Where’s the welcome mat?

Pam Frampton
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“There is a jingoism of small places as well as of large. And Newfoundland is more susceptible to it than most.”

— Rex Murphy, Newfoundlander

In the quotation above, Rex Murphy was referring to overly aggressive Newfoundland patriotism in the context of Danny Williams’ penchant for labelling as a traitor anyone who disagreed with him, but the observation still stands.

Many people praise and defend this province with a vehemence that often seems completely out of whack with the circumstances.

I once heard a radio caller defend an anti-province/pro-Ottawa political move by then MP Loyola Hearn by saying, “Oh, but he’s a beautiful Newfoundlander!”

What the heck does that mean? That because someone is from Newfoundland they can do no wrong?

If you believe that, perhaps you should pay closer attention to the news out of court.

I was born here and am proud of this place, but I dare say I’d say the same if I came from Lunenburg, N.S. or Elora, Ont.

By all means, let’s be proud of our heritage, but not to the point of being thoughtlessly or arrogantly dismissive of everyone else’s.

Last week, Steve Bartlett’s Telegram story about a Cambridge scholar who was born in Placentia and married into the Royal Family garnered nearly 7,000 hits on our website, not to mention how many times it was read in print.

It was a fascinating story and it’s fun to celebrate people’s links to this province and to think about how few degrees of separation there might be between one Newfoundlander and another. The Placentia native in question, who was born Sylvana Tomaselli, lived here as a small child and has referred to herself as a Newfoundlander.

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of the accomplishments of Newfoundland and Labrador’s sons and daughters.

But sometimes the media is too quick to exploit the accomplishments — or nefarious doings — of people whose connections to this place are far more tenuous.

In journalism circles, the old joke among reporters and editors trying to root out local human interest stories is that if the person was in the province long enough to have a cup of coffee, it’s fair game to claim a Newfoundland connection.

I knew one reporter, God rest his soul, who extended that connection to the exploits of Newfoundland dogs — wherever they lived in the world — when he was stuck for a story.

We’re quick to laud the successes of locals who make the big time — think Shaun Majumder, Rick Hillier, Mary Walsh, Gordon Pinsent, Rick Mercer, Bob Joy and so on — but we often overlook the contributions of people who live here but weren’t born here.

There are plenty of those folks — think of the Bulgarian defectors of 1990 alone — who make this place a lot more interesting.

And so I was anticipating the anti-mainlander sentiment that accompanied Brad Cabana’s bid to throw his name into the hat for the PC party leadership last week.

A commenter named Starr noted on The Telegram’s website: “I find this Brad Cabana thing quite a joke. He seems to think he’s a real hotshot and we know nothing about him. (Kathy) Dunderdale is one of our ‘own’ and I will definitely support her.”

Someone named Mary wrote: “He has lived in NL for less than 2 years and he claims to have roots here some 200 years back. Methinks that this is a CFA who thinks NLers are suckers and/or needs a CFA to help them.”

MJF wrote: “The photo of Mr. Cabana on VOCM looks very shifty …” (a real litmus test if I ever heard one).

“What does Mr. Cabana know about our beautiful province, considering he is a ‘CFA’ — Come From Away? Ms. Dunderdale will have my vote.”

And so on, and so on.

There were some who defended Cabana’s right to get involved in Newfoundland politics, of course, and some who praised his willingness to contribute to public life, but it’s obvious there are still people out there who think only true-blue, Newfoundland-born-Newfoundlanders have anything to contribute.

My husband, a journalist who has lived here for a quarter-century, still gets the “You’re not from here, are you?” response.

Russell Wangersky, a good friend and colleague who has contributed to Newfoundland journalism for roughly the same length of time, is often dismissed as being a “mainlander” or a “CFA” when readers don’t agree with his opinion pieces in this newspaper, but is embraced as a “Newfoundland writer” when his fiction and non-fiction garners acclaim.

What a fickle bunch we are.

Whatever you think of Brad Cabana — whether loose cannon or legitimate contender — he should be judged on his platform and politics, not his birthplace.

In my book, if someone lives here permanently — wherever they might have been born — they’re from here.

