Thursday, June 29, 2006

Pins Magnets and Limited Edition Rings - Everything Must Go

Act of Remembrance

I had wanted to write a piece about the 90th Anniversary of Beaumont Hamel and the dichotomy of the July 1 Holiday... but I find it difficult to put to words. With July 1 vast approaching I will offer this simple act of remembrance:

"On July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme in World War I, 800 soldiers of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment rose from the British trenches and went into battle at Beaumont-Hamel, nine kilometres north of Albert in France. The next day, only 68 men answered the regimental role call. 255 were dead, 386 were wounded, and 91 were listed as missing."

On Saturday July 1 at 8:50am in Ottawa there will be a rare acknowledgement of Newfoundland and Labrador's exceptional role in the battle of the Somme. "Canada Day" overshadows this darker day in this province. On this, the 90th Anniversary of Beaumont Hamel - Remember...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Rebranding Memorial University

It is puzzling sometimes how the pillars of acedemia can come up with some pretty stunned and useless ideas. The print shops that produce letterheads must be grinning all the way to the bank. I guess a pain in the arse for some people is the bread and butter of others.

Don't feel bad for Betsy there, the CONA/Trades and Tech/Cabot Institute cow looks like Dennis Rodman.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Reflections from the Waterfront

The lady that passes me has the soft round small featured face that tells of her Irish heritage. She has light freckles on her cheeks and as she nears she smells like the cinnamon and vanilla of the downtown shop. A scent of rose perfume lingers as she passes.

By the harbour, the fishing boats are tied up. Short gentlemen with red cheeks share a joke as they busy themselves with metal and rope that appears abstract and featureless but their care for it suggests importance. The shops behind are playing Dick Nolan which drifts on the wind like time. The sounds growing faint as they are stolen by the breeze. A shop that has sculptures, painting and crafts has the doors wide open and the smell of a kiln is in the air. A group of young people sits with their legs folded and exchange sketchbooks of drawings. The art has themes of the ocean, sails, love and lust.

A man in a black suit with a conference badge hanging on a string drops a looney into the open guitar case of a tired looking gentleman who is channeling Johnny Cash through his guitar strings. An older couple wearing Old Navy shirts are asking a guy in front of the coffee shop when they can expect to see icebergs. The conversation shifts to capelin and he tells how the silvery fish will soon begin their annual ritual along these rocky shores. He tells of standing in the ocean having your ankles messaged by thousands of silvery bellies as the ocean tides turn into a living wave for a brief moment before tossing its cargo onto the shores to die. The elderly couple smiles discreetly wondering if the man might be having a bit of fun at their expense.

A shop full of books tells of this place; of history, politics, love and war, art and nature, the Beothuck and Innuit. “The Woman who Mapped Labrador”, “Newfoundland at the Crossroads”, “The Way of the Sea”, “The Labradorians”, “This Marvellous Terrible Place”. The door is held open by smiling faces for tourists who often appear uncomfortable with the instant familiarity. Seasoned visitors return the smile and talk openly and freely about the weather, politics, the war. There is an inherent safety in being open in these parts. An unguarded familiarity among strangers that is at first uncomfortable but then embraced.

Returning from lunch past small corner pubs that smell of lobster and scallops. A green envelope in my hand on which is scribbled “Why I love this place?” It is rhetorical.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wag the Dog

The news media is a funny animal. In its claims of journalistic integrity it is non-the-less influenced by agenda and bias. The weeds of opinion propagate from it and are nurtured at the womb of public opinion where it grows. In the public eye truth is elusive. Media broadcasts to its audience blindly, not knowing who is listening or how they will respond. Like coins thrown on a sidewalk we cannot tell who will pick it up or how it will be used.

This is why it has become increasingly important to view with a critical eye. To take pause and look at the stuff under a microscope. A great deal of it is fast-food for the mind, quick and immediately gratifying but in the long run not altogether healthy.

Consider a relatively benign article that has just cropped up on the CBC website. It lists housing prices changes from May 2005 to May 2006.

Here is a sampling of average MLS home prices in May (with year-over-year changes in brackets):
* Calgary: $358,214 (+43.6%)
* Edmonton: $242,936 (+22.9%)
* Halifax-Dartmouth: $210,225 (+7.6%)
* Montreal: $219,433 (+8.2%)
* Ottawa: $260,219 (+4.7%)
* Quebec City: $150,324 (+6.9%)
* Regina: $142,147 (+10.3%)
* Saint John, N.B.: $129,844 (+12.3%)
* Saskatoon: $162,279 (+11.5%)
* Nfld. & Lab.: $133,541 (-1.2%)
* Thunder Bay, Ont.: $118,804 (-9.0%)
* Toronto: $365,537 (+5.5%)
* Vancouver: $518,176 (+23.7%)
* Winnipeg: $159,801 (+12.5%)
* Canada: $303,836 (+12.9%)

A quick look at these numbers will tell you one thing. Newfoundland and Labrador was
only one of two places with a decline in housing prices. The overall story tells how the average house in major markets has topped $300K. In this context Newfoundland and Labrador may be implied to have poor economic growth when we this as an economic indicator. But let's put it under the microscope of scrutiny. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is compared against urban centres in the rest of Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador is the only listing that has provincial stats against urban areas. The unfiltered picture of this economic indicator would have included the City's of St. John's in this comparison and the provincial stats with other provincial stats. Of course this unbiased table would have to throw the -9% from Thunder Bay back into the mix and give us a lower figure for Ontario.

