Anytime someone ventures beyond the overpass, they’re going “around the bay.”

It doesn’t matter what direction you’re going, what way the compass is pointing, or how far from the water you’re going to be; when one travels past Conception Bay South, they’re “around the bay.”

To better understand our unspoken agreement on this particular prepositional phrase, we checked in with Dr. Philip Hiscock, a specialist in the folklore of Newfoundland and Labrador. Dr. Hiscock has a background in custom, song, language, and their contemporary evolution.

“When you talk of transportation a hundred and fifty years ago, you realize [it was ] almost all … by water,” says Hiscock. “People’s regions in Newfoundland were bays and shores.  We never had a county system, [we] had an informal organisation, based on bays.”

“If you were a merchants’ dealer (someone supplying local merchants), you might travel to all your buyers by going one community at a time in your boat,” says Hiscock. “You’d literally go around the edge of the bay.”

The idea of “around” the bay was reinforced with the institution of the railway. When the railway was put in place, travelers could leave St John’s on an arc that would take them to Carbonear—around the bay—and eventually all the way to the Baie Verte Peninsula.

“For Townies, that phrase came to mean all the outings you might make beyond Topsail—you’d go around the Bay to Holyrood, and so on.”

The Expression Was Based in Boats Literally Travelling “Around the Bay,”
And Then Solidified in Song

Johnny Burke at the 1903 Regatta. He also wrote “The Night Patty Murphy Died” & “Cod Liver Oil”

From there, the phrase came into wider use, and musician John Burke used it in his song “Excursion Around the Bay.”

“Probably because he knew that it was a kind of proverbial phrase, one that had the ring of a local saying about it,” says Hiscock.

“By the time long-distance roads were in place, say after the Second World War, that phrase had become fully established as a way of saying ‘out of Town,’” says Hiscock.

In other words, it had lost its original meaning of literally navigating along the edge of Conception Bay and beyond. Everywhere not in St. John’s was “around the bay.”

Hiscock points out that the usage parallels the delineation between who is considered a ‘townie’ and who is considered a ‘bayman,’ as the term ‘bayman’ can be applied to “people from Buchans or Gander, towns with no saltwater or bay anywhere near.”