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Monday, August 15, 2005

Canada's Rich Cultural Legacy

Integration is one word for it. Other words include naturalization, incorporation and assimilation. What ever the choice of word, the concept is the same. It’s all about fitting into a new environment.

Canada likes to bill itself as a country that takes pride in its diverse cultures. The official line of our Government is that unlike the melting pot of the U.S., which would have immigrants adopt the American culture, Canada is a rich tapestry of diversity. Over the years millions have been spent bringing this message to the fore. But just how true is it?

Upon entering Canada in 1949 Newfoundland and Labrador was a unique and distinct society. The people were hearty and strong. The need to survive a harsh life in the middle of the North Atlantic had hewn a breed of people as hard as the very rock on which they lived. It was from this stock that the “Fighting Newfoundlander” was bred. A special kind of individual who can be envisioned driving a hard right hand into the jaw of an enemy while perhaps pulling a small child to safety with his left.

All too often these days I hear many in the province make the comment that the fighting Newfoundlander is dead. That the spirit has been sucked out of the people and we are no longer willing to take up a cause with a vengeance in times of trouble. Granted, there are still some who are willing to make a stand, but by and large, I believe there is an element of truth in those statements.

When the Lieutenant Governor recently announced his annual garden party, it attracted thousands, to sip on tea and socialize. Meanwhile, repeated calls in support of protest groups trying to protect our fishing heritage gained the support of only few dozen strong souls. What does this tell you?

It tells me that Canada has done a pretty good job of assimilation. Over the years it has quietly broken the back of the province. It has bred the fighting spirit out of the majority of the population and is working on crushing that spirit completely.

Recall that at one time, Newfoundland and Labrador was a separate country and a member of the Commonwealth in its own right. In other words, it was Canada’s peer on the world stage and an equal in every way. Our entry into Confederation wasn’t just a matter of gaining a piece of territory. An entire country was being brought into the fold and the nationalist spirit that came along with that country had to be considered and dealt with.

I’m not saying the process was fully planned by some dark conspiratorial force. In fact it more likely happened as a series of events, each of which served a more mundane purpose at the time. Never the less, the result was the same. Our independent spirit, if not dead, was put on life support.

One of the first moves made by the Canadian government after 1949 was to merge our military. This was a natural enough step, but not only did they take command of the troops, they also stole our rich military history.

Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have been a fighting force to contend with over the years. They have been involved in many conflicts and proven themselves worthy of honour after honour in such major conflicts as the Crimean war, the war of 1812 and World War I.

This rich part of our history, including war records, medals, diaries of some of our service personnel and even photographs, were spirited off to Ottawa after Confederation. We couldn’t get them back if we fought to the death for them. Not that we would, because taking them had the effect of stealing our collective memory of what we were capable of.

How many people today know that our forces actually fought on American soil at one point and battled into Maine?

How many know about the heroic acts of our soldiers in foreign lands. Some of whom were merely boys of fourteen or fifteen when they answered the call?

How many people today know that two Newfoundlanders have won the Victoria Cross, the highest honour that can be given by the British Monarchy? Even more importantly, how many know that one of those historically priceless medals sits in the War Museum on Ottawa while the other is on loan to a museum in Nova Scotia. Neither resides here.

Destroy the past and the present will take care of itself. That seems to be the way things have been handled when it comes to dealing with Newfoundland and Labrador. First our military history was taken away, then our railway, which was so much a part of our history. Next, the fishery and the traditions that went with it.

By taking away our pride in our past, Canada has broken, or at least severely weakened our resolve. By building a culture of dependence on social programs such as EI, Welfare, Health Care and CPP, it has bought a certain kind of docility and control. A similar approach has been taken with the breeding of cattle. By selectively breeding the least aggressive, the herd can be more easily managed.

When was the last time you saw a dairy cow look anything but half comatose?

Will we ever regain our hearts and spirits in this province? Most likely not, although small flashes of it can still be glimpsed from time to time like a distant beacon.

Perhaps some unknown catalyst will spark a renewed strength one day, who knows. After all, some still remember and care. Unfortunately it may soon be too late.

With every passing generation the light becomes dimmer and the ghosts of the past fade further into the background. Stories of past glories are told less and less often to the newest generation of our children. Children who crawl into their warm beds, cover themselves in soft sheets and scratch their full bellies. Children who know little of the hunger and passion that burned so strongly in their ancestors just a few generations ago.

More likely is the simple reality that we will eventually become true Canadians in every meaning of the word.

Canada's rich tapestry of diversity my A##!


Anonymous said...

Our aspirations tell us where and what we'd like to be.

Our heritage tells us where we came from.

How can you tell the direction you should go to make your dreams come true, if you can't tell where you came from. That is what you are saying.

The Fighting Newfoundland is not lost, he's more likely asleep, drugged with the common view that someone else will take care of things.

When you begin to expect that others will take care of you, then you must soon expect that others will decide for you, and lastly you must hope that others will provide for you.

