs’ ancestral home – and the first Labradors as we would recognise them today appeared in the mid 1800s.
There’s a reason why the Jerusalem artichoke didn’t make our itinerary: it has nothing at all to do with Jerusalem. In fact, its name is a corruption of the Italian word for a sunflower, girasole, which the artichoke is supposed to resemble.
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