When I arrived home after my backpacking trip in 2015, I drove across the island of Newfoundland with my father. And you know, I remember telling him, as we watched the sunset duck behind the mountain just outside of Terre Nova Park, drinking our Tim Horton’s coffee’s, how of all the beautiful places I had recently been, nothing compared to the beauty in this province.
There’s no place, in my opinion, albeit mine is a biased opinion, that is more beautiful than Newfoundland and Labrador. My dad, of course agreed. We talked about how neither of us had any interest of ever leaving this beautiful little province that we call home.
Newfoundland is a rock in the sea. A rare and rugged and beautiful weathered rock. And Labrador is a freedom oasis. Why would anyone give that up if they didn’t have to? Why you would choose to leave, outside of the obvious reason, like for work, is beyond me.
Each of our families, have had close friends and relatives who have had to pack up and move in search of work. They say there’s someone from this province everywhere you turn. And I believe that.
On travels through Europe, I met people from home in nearly every city. In Croatia, my second favorite place in the world, I literally read the back of this girl’s shirt that said, “I dies at you,” and obviously approached her and had a chat.
Now, where’d you think she was from? Out around da bay, of course.
Anyway, I don’t think that moving away from home, whatever the choice, changes the simple fact that home is home. And those that have had to leave have left pieces of their hearts scattered and a little heartbroken amongst the seashells on the beach.
There are loads of songs dedicated to the Newfoundland and Labradorian who has had to leave due to the changing work climate, such as, “Pulling Oil From the Sand,” by the navigators, and my favorite, “No Change in Me,“ by Ron Hynes.
I’ve actually written out the lyrics to the latter because the words speak to my soul:
No Change In Me
You could shoot off a cannon down the middle of Bond, And attract no attention in downtown St John’s; This getting nowhere is getting to me, Wondering where can you go to be all you can be.
No regular Joe wants to haul up and go, And wind up homesick with no one you know; Just a smoke and a beer and the sports on TV, Feeling sorry you left, no choice but to leave.
No change in the weather and no change in me, I don’t want to leave but you can’t live for free; And you can’t eat the air and you can’t drink the sea, No change in the weather and no change in me.
You could shoot off a cannon from the top of Long’s Hill, And a Gulliver’s taxi might be all you would kill; We were promised the sun and the moon and the stars, We got weathered old clapboard and salt-rusted cars.
So let me join in the leaving with all of the rest, For Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver West; Lay down on a sidewalk and kick off and die, Watching people not looking as they hurry by.
No change in the weather, no change in me, I don’t want to leave but you can’t live for free; And you can’t eat the air and you can’t drink the sea, No change in the weather and no change in me.
No change in me – I don’t want to leave, But you can’t live for free; down here you can’t live for free; And you can’t eat the air and you can’t drink the sea, No change in the weather and no change in me.
Anyway, in this province, life kinda just slows down. And the villages and towns “out around the bay” as the folk from St. John’s refer to it, are jammed packed with culture, and family heritage, and history, and, well, peace and beauty.
And a good shed party or cabin party which usually consists of guitars and accordions, and a bunch of aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, gathering around having a brew, and a laugh and a chat, and maybe boiling lobsters, or frying moose sausages, or eating shrimp that just came straight off the boat.
And sure as I am sitting here, there’s someone who’s sitting around who just made a trek home from the Mainland being teased and tormented for “becoming a mainlander.”
“Where ya tink yer too, by? Talkin’ some slow me son. Speed up, I got places da be.”
Let me be clear. We have nothing against mainlanders, and in fact, Labrador is part of the mainland, but, it’s just something that’s playful, to kind of remind you where you’re from. People don’t want you to forget, it’s simply not cool to forget where you’re from. And never is that closer to the truth than when you come from Newfoundland and Labrador.
We are proud people. We are proud of our heritage and our culture, and the hard-work that has been handed down from generation to generation. People from this province are tough. They’ve had to be. I mean, seriously, we live on a rock, for the most part.
Rough terrain, quick drops in temperatures, fires, the untimely onset of blinding blizzards and the people’s dependence on the ocean, has meant that we have had to learn to live harmoniously alongside the harshest climate in the world. And we do. But it’s thickened our skin. We’ve been taught to be alert for signs of impending storms, and what to do it you’re lost in the country or stuck. How to follow the river, when the bay ice is safe and when it isn’t. The list goes on.
Along with the culture and the kindness of the people, everything is just, so, well, natural. The sea’s rage, the smell of salt lingers in the air. And that which isn’t natural, like the church bell ringing throughout your little village, still feels organic. It’s as though those bells rang long before I ever existed, and they’ll ring long after I’m gone. Or, that’s how it feels.
The province, for the most part, is untouched. Unexplored.
As a child growing up, you honestly felt like you were the first person to discover the universe as you made your way through bushes, and brush, and jumped streams, and ran back and forth the beach with no sneakers on, playing games like, “water can’t catch me.” And you’re allowed to explore. You’re encouraged to. Because everyone is watching out for you.
As a teenager, I spent many winter nights bundled up driving snowmobile and having campfires with my buddies. When I close my eyes, I can almost pretend I’m there. And there’s so much warmth in those memories. On a cold winter night in Labrador, the stars are like pieces of pointed, broken bright glass. And there are millions.
I have spent so many nights on the interior of Labrador in cabins playing cards and singing along to the strums of guitars. And sitting around a table, laughing and telling stories in the vast, empty interior is not a lonesome feeling. In these memories, there is no space for malls, movie theatres, fast food restaurants or cellphones. There is only freedom and a love for life.
You know, if you’re in Newfoundland and Labrador, and you’re lost and need directions, someone will literally get in their car and tell you they’re going there, even if they’re not, and escort you directly to where you need to go. And they’ll tell you where to eat, what to try, where to go, and what to “go at,” like the aforementioned shed party. Like, how can you honestly beat this?
You have this overwhelming natural beauty, and in addition, you meet the most beautiful kind and kindred spirits. It’s nothing to see an iceberg tumble and toss in the sea, or to see whales jumping in their natural environment.
Moose, and rabbits, bears, and caribou. Streams and rivers, mountains and lakes and ponds. Snow and ice. The cold Atlantic. The changing colors of the leaves, iceberg ice, iceberg beer, an old guitar, and your uncle up the road.
Yeh, we are the blessed ones.