When you accept all that without remorse, regret, or even revulsion, then the FIghting Newfoundlander will wake no more.

Gordon said...

"Don't ever let it be told that we sold our souls for Canadian gold."

But we did, and many Newfoundlanders don't want to give it up, even if the gold in question is pogey. So, what do we do? Will we accept our limitations and accept that an independent Newfoundland will have a lower standard of living (yet possibly better financially managed) than the Newfoundland that exists now. Can we trust ourselves to run our own affairs? It's a question of maturity.

MrChills said...

As much as I would like to believe that Newfoundland would be better off without Canada, we are not there yet. Will we be there tomorrow? I strongly believe so.

For the first time in our 508 year existence Newfoundland has a generation (or possibly two) of educated people. People, who have gotten out and seen the rest of the world, people who actually see how the rest of Canada is treated in comparison with Newfoundland.

We are getting there slowly, but surely. It will take a couple more generations of educated individuals within our province to make the general population more aware of the issues; the other side of the coin is that most of our educated people are leaving the province.

However, with our current leadership I feel as though I may be able to move back to Newfoundland within the next 5-6 years. Some people may say that this is wishful thinking but I do feel strongly about this.

I have now been away from the Island for five years and was recently home two weeks ago and was astonished by the amount of construction and rebirth within the capital city. Again the flip side to this, was visiting my family on the south coast (Bay D’Espoir, Hermitage, Harbour Brenton, McCallum, Gaultois etc…) as things are not looking so hot down there, it seems like any community within Newfoundland that is close to the TCH will do fine, but the rest off the main drag are dying each passing day.

It is these small communities that still hold the true character of Newfoundland. They are so removed from the wolf that is Canada that we could all learn something about survival from these people.

A buddy of mine told me a funny story when I was home, he was getting his longliner ready in Burnside when the Ferry from St. Brendan’s arrived at the wharf and a peculiar looking fellow wearing a backpack got off the Ferry and came over to chat it up with my buddy. My friend proceeded to ask him where he was going, which the man replied, “Oh… I’m off to the mainland me son”. To which my friend asked where in the mainland? “St. John’s”, the man replied.

There are two ways of looking at the innocent ignorance of this man… Is it great that he is so removed from the world that he doesn’t see anything outside his little existence; in turn he is not influenced by Canada? Or is he a perfect example of why we are being stepped on by Canada each any every day, because there is another 200,000 Newfoundlander’s like him who have the power to vote, the power to make a change, the power to become a strong voice, but don’t know any better?

Soup said...

I'm guessing the writer of this piece is over 40 and probably over 50. The Fighting Newfoundland sprit is not dead, not at all. It may have skipped a generation for sure, probably as result of the mass exodus in the 1980’s, but that sprit is alive and well among in the youth of this province.

The growth of nationalist sentiment in the younger generations in recent years has been remarkable. This can clearly been noticed in the attitudes and dispositions of us 20something’s that have managed to stay here and make a decent living for ourselves.

I admit that my beliefs on this topic are based on my subjective experiences, and anecdotal evidence; but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. I think such a survey/study would make an excellent project for some economics student at MUN.

The fact the republic symbols have made and are making such a deep penetration in to the youth culture of this province has to have been visible to anyone living here in the past 5 years. While some may view the equating t-shirt sales with nationalism as childish or simple, name a major social movement in that existed or succeeded without symbols? Now that our national symbols have retuned albeit on t-shirts and flags, and in a decent newspaper perhaps we may rally around them who knows, or maybe we are destined to be Canada’s door mat for the next 100 years…who knows.

NL-ExPatriate said...

Cultural Genocide!

Help stop it sign the fairdealfor harbourbreton petition.

Show your solidarity for the food fishery protesters by eating the illegaly caught fish at your town community hall, wharf or neighbor's. Your donations for such a wonderful feast could go towards the legal fight to stop this cultural genocide by Canada's Mismanagement of our resources on our behalf.

Calls into question the terms of union.
Canada's efforts to lobby the United Nations on our behalf to gain total control of the fish's breeding and migration grounds by not demanding control of or enforcing our rightful ownership stewardship of the nose, tail and flemmish cap.


Good stuff! spread the word!

Fight for your right to (party) have a fishery!

Patriot said...

Great comments folks, I can't say I fully disagree with anything noted in your responses. In fact, some (especially from Anonymous) were quite eloquent.

I would like to make a small clarification to SOUP. I understand your comments about the new generation and I applaud them for the stand they take. My article although meant to drive home the apathy and feeling of acceptance permeating our society, was never the less somewhat tongue in cheek.

Indeed we are far too quiet and indeed we must ever be vigilent in ensuring that our youth do not forget their heritage. The key point of the article however was intended to illustrate the way the feds have tried to silence us, not necessarily the result itself.

Keep all the great comments coming. They keep me going and make me think as well.