(This photo was gaffed from The Independent, a newspaper in Newfoundland. I'm sure the by's won't mind at all.)
I'm from a sleepy little place on the East Coast of Canada called Newfoundland. My people (like most peoples) are very proud of where we're from and it's becoming a tradition, in the capital city St. John's, that each summer a group of enthusiastic youth plant the flag of the republic in a prominent place overlooking the city. I don't capitalize republic because Newfoundland has never been a republic and probably never will. We have an "accepted" flag already. This one is more like a banished flag from long ago, a flag that was flown by rebels when our province was administered by Britain.
It's good for tourism and the local vendors sell piles of T-shirts and hats and replica flags to those visiting the island. I always like to tell people that we're the only place tough enough to put pink in our flag (don't think you'll find many others) and that it's not something that should be taken too seriously, just a gimmick, and that Newfoundlanders aren't too interested in divorcing ourselves from Canada. We've been screwed over by some of the deals we've made with the country and the other provinces, especially regarding resources like hydro and fossil fuels, which sees other regions making huge profits because of technicalities. For example, there's a deal in place whereby Newfoundland provides electricity to Quebec at rates which seemed reasonable in 1972 before the oil shocks. Now Quebec re-sells this power to New York State at a profit of roughly 4 billion dollars a year and Newfoundland can't renegotiate the contract until 2042 or something ridiculous like that. Even a billion dollars a year would mean that a province like ours with a population of less than 500 000 people would be a wealthy little place. But that's just sour grapes as far as I'm concerned. Why should Quebec or the rest of the country be responsible for stupid deals our government made decades ago?
For the last number of years a debate about this flag and the prospect of independence has been raging in the local papers. "What's wrong with the flag we've got?" some say. "Why would we want to strike out on our own?" say others. In many ways I have to agree. Not because I'm unpatriotic or anything, but because the world we live in is much more complex than that. It's a global community we live in now and by choosing to accentuate the differences we have with others would be to isolate ourselves, to become an island adrift, and counter-productive. I think it's important that people are proud of where they're from, but nationalism, in any guise, is a dangerous thing, and harping on about the republic that's never been as though it's inevitable is sheer folly. We're a lost people, wandering in search of ourselves and our identity, the things other than hardship that bind us together, and many rational thinkers in the province are boiling over because we seem to be merely treading water.
A big part of this comes from the fact that so many Newfoundlanders have been forced to move away from home, to leave our quite place for the big cities of mainland Canada, like Toronto and Edmonton, in search of work and in search of a future. Even though things have never been better in Newfoundland it still has the highest rates of unemployment in the country and our main industry, fishing, has all but disappeared due to over harvesting the stocks (something else we must take responsibility for instead of blaming the federal government in Ottawa for mismanagement). I'm one of the people who's left home. I've been on the move for almost a decade now, trying to find my place in this world and yet trying to hold on to where I'm from at the same time. This is a shared experience of our people. That we must all go away and hope to one day return, called back by the sea and the stone, by the ruggedness of the landscape and the people, the sense of community and belonging that we don't find anywhere else.
Some days I find myself yearning for home. I look through all the pictures in my shoe box -- my friends and family, the ocean that was in my backyard, the gulls and the whales and the icebergs, the music and the pubs. But more than anything what I long for on these days is the feeling of being there, the way I'm a part of it all and not an outsider as I am in these huge smoking cities filled with people watching the time and markets. I miss the stillness of my town at night, how I could walk the streets and hear only the lapping of the waves, a distant fog horn. I miss the way the sun hit the water. I miss that feeling that all Newfoundlanders know, and why we kiss the rocky ground each time we return. I miss home.
(all the images in the clip below are from in and around St. John's. Ron Hynes is one of our best known bards and his song has been in my mind all day)