adventures in the far east — of canada!

Memorial Day/Canada Day (part one: “Only in Newfoundland…”)

In culture, st. john's on July 2, 2009 at 2:28 am

In Newfoundland and Labrador, July 1st is a time of both celebration and somber remebrance.

During World War I (when it was still the Dominion of Newfoundland–recall they were last to join Canada in 1949), the Newfoundland Regiment suffered terrible losses in the Battle of the Somme in France, July 1, 1916. The battalion was almost all wiped out–but as you should be aware, so were many others in a brutal trench war that was decided by who had the most bodies to sacrifice (where I work, it’s right beside the War Memorial that commemorates the soldiers in the same battle).

So to this province, honouring Memorial Day came first, when it began in 1917, an interesting thing to learn during the Sunrise Ceremony.

Yes, I went. I contend that it should be called the Fog Festival, instead. I only got about an hour of sleep, and headed out at around 4:30 am to take the free shuttle up to Signal Hill (I was only supposed to get 30 minutes of sleep, but you know, when you’ve had so little and the alarm goes…). No loss at all, because I just woulda been stuck up there waiting in the freezing drizzle and wind. My hands were numb, I was damp, and the view that morning on Signal Hill was like we were in the middle of a cloud.

Overall, the Sunrise Ceremony was pretty lame. It began at 6 am (I arrived around 5:10 am), and on arrival, I got a nice summary of the day’s events on paper, a sheet of Canada stickers, a Canada pin, and a hardy paper flag that survived all the drizzle. The Ceremony itself consisted of a bunch of government representatives or dignitaries speaking. They all had their speeches prepared and written out in front of them, so there were some laughs when a few began with like, “Thank you for joining us on this wonderful morning…”

Then a pair of Mounties unfurled and raised the flag, and we sang the bilingual anthem. Then a pair from the Newfoundland Regiment did the same for the province’s flag, and everyone sang Ode to Newfoundland, which I didn’t know, but I suddenly see at my elbow on a tourist map:

When Sun rays crown thy pine clad hills, And Summer spreads her hand
When silvern voices tune thy rills, We love thee smiling land
We love thee, we love thee, We love thee, smiling land.

When spreads thy cloak of shimm’ring white, At Winter’s stern command
Thro’ shortened day and starlit night, We love thee, frozen land
We love thee, we love thee, We love thee, frozen land.

When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore, And wild waves lash thy strand
Thro’ spindrift swirl and tempest roar, We love thee, wind-swept land
We love thee, we love thee, We love thee, wind-swept land.

As loved our fathers, so we love, Where once they stood we stand
Their prayer we raise to heav’n above, God guard thee, Newfoundland
God guard thee, God guard thee, God guard thee, Newfoundland.

Haha–even the provincial anthem readily acknowledges that the province is cold and windy…

Anyhow, after the happy stuff, in honour of Memorial Day, both flags were lowered to half-mast.

Then everyone got free milk, 2% or skim chocolate (you cannot find the brands Lucerne or Dairyland here–all the milk here is from Central Farms, of this province), everyone got a piece of cake. And that was it. Still, considering how early it was, Signal Hill was milling with people. At the end, I also got a spruce sapling in a baggie ready to plant, and a shirt because I answered a piece of super easy trivia. Somewhat disappointed, I shuttled back down, walked home, and got some proper sleep until 1 pm or so. But a few images from atop Signal Hill:

Cold, pre-dawn St. John's

Cold, pre-dawn St. John's

Signal Hill, and seats getting filled

Signal Hill, and seats getting filled

Miss Teen Newfoundland was there

Miss Teen Newfoundland was there

Mounty, raising the flag

Mounty, raising the flag

Hilarious mascot...

Hilarious mascot...

Walking home, I took a few images of the neighbourhood. Again, St. John’s is an old city, so old trees dwarf everthing:

Government house obelisk

Government house obelisk

Fun with lawn mowing

Fun with lawn mowing

Home along Monkstown Road

Home along Monkstown Road

Home near mine on Maxse Street

Home near mine on Maxse Street

After a quick lunch, I set off again, this time bound for the Confederation Building; it was the site where all the events for Canada Day were taking place, all the multicultural performances, songs and dances, and learning!

Upon arrival on Confederation Hill, I watched a contemporary Indian dance routine, and listened to some provincially celebrated, bilingual Jazz pianist before I fled into the crowded Building’s lobby, where other performances, local and international, were occurring.

