It’s that weird long weekend again, the one of mixed emotions.
On July 1st we remember the courage of our war dead, especially those from that most famous of battles at Beaumont Hamel in France. The other part of the day is dedicated to showing our appreciation and affection for this place we call home, Canada.
It is not always easy loving this country. Simply put, we don’t always feel part of it. All the oil wealth in the world can’t buy us the political clout that would be necessary to really make a difference. Geography and population rule it out. Newfoundland and Labrador is simply too small, so we make waves in other ways.
On occasion we shake our fists from Confederation Hill. Some premiers have taken to nationwide speaking tours to plead our case on issues ranging from Churchill Falls to the fishery to the Constitution. More often than not, our federal and provincial politicians have had to shout to be heard, or come up with novel ways of bringing our plight to the attention of the country.
We’ve taken down flags, worn black armbands and declared days of mourning, all to make various points. We’ve objected to being called Newfies and preached to the unconverted about what a truly magical place this is through our award-winning tourism ads. And we’ve made progress.
A recent visit to Toronto put me in the company of some influential news managers, many of them now seeing Newfoundland and Labrador through different glasses. They were quick to point out the irony from a few decades ago when we were the poor cousin, to today’s booming economy, healthy workforce, and unbridled determination. I heard countless references to the fond memories of their last visit here, and not once a murmur, a hint, a whisper even, of a Newfie joke.
Former premier Danny Williams told me years ago how he wanted people from this province to feel good about themselves, to walk tall on the streets of this country. We are doing that, despite the seemingly endless onslaught of federal cutbacks, facility closures and job reductions by the Harper crowd.
In May, when VOCM posed the question of whether the province and local MPs should boycott Canada Day this year as a protest to all the federal cuts by the Harper government, 66 per cent of respondents said yes. I am of a different mindset.
I think this year I’ll wrap my until-now unused Maple Leaf flag around my home, not out of spite, but because I am proud of how far we’ve come and what we have given to this country. People in other parts of Canada are watching us take our rightful place, through determination, hard work and integrity. It’s you and me doing that, whether by saving a paper mill, fighting for a piece of offshore-related work, or accepting the challenges and decisions that have to be made for our fishery.
This province has much to be thankful for, more of it earned than handed to us. And come to think of it, those brave souls who died overseas almost a century ago would likely be proud. They were not the only ones, but the Royal Newfoundland Regiment helped lay the foundation upon which we have built what we have.
I recall the words I broadcast on July 1st, 2006, from Beaumont Hamel:
“Ninety years after the battle in this historic field, and there’s an amazing sound. The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and yet noises that really are not here ring in my ears. Shells exploding, orders shouted, men screaming, people dying. Today, as I walk through these fields, I can feel it. If only the trees, the grass, if only the ground in this sacred place could tell the tale of that day, perhaps we’d have a better appreciation. But having been here, having seen first hand, I feel now I know why — why we remember.”
On Sunday, we’ll do just that.
And Canada — you’re welcome!
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org