I’m not from here. I should probably start with that.
I was born and raised in Alberta, but my parents are from Bonavista Bay. They went West as young adults to find work and prosperity, and they did. They met in Alberta, had babies and raised them “Newfie.”
I grew up with nans and pops, not grandmas and grandpas. We had fish and brewis at Christmas when the care package from Newfoundland arrived containing ridiculously hard bread, peppermint knobs, and other things my parents cherished but couldn’t find in an Albertan grocery store when I was a kid. There was always music, although neither of them could play or sing to save themselves. Buddy Wasisname, Great Big Sea, Ron Hynes. The songs told stories of a place I hadn’t been yet, and my sisters and I were always enchanted by them.
The first time I heard “Saltwater Joys,” I was so very sad. I remember asking what is was about, and my dad told me that a lot of people had to leave Newfoundland and look for work. The economy was bad. He said that no matter where Newfoundlanders went, they were always homesick. As young as I was, I couldn’t understand what was so special about a place that would cause so many musicians to write songs about it.
Buddy Wasisname, Great Big Sea, Ron Hynes. The songs told stories of a place I hadn’t been yet, and my sisters and I were always enchanted by them.
I moved here on a whim about nine years ago, when things were good. The premier was well-loved and the oil money flowed. Newfoundland was a “have” province, after so many years of “having not.” I got a job tending bar on George Street, and I was enchanted. Some people who walk on to the street at 10 p.m. are a little put off by the auditory onslaught. Ninety per cent of the bars and pubs had live music being pumped outside for all to hear. If you’re not a music fan, it’s noisy. If you are a music fan, you recognize it for what it really is: a heartbeat. The steady thrum of a guitar, the boisterous baritones belting out lyrics to songs their parents introduced to them when they were little. Music that has been passed down, reworked and rewritten hundreds of times. It drew you in the doors and kept you there until the wee hours of the morning.
Music is how the people here express themselves. I found that out almost immediately. There are songs about weddings, songs about funerals. Songs about the death of the fishery, about Joey Smallwood and Resettlement. An entire history of a culture captured in guitar chords and accordion keys.
I learned. By listening to the songs and the stories they told, I learned how my grandparents and great-grandparents lived. I learned that no matter how bad things got for the people here, they still sang and wrote songs so that the generation after them would know their hardships and loves, and they would sing and write themselves.
It amazes me to this day, years later, how steadfast a people Newfoundlanders are. The oil money is all gone. The future is uncertain. But the music still flows. All of the truly great songs, in any genre, were written from a place of emotion. Hardship and despair, or joy and prosperity. The people in this province will pull through in one way or another, and they will always sing and play their songs.
Never be ashamed to be a “Goofy Newfie.” Most people who even utter that stereotype will never know what it truly means. Never stop trying to turn a bump in the road into a song. Never let the narrow view of a few “mainlanders” dictate how you express your sorrow and your joy.
Always have the strength and character to cling to your heritage, cling to this cold rock in the middle of the Atlantic, and cling to your songs. Never stop being “Newfie.”