The Rock is an island situated well out in the North Atlantic. It is large, at 108,860 km squared and three and a half times larger than Vancouver Island. The name is a misnomer as it has a varied landscape, with glacial barrens, limestone and lots of boreal forest and wildlife.
I am referring to Newfoundland. The name “The Rock” stuck when Eastern Provincial Airline (EPA) pilots flew in bad weather, as is common in the North Atlantic. The story was that if a gull could leave the rock it was pitched on and fly, so could EPA pilots. The name stuck.
Newfoundland history is the oldest place settled in what we now call Canada. The Vikings arrived around 1000 CE. L’Anse aux Meadows marks the spot and is now a World Heritage site. When the Vikings arrived, Newfoundland had 9000 years of human habitants. An Indigenous race, known as the Beothuck lived a migratory life there and resisted any contact. The history of this race is not well understood, but the last living Beothuck, Shawnadelkit (or Nancy April as she was called when living in a white household) died in 1829. She managed to share some of Beothuck history through her art of chewing designs in Birch bark.
Newfoundland’s history is long, but was the last to join the Dominion of Canada on March 31, 1949. Newfies signed up for World War 11 while still the Dominion of Newfoundland. The population, dispersed along coastal towns, still only numbers around five hundred thousand. Newfies love the Rock, but are also energetic, adventurous and prepared to move away when economic necessity forces their hand. No matter how far away, they still attach to the Rock like moss.
This moving away is a repetitive pattern, and as I now know, it happened back in the 1940s. My Aunt met a Newfie (George) in Manitoba at an Air Force base dance. He carried her picture all through the war and they were married after the war ended. His family had left Newfoundland by then, and settled in Toronto. My Uncle George’s plane had crashed in Norway. The Norwegian Resistance had sheltered and helped him and his fellow mates escape the occupying Germans. It was by chance; I bumped into something on the Internet and sent to my cousin, his son. It was after Uncle George died, we found out this heroic story but he did not tell anyone, nor talk of the war. His son and wife were recently part of a celebration in the Norwegian town that saved the Canadians. They were able to live his Father’s story in place, from plane crash to re-enacting the fishing boat that got them past the Germans.
Uncle George was the eldest of six brothers. Five went to war as soon as they reached age of enlistment; the sixth was only twelve years old. I first met the Grandy boys when I was nine years old. My brother, age 4, and myself were shipped on a train to Toronto with only a few hours notice. This was to protect us from rising floodwaters and typhoid fever in the Winnipeg 1950 flood. I knew little about Newfoundland, and the war was a vague idea. The five brothers had all survived the war. They were in 1950 still young men, living their lives.
I only knew that these brothers were always joking around, laughing and making sure my brother and I had fun at the lake. They taught us to fish and to take pictures of us with our catch. Now as I look back, I realize they were enjoying life after the trauma of the war. I was sad to learn the war effects on the two in the navy that affected them later in life.
Perhaps it what that first fun exposure to Newfies that attracted me in my adult years to the comedians from Newfoundland. The Rock brings out dark humour. CODCO was the first Newfie comedy troupe that used self-deprecating “Newfie” humour. This evolved into “This hour has 22 Minutes” and spawned Rick Mercer into his own show. Mary Walsh has been a prominent Newfie comedian for years. As she portrayed Marg Delahunty, the Warrior Princess, she was able to poke gentle fun at our political leaders and make us laugh. Most leaders went along with it, but Rob Ford was so scared when the Warrior Princess approached him he called 911. Imagine the humour in that, Rob scared of Marg (the character) when he had no problems cavorting with his shady buddies.
The Rock has even been with me on travels. In a Dublin pub, late afternoon, with nobody around except spouse and myself, we watched a crew “practice”. They came over and said you must think us crazy, do you know what we are. I responded that I knew they were mummers. They immediately joined us for a pint and went on how Newfies were brothers to Ireland. We were friends just by the fact I knew they were mummers from the practice on the Rock. The ties are strong as over 20% of the Rock is of Irish descent and carry the music and joy of Ireland in their souls.
One of the most fascinating books I read was the Brendon Voyage, which followed the route of Irish monks in the 800s, in the same small leather boat on the same route. The Brendon group had to turn back because the modern equipment had broken down. They refitted to the primitive equipment the monks would have had in the 6th century and finally completed the voyage. I am not sure that it is established that the Irish monks were the first to the Rock. The Brendon voyage showed the possibility.
My connection to The Rock is in my mind. Although I have lived in four provinces, visited eight of the provinces, and even spent four weeks in St. Pierre & Miquelon (700 km from Newfoundland), I have never set foot on the Rock! I am prepared to kiss a cod and take a shot of Screech if that is what it takes for acceptance by these special, fun loving people. I want to experience the Rock in the deepest way to honour how much the Rock has contributed to Canadian culture.