Sunday, 24 August 2014

Leaving for the Rock

A friend and I leave tomorrow for two weeks in Newfoundland. My interest has had me reading here and there, including one novel and two memoirs about Newfoundland (Proulx, Mcfarlane, Johnston) and talking with another friend and Newfoundlander Brian O'Dea (who, having been born in Newfoundland in 1948, was not born in Canada).

My initial impressions, soon to be given reality...

That Newfoundland was its own country from 1907 to 1949 with its own flag, currency and government ( and it drove on the left). That this country sent voluntarily a regiment to fight alongside the British, Canadians and French in World War One. These young men were almost totally wiped out on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 at a place called Beaumont Hamel. And the Newfoundlander patois, almost on its way to a language, is another example of its uniqueness.

That Newfoundland joining Canada in 1949 was not eagerly jumped at, and probably a mistake (many thought so at the time and later). Britain applied pressure for confederation, and one of the options was joining the United States. In the first referendum the Confederation side actually had fewer votes than the anti-confederates. In the second the Confederates squeaked through. Many Newfoundlanders had their hearts broken by the event.

That the country always looked to the sea, there were few roads until recently (why bother when everything was on the coast and you could sail there), the life was fishing and boatbuilding and sealing. It was the sea, the sea, the sea.

That Newfoundland has been a place of severe poverty, isolation, disease, tragedy and hardship resulting in problems like incest and alcoholism. Nevertheless a place of spirited people and vibrant culture and natural beauty. A place of stark simplicity and dramatic contrasts.

That it's pronounced New-fn-land, not New-found-ln.

“The Rock” that sat on the edge of the world, largely unnoticed, for centuries, becoming more and more what it was with a vengeance without anyone interfering or caring. Becoming popular now that the global culture craves romantic novelty.

That Newfoundland stands as a demonstration of a people, and its culture, grappling with huge and rapid change. That confederation and the almost total disappearance of the cod has so changed the place as to render our trip in someways perhaps thirty years too late.

That I can't wait to be there.

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