GOD BLESS CANADA: THE TRUE NORTH STRONG AND REGIONALIZED.
I just got back from a two week trip to Newfoundland, with a side trip to PEI, via New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. My goal was to see and experience the one remaining Canadian province I had not yet seen.
I was not disappointed. The people of Newfoundland are very warm and hospitable, and of course speak with their legendary regional dialect, which even I sometimes had difficulty deciphering.
I learned that Newfoundland used to be an independent country from 1855 to the 1930s, when the economy, based on the fishery, collapsed, and the Colonial Office took over with direct rule until 1948, when there were two referenda, to decide whether they would join Canada.
By a slim majority, they voted yes and joined in 1949, with many in St. John’s voting against it, which is where people were more prosperous, and had more to lose from voting yes, and most in the outlying regions voting for it, since they were poorer, and had the most to gain.
Opinions are still divided to this day as to whether Newfoundland should have joined Canada. Some point to the loss of sovereignty, and outmigration, whereas others point to the greater building up of physical and social infrastructure that has resulted from the massive influx of federal money.
Some people still fly the old Newfoundland National flag, and sing the Newfoundland National Anthem. I even bought a Newfoundland flag patch and sticker at a gift shop up on Signal Hill, which, by the way, is in federal jurisdiction, so they don’t seem to mind, it appears to make for good business for tourists.
All of this regionalist mongering brought to my mind just how compartmentalized and regionalized our country is, and just how unaware each region is of the other region’s regionalist sensibilities.
If one is a unilingual francophone who has never been out of Québec in his life, except perhaps to go to Old Orchard beach, or Hollywood Florida (where you might as well just be in Québec anyways), then you probably are thoroughly convinced that the Québec issue, regarding Québec’s status within/without of Confederation, and the long-suffering indignities inflicted upon francophones at the hands of Anglophones, are the center of the universe regarding what ails Canada.
However, as I mentioned earlier, go to Newfoundland, and it’s a whole other kettle of fish. Some over there even contest the validity of Samuel de Champlain’s claim of Québec city as being the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in our country. They point to sources which claim that there was permanent colonization in and around St. John’s as early as 1519.
Go into Nova Scotia and you’ll discover the legacy of the Repealers, the Nova Scotia Secessionists of 1867 and a bit after, who wanted to separate Nova Scotia from Canada when they had just joined! Sir John A. Mac Donald ended up settling that one by inviting their leader into his cabinet, and increasing the transfer payment to that province. Sort of an early version of ‘Fiscal Imbalance’. (Remember that one from a few years back? Too bad the PM couldn’t have bought off the Bloc so easily the same way!)
Go to New Brunswick, and you see Acadian flags flying from gas stations along side New Brunswick and Canadian flags. You also hear Acadian intellectuals from the university of Moncton talking about the fact that they’re contemplating taking the British Crown to court over the Acadian deportation issue of 1755, wanting to have it retroactively declared as a crime against humanity.
Go to Ontario, and you’ll get plenty of static from all and sundry about how Canada has benefitted from living off of Ontario’s prosperity for so many decades, by sucking all of its wealth away in transfer payments, and that now that it needs help, everybody still hates Toronto! (No comment.)
Go out west and you’ll get plenty of bellyaching about how everybody’s living off of Alberta’s tar sands oil revenues to finance our social programs, but still complain about how dirty it is. Or how Québec and Ontario sucked the prairies dry of their wealth for a hundred years with the National Policy and the CPR, the big banks in Toronto and Montréal, etc…
And lastly, go anywhere in Canada, and you’ll see or hear the Aboriginal people barricading roads, and going places in the world with their own Iroquois passports and wondering why they get turned away at their point of entry into the foreign country they’re trying to enter.
All in all we’re a country which is as fractious as ever, and more than ever in need of a strong federal leader, and a strong federal government to pull us all together with a common purpose. That’s why I think such federal institutions as our federal government, the armed forces, our national sports teams, the Olympics, the Katimavik youth program, the Coast Guard, are all important symbols of unity in this often fractious country of ours.
So if you make it out to Newfoundland anytime soon, don’t forget to get ‘Screeched in’. All you have to do is knock back a shot of Newfoundland Screech Rum, kiss a codfish, and maybe sing a silly song, as the case may be. I passed on this aspect of Newfoundland initiation, since I don’t partake of such libations any longer. However, one thing is certain: The level of regional particularity in our country is endearing, if not a little un nerving for the likes of Pan-Canadian Nationalists such as myself, who are always looking for some greater overarching meaning to everything. I guess I’ll just have to stick to what mom told me time and again: ‘Carry on Canada’. Take care, der Skipper.