On March 31, Newfoundland and Labrador marked the 70th anniversary of joining Canada. Writer Edward Riche gets inside the psyche of the youngest province now living the senior life.
Happy 70th birthday to Canada’s “Happy Province.” You’ve been a “senior” for five years. There is no denying it: you are officially getting long in the tooth. “Elderly” sounds like an affliction, so let’s go with calling you an “elder,” which has a ring of prestige,
You have to go to the doctor more often than you’d like to now. You went to see her about Burnt Head. But she says that it was nothing to worry about, and the good news is that you’re Heart’s Content. She thinks your latitude is a little high for someone your age. You know it - you really feel the damp and cold these days, your isthmuses ache and you think you might be developing Bull Arm.
No wonder. You have worked long and hard: in the fishery for a time, as a nurse on the South Coast, in St. John’s chained to a desk, and with the cousin, Alberta, for a patch.
The doctor is on about your diet. Admit it; you weren’t completely honest about the quantity of salt meat you are still eating. Or salt pork or salt fish. You are going to have to watch the salt. You were skin and bones before Confederation, half starved on the dole during Commission of Government. Have to admit you are a little big now. You’re going to have to limit Mary Brown’s to special occasions. But 70 years old or not, there is no way you are denying yourself a fi and chi with dr and gr from Leo’s when you are in town on business. What would be the point of living?
You never go on a tear like you used to (there was many a time!); you can’t take the punishment the next morning and you don’t sleep well at the best of times. But you still enjoy the occasional nip and cannot resist singing songs long into the night. For whatever reason, the one thing you never forget, even as you get more forgetful, are the words to all the old tunes. The younger crowd are always impressed when you belt out the “When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore / And wild waves lash thy strand / Thro’ spindrift swirl and tempest roar” verse of the Ode, or sing to them that “Jim Brine, Din Ryan, Flipper Smith and Caroline” were also at The Kelligrews Soiree.
In a moment of youthful exuberance, you did the Upper Churchill project and overlooked some of the contractual details; never thought of the long-term consequences. But in 1969 you were just 20, and what 20-year-old thinks about their future? The Sprung Greenhouse, that was a mid-life crisis; you see that now. You were flush with oil money, so you spent too much on Muskrat Falls. Live and learn.
Couples like Newfoundland and Labrador always have their troubles, but you’ve managed to work through them. There’s been the occasional row, but you each have to admit that there is no one who would understand either of you better than the other. Face it: you are both a little weird.
And what a brood you two produced! Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them, most of them gone off on their own now. Cousin Ontario needed the extra hands and imagination, so you didn’t try to stop the youngsters from going upalong to lend assistance. Your kids have done well there. That’s the problem with having children: you raise them to be interesting, independent people, capable of fending for themselves, and they go off and have their own interesting lives. And the grandchildren, alas, they are more Canadians than Newfoundlanders. That’s the way it goes.
The place seems so big and empty with them gone that you’re wise to be taking people in. And the crowd from the Philippines and Syria have turned out to be best kind, so you hope they will stick around to have their own families, the next generation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
With age comes wisdom, the greatest of which is gratitude for all you have. You finally see that. All along, you were looking for something you already had. You tried being like other Canadian provinces, you carried on like Florida for a brief interval, but now, at 70, you know who you are and all your blessings. You can stand on a mountain up north, black spruce in an eternity of white, and hear not a sound, nothing, pure silence. You know the bliss of a boil-up in the country after a day picking berries. Another day you’re up early to go out for a few fish and the sun is rising over the water of the bay and you can smell the sea. Until you’ve seen enough of them, you don’t realize that every dawn breaks anew, that every sunrise is unique.
You are 70 and there’s nothing you want. You realize you have it all.
A writer for the page, stage and screen Edward Riche was born in Botwood, on the beautiful Bay of Exploits. He now resides in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.