It should be as simple as that.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s  story editor. She can be reached by email at pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Placentia, Ottawa Lunenburg Cambridge

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Recent comments

  • Jennifer
    January 28, 2011 - 07:49

    Yes, it does need to be said and you said it very well, Pam. I am a Newfoundlander and have spent most of my life here but I have lived in and travelled to many other places. In my experience Newfoundlanders certainly do not have a monopoly on friendliness and hospitality. Pride in one's place of birth or residence is a good thing but so is a little modesty. Let's stop talking about how great we are and start showing it!

  • Herb Morrison
    January 18, 2011 - 14:32

    Hi Pam: I am a CFA., despite the fact that I have lived in this province for over thirty years. Both My wife and our son are Newfoundlanders "Born and Bred," to use a well-worn cliche. Your point out that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are unjustified in casting people in a derogatory light because they "aren't from here" is, I'm sad to say, "spot on. " Unforttunately, mainlanders are not the only persons who are marginalized within the newfoundland culture. People are pushed to the fringes of society in this province for reasons pertaining to religion, politics, and gender. (One of the most discusting comments I have ever heard is that a woman is a "nice piece of gear" UGH. However, I do disagree with the comment that you attributed to Rex Murphy. It implies that only people who come from small or rural communities can be small-minded. Having lived in large urban centers, I can attest to the fact that you will find small-minded people anywhere. One final observation. It is interesting and puzzling to me that while Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are willing to embrace others in a time of crisis, they can be predudicial toward people who choose to settle here permanently, because "their ways are not our ways."

    • Nora
      January 19, 2011 - 11:56

      Spot on Herb! Yes, many Newfoundlanders love to help out anyone in a crisis situation. And that's definitely a good thing. But if you choose to live here and are perceived as being "different," the proverbial deck is stacked against you. And BTW, I have found people in certain other parts of the country every bit as hospitable and helpful towards visitors or people in crisis as Newfoundlanders, but in other parts of Canada they don't seem to feel a need to constantly brag about it.

  • Mary
    January 16, 2011 - 09:50

    I am very proud of my NL roots but at the same time I am very intolerent of people who are biased on things such as race, religion, etc. Everytime I visit home I am witness to this many times. A long time ago I realized that I would never retire to NL because of this attitude. What gets me is that most NL'ers are proud of this attitude, members of my own family included. Time for people to open their eyes and see the world beyond them.

  • Fred
    January 15, 2011 - 18:55

    Well said! I also strongly agree with commenters Nora and Schwenik. How many Newfoundlanders have left Newfoundland to work "away" in other Canadian provinces. Good job those provinces did not say the same thing..."You're not from here so you can't work here" . This attitude in today's age is shameful. There is nothing wrong with being proud...but when it turns into discrimination....it's just shameful.

  • Schwenik
    January 15, 2011 - 11:47

    I’ve had similar experiences to this small-minded bigotry. I really have to question the self-proclaimed characterisation of Newfoundlanders as “friendly.” Some are, yes, but there is a deep seeded hostility to anyone who presents as different. If you want to see some real vitriol, check out the comments on the VOCM question of the day site towards mainlander (which is nothing compared to the anti-immigrant hatred.)

  • Nora
    January 15, 2011 - 11:03

    PS - Technically, St. John's is a city, but the cultural mentality tends to be very small town. (I know because I grew up in a small town.) Right now I'm firmly entrenched in a life here in St. John's - job, relatationship (with a Newfoundlander), etc. But when I retire I plan to move to an urban centre on the mainland where people tend to be a bit more open minded.

  • Nora
    January 15, 2011 - 10:26

    Thank you Pam for saying what so desparately needs to be said. I'm a CFA who has lived in this province for many years. There is definitely a prejudice amongst a lot of Newfoundlanders (not all mind you) towards anyone who wasn't born here. Human nature, unfortunately, does have a tendency to breed cliquishness, but in Newfoundland it's exceptionally pronounced. Doesn't matter how nice you are to some Newfoundlanders (again, not all) or how hard you work to contribute to society, there's insecurity and suspicioun regarding your motives just because you're not from here and, horror of horrors, perhaps have ways that are a bit different. For a people who like to pride themselves on being kind and hospitable, there's nothing kind or hospitable about such a hostile attitude.