Confederation Building lobby, full

Confederation Building lobby, full

Sadly, I missed all instances of Celtic Fiddlers–I must admit I’ve always enjoyed me some upbeat Irish jig, and Irish things are a foundation of Newfoundland culture and song–but after a Chinese gu zheng performance, a trio played some Newfoundland tunes I enjoyed. The sound quality isn’t perfect, but you can hear a portion of the audio here (I was going to do the video, but it’s big, so here’s a photo you can animate in your head :)):

Petty Rogues

Petty Rogues

It’s a little less jovial than what I prefer, but I don’t mind that sort of sound, either.

At 3 pm, there was a last tour of the House of Assembly. and this is where I learned the most–but truly, very interesting stuff! Newfoundland has got some quirky history, and there are many unique points about how their government functions, and some funny anecdotes. I’ve never been one for political history or day-to-day process (but I’m all for voting, and being informed of issues!), but this was the exception. Bear with me…

Only in Newfoundland…

  • In our government system, the majority party always sits on the right hand side of the Speaker of the House…but not in Newfoundland. It’s reversed, and the opposition is on the right. It all has to do with the very first assembly they held back in January of 1833. The first Speaker of the representative government then was one John Bingley Garland, and there wasn’t an adequate place to hold it. Januaries here, I’m told, are freezing. Mr. Garland rented out a tavern for the first government meeting, and back then in taverns, the fireplace is on the left side of the room; as Speaker and thus considering himself the most important person, he hogged a spot nearest the fire, and the other members of the government, desperate also for warmth, clustered as near as they could to the heat. As the Speaker sits facing inward, there was far less space to his right, as it’d be the corner of the tavern. From that day onward, the governing party sits to the left of the Speaker.
    House of Assembly

    House of Assembly

    Speaker's...throne

    Speaker's...throne

    The opposition

    The opposition**

    **As I said, the opposition in Newfoundland sits to the Speaker’s right rather than the left, the groups of 1, 3, and 9 desks. The 1 lone seat is for an NDP member, and the 3 group is for the Liberals. What are those other 9 opposition members? Actually…the provincial Progressive Conservatives here have such a majority, there isn’t enough room on the left side to accommodate them! The 9 there is overflow from the majority side, so every day they literally have to cross the floor to begin…

  • Notice the painted portraits along the walls?  There’s one for every Speaker that’s ever been in Newfoundland. In 1834, it was Thomas Bennett…and until fairly recently, he had no portrait. No one knew what he looked like–no photographs, no nothing. One lady in the local press (The Telegram) made it her mission to find out what he looked like–to find a portrait, a photograph, anything. She searched through the provincial archives. Not a single image. She searched through the national archives in Ottawa, still nothing. She then decided to follow up on Mr. Bennett’s various ties to England–for example, he grew up in London. After going through all of their various archives, she still had nothing! It was like he never existed… Upon returning home, she was contacted by a man in St. John’s, who head heard about her quest. He revealed that Thomas Bennett was his great-grandfather, and he had a whole trunk full of memorabilia and his stuff! So in the end, after scouring fruitlessly for any trace of the man at all the obvious places, he shows up in some attic in St. John’s… Mr. Bennett now has had his portrait on the wall for a few years, now.
  • In 1977, French actress Brigitte Bardot first protested Canada’s seal hunt (you may recall she’s returned on occasion for the same reason, and always raises a fuss), and it upset the people here. The  House of Assembly was determined to fire back somehow in support of sealers, but the opportunity didn’t present itself until 1991 or so–all their chairs needed replacing. And what do they do? In a strong “SCREW YOU!” message, all the pale green chairs you see are seal leather, a demonstration that it is much more than just the fur (a misconception caused by animal rights activists, that seal hunting is wasteful because only the fur is desired). Actually, Karen told me that seal has a very distinct flavour, and so I’m very curious to try it–she has some frozen left over that I can have some day, muahaha! 😀
  • It is tradition when a province joins Confederation that all the provinces already in Confederation give gifts (so as the latest province, Newfoundland received the most gifts in 1949). The most important is the mace at the end of the table in the centre of the room–apparently an important ceremonial item, and given to them by British Columbia. This is significant because as the most important object during Assembly, BC giving it represents the unity from one coast all the way to the other. Prince Edward Island’s gift, a silver gavel, is preserved because usage began to warp the soft metal.

Admit it, those facts were pretty cool. 🙂 After some questions from the crowd, the tour was completed, and so was the entertainment in the lobby. Confederation Hill performances still continued, however, and I’ll cover a few remaining miscellaneous Confederation Building things next post, a bit about the remaining Hill acts, and of course–the fireworks!

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