In the twenty-four years between the birth of my father and the birth of his son, this land we call home was reborn into a new history. In the year of my birth Canada was already celebrating its centennial.
In the year of the Centennial Newfoundland in Canada, Labrador in Canada, less than two decades. My country’s last leader, my country’s first Premier was still the current Premier and would be for another five years. This allowed me the unique opportunity in the history of a province to be alive during the leadership of every Premier that has ever governed. And I am not an old man. When we sit with our grandparents and elders and discuss the old times we speak of growing up in a foreign country. We speak of arriving in – a foreign country. Such is the history of my Newfoundland and Labrador.
It is perhaps difficult for a Toronto-centric middle Canada to comprehend, let alone empathize with this perspective. When my elders speak confederation with Canada they are not recounting stories from generations ago that were passed to them through a spoken heritage, they are recounting a history that they in fact lived. Our history in Canada is but a grain in the sands of time.
What of that history ending in 1949? The lost races, Maritime Archaic, Dorset Eskimo, and Beothuck. The Inuit, Innu, Métis, and Mi’kmaq. The arrival of the Scandinavian Vikings, and later the Europeans. The first permanent settlement by Europeans in Cupids in 1610. The generations of loggers, farmers, fishermen, that struggled to survive those first winters.
So what’s the deal with Newfoundlanders? What’s the deal with Labradorians? We are grounded by our history. We are at once marred by and grounded by the lives of those before us. Our hearts are wounded by the story of the Beothuck. We carry with us the loss of those countless men and women who are lost to eternity in the icy depths of the Atlantic on the Ocean Ranger, the fishermen, the merchant marines.
Our relationship with mother Ottawa is brand new. Just fifty-eight years. A relationship that has seen Resettlement and Centralization. A relationship that has seen the collapse of our cod fishery. Fifty-eight years that has seen inequitable contracts like the Upper Churchill deal with enormously unbalanced profit division. Fifty-eight years that saw the once proud and strong people of Newfoundland and Labrador reduced to its perceived welfare state. Fifty-eight years that has seen constant debt. Unemployment unequalled in the federation. Out-migration unequalled in the federation.
And if Newfoundland dears to question the Terms of Union it is seen as treason, conspiracy to separation. If Labrador looks for equity it is dismissed as a sparse population of complainers.
The history of Newfoundland and Labrador since 1949 has seen an unparalleled evolution of character in Canada. It has turned Newfoundland and Labradorians into Canadians. Through the looking glass of Central Canadian imperialism the Newfoundlander and the Labradorian wears rags like Dickens’ lost boys, with their hand-out for another cup of gruel. It has seen the emergence of a new class in Canadian society – the Newfie, Canada’s Jigger Nigger. Although in this province we are intensely aware of the rock and salt water that has brought us into being there are far more looking through that looking glass than those of us standing behind it.
The message to the mainland media rags and political spin doctors. Write whatever you wish, we are not defined by your words. We know who we are.