Hometown heroes make their mark on the world

John Crosbie telegram@thetelegram.com
Published on December 28, 2013

In the past, men and women from this province often had to move to other parts of Canada and the world to follow their careers or to find work that they could not find here.

A huge number of citizens of this province have gained employment in Fort McMurray, the centre of the giant oilsands operations in Alberta.

Most never abandon their roots in Newfoundland and Labrador, though, and come home whenever they can or return when employment opportunities become available.

Fortunately, our economic situation has greatly improved because of the offshore oil and gas developments, principally off our east coast.

In my political autobiography, “No Holds Barred,” I repeated a story I’d heard where a person was asked how you can tell which souls in heaven are Newfoundlanders. The answer is that the Newfoundlanders are the ones who always want to go home. This certainly illustrates how people born here are devoted to their “Native isle and Labrador.”

Fine work

This week, I want to highlight the fine work being carried out by a small group of enterprising Newfoundlanders who, for some years now, have been working in the Toronto area, pursuing careers in finance, law, the arts and other occupations. I’ve been told there are something like 200,000 Newfoundlanders living in southern Ontario alone.

Canada, and the metro Toronto area in particular, have greatly increased in population thanks to the immigration of millions of people from outside Canada in the years since the end of the Second World War.

I first visited Toronto in the fall of 1945, 68 years ago, to attend school there. At that time, although Toronto was sizable in population, it was mostly composed of conservative-minded people of English descent. It was what could best be described as a “hick town.”

For example, at that time, the law did not permit men and women to frequent places  together where liquor was served.

With the huge expansion of immigration after 1945, Toronto had to change and accept the modern world, and did so, but in 1945 it was certainly strait-laced, and most unattractive in that sense.

The situation there was describ­ed in 1941 by one Leopold Enfield: “It must be good to die in Toronto,” he said, “since the transition between life and death would be continuous, painless and scarcely noticeable in this silent town. I dreaded the Sundays and prayed to God that if He chose for me to die in Toronto, He would let it be on a Saturday afternoon to save me from one more Toronto Sunday.”

Here’s another appropriate verse of that time:

 “In Toronto the Good it’s quite understood,

That sin is a thing to beware-i-o

But if you’ve been bad, you’ve got to look sad,

For nothing is fun in Ontar-i-o!”

If you’ve been noticing the antics of the mayor of Toronto recently, the above no longer seems accurate.

Fundraising concert

The group of Newfoundlanders I referred to who are working in the Toronto area have created the Smiling Land Foundation, led by Paul D. Sparkes. He’s the executive vice-president of Difference Capital, a financial services company.

I first learned of their tremendous work on behalf of their home province in 2012.

For six years now, the Smiling Land Foundation has held a “Rockin’ Big Give” in December. The event is a large concert featuring music, particularly from Newfoundland performers such as Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle, for which they charge $300 per ticket.

It includes  an auction of items such as opportunities to visit salmon fishing rivers here, or the Torngat Mountains, and Newfoundland products including sealskin coats, bow-ties and boots.

The concerts have been held in  the Masonic Lodge on Yonge Street and, this year, at Kool Haus at Queen’s Quay on the Toronto waterfront, and they attract 600–900 people.

So far they have raised more than $1 million, all given to charitable causes in our province.

Last year, one of the charities they contributed to was the Home From the Sea sealers memorial under construction in Elliston, which is set to be unveiled June 19, 2014.

That particular initiative has raised $2,500,000 for what will be an outstanding monument to the men and boys of Newfoundland and Labrador who pursued the seal fishery in our very difficult history, when cash was badly needed in the spring of the year.

Sparkes told me that when he moved to Toronto to pursue his career in the financial industry, he  wanted to stay connected to his roots and to give back to Newfoundland and Labrador.

The worthy causes for which funds were raised this year by the Smiling Land Foundation include the Rainbow Riders, a therapeutic riding centre; the Gathering Place, a community centre that feeds and supports those in need; Artistic Fraud, the daring, small and innovative theatre company; as well as mental-health and addictions initiatives.

The board of directors of this wonderful organization are Sparkes, Seamus O’Regan, Tim Powers, Jennifer Bishop, June Perry, Heather Tulk, Chris Henley and Jen Power. On their advisory committee is Mark MacLeod, Allan Hawco, Glenn Stanford, Alan Doyle, Kevin Casey and Tim Murphy.

All should be recognized for the wonderful work they are conducting in Toronto while pursuing their own full-time, successful careers.

The former puritanical Toronto of 1945 is vastly different now that Canada has received millions of immigrants from many parts of the world, including the 350,000 Newfoundlanders who became Canadians on March 31, 1949, as well as people from Italy, southeast Asia,  Jamaica and the Caribbean countries.

As Bernard Baruch noted, “We didn’t all come over on the same ship, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

The Newfoundlanders in the Smiling Land Foundation represent the kind of people Sir Francis Bacon was referring to when he wrote, “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.”

They also epitomize Sophocles’ observation in 408 BC: “Opportunity has power over all things.”

They are doing well in Toronto, but they have not forgotten where they came from.

For that we thank them.

John Crosbie welcomes your feedback by email at telegram@thetelegram.com.

His column will return Jan. 11.