So what's on the go? Is the CBC guilty of a conspiracy against this province to put some sort of negative spin on things that relate back to us, or are they simply very poor analysts; comparing apples to bakeapples? And does it really matter? This is little more than a whining complaint of this beleaguered province unless you are inclined to take the media and public opinion seriously.

Does it matter that organizations have used the face of a whitecoat seal in contrast to the furrowed brow of a fisherman with a club?

Does it matter that The Globe and Mail is sprinkled liberally with stories of down-east handouts in contrast with stories of success for money to fund Bombardier in Quebec?

Is it important that touching stories of textile factories closing are not written with the same pen as the story about handouts for fishermen?

I guess it mostly depends on whose hand is on the tail that is wagging the dog. Perhaps equally as important, what the dog had to eat before all the wagging was started to begin with. Sooner or latter someone’s bound to be dumped on. My hopes are that on occasion it will happen to the hand that wags the tail.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Our Connection is Down

It's not always easy staying connected. The enjoyment of grabbing a book and finding a comfortable place to lay your buns does wonders for the brain fog that accumulates over the long winter months.

Here's a quick list of some underappreciated Newfoundland and Labrador literature for your summer reading material.

1. Norman Duncan's "The Way of the Sea". First Published in 1903
2. "Them Days" Magazine out of Labrador
3. The "Newfoundland Quarterly"
4. "Wild on the Crest" One of the best collections of Newfoundland and Labrador Poetry ever assembled. Look for E.J. Pratt, Micheal Crummey, Otto Kelland and many others.
5. "Newfoundland at the Crossroads - Documents on Confederation with Canada" Edited by Dr. J. Fitzgerald.
6. "The Woman who mapped Labrador" the latest incarnation of this remarkable story of the exploration of interior Labrador that started with "Lure of the Labrador Wild"

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Spottin' Mainlanders

There's something a little odd about some of the visitors we have from our sister provinces. Around this time of the year We'll be at a gas pump throwing our wallet into the gas tank, or perhaps at a Horton's feeding the addiction - and then we hear it... "Lard tunderin' Geeze ol Man". It is distinctive and immediately identifiable: Tourists from the Mainland.

Considering the great deal of natural beauty and uniqueness of this province it is unfortunate that most tourists do not get that experience. We speak about how areas of the province get neglected in tourism promotional material but sadly more tourists visit George Street than Gros Morne. Perhaps there is a little bit of appeal to the lowest common denominator when it comes to marketing the province. A visitor can travel coastal Labrador, or fish The Big Land for the best Lake Trout and Char in the world. They can do battle with the great Atlantic Salmon on the Exploits, Gander and Humber Rivers. They can visit fiords, and follow the footsteps of Maritime Archaic, Beothuk Indians, and Dorset Eskimo. They can surround their boots with living waters of capelin. Icebirds, whales, and seabirds, roughed coasts and friendly people raising their voices in song. They can do all of this and more; but most do not.

I'm speaking of that particular breed of tourist who treat the experience like they were sent here on a dare. They only hope to take from the experience a story of how inferior the Newfoundland and Labradorian is. Fortunately they represent a small few but when you find one you'll know it. He will be the one teasing the waitress by ordering cod lips, or squid burgers. He'll be speaking in a very poorly executed Newfoundland and Labrador dialect and possibly accompanied by a Beavis and Butthead counterpart chuckling like an old Evinrude outboard.

Still not sure if you've meet one? They are commonly seen taking each others photos in front of the sign pointing the way to Dildo, or having their photo taken dry-humping the silver ladies in front of the St. John's convention Centre. They are the ones who undergo the now infamous Screech-in and actually belief it entitles them to the claim of being an honorary Newfoundland and Labradorian; entitled to use the term Newfie, if only in jest.

From my own experience this particular brand of visitor comes from other parts of the dominion. I have spoken to Europeans and Americans who have none of these preconceptions and biases. Ah well, all in good fun I guess. For the record "Dildo" is the wooden pegs used to keep the oars of a dory in place, and the ladies hunched over in front of the Convention Centre is a statue of respect to the women who helped to build this land. And just between you and I... the dialect is entirely fabricated, we only speak like that when mainlanders are around. It's all part of the master plan, "Confuse and Conquer", our version of "Shock and Awe".

So welcome fellow Canadians to Newfoundland and Labrador! Lard Tunterin' Geeze Cocky I'll see ya on Garge Street, we'll have a Swally of Screech.