Being a Canadian in Newfoundland

Hello, Internet, it’s Saturday, July 7th, and I’m having so much fun in Grand Bank! We are opening a show tonight. Go here for details.

Last week was an interesting one for a Come From Away Canadian living in Newfoundland, as it contained both July 1st and July 2nd, 2012. And there are a couple of historical events that are very, very important to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that go more or less forgotten by the rest of Canada that make those two dates, for two very different reasons, rather complicated.

July 1st, 1867

Confederation of the Dominion of Canada, which, at the time, consisted of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In actuality this was just the official date that the British North America Act – a bill passed through the British House of Commons, creating a new country out of several existing provinces – was to take effect. The whole thing had been passed and was ready to go 3 months earlier.

Gradually, of course, Canada grew as other primarily British colonies and provinces added themselves onto it, and we are fond of saying things like “Coast to Coast”, since the country now spans the entire continent from East to West. Newfoundland was the last province to join the country, in living memory – 1949.

July 1st, 1916

At the Battle of the Somme, the 801 men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment received orders to advance from a trench well behind the Allied front lines, alone and without cover, on German lines. Previous attacks on the German artillery had been unsuccessful, and the men were walking into artillery and machine gun fire for more than 200 metres. They suffered a 90% casualty rate. 68 men answered roll call on July 2nd.

It’s the kind of horrific story that we should never forget. 96 years later, July 1st is Memorial Day in Newfoundland.

July 2nd, 1992

This is the day that the Government of Canada imposed a 2-year moratorium on the Newfoundland cod fishery, which ended 20,000 jobs and dropped the province’s economy to new depths. That moratorium is still in place today, 20 years later. It’s only offshore oil that’s pulled the province out of the red in recent years – not something that has translated to income for the average inhabitant of the province.

It’s incredible to think that a single government announcement could have such a lasting impact, not only on an economy, but on an entire culture. There are, of course, still fishers in Newfoundland, harvesting other species of fish and shellfish, but the major industry vanished twenty years ago and shows no signs of coming back.

 

So, the past week has been one of solemn anniversaries for Newfoundlanders, and it is very strange to be both standing in the middle of it and looking at it from the outside. Someone told me about the Battle of the Somme in Grade 10 History, but that massacre was about a paragraph in my textbook. 1992 is within MY living memory (I was 7, and not super astute, yet, politically speaking), but it received no more attention than any other controversial bill in my home town of Ottawa. In fact, I remember that the adults in my life applauded the move, given what the scientists were saying about the steep decline in cod stocks.

Do I miss the uncomplicated Canada Day that is celebrated in Ottawa? Of course I do. But when Newfoundland joined Confederation, the history of Newfoundland joined along with it, and we do a disservice to the province by failing to recognize that, during the First World War, because of exceptionally poor management and communication, hundreds of Newfoundland soldiers were wiped out in a few minutes. Newfoundland is a part of the country we are celebrating, and Newfoundlanders use July 1st to remember.

Canadians ought to be remembering too.