Finding Home Away from Home

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Nov 16, 2016 11:00 AM

For a long time, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been branching out around the globe in search of stable work, yet they never stop seeking the comforts of home and the camaraderie of their fellow expatriates. Some people, like Daphne Izer (nee Adams) - a longtime expat from Sunnyside - host annual events. Every summer Daphne and her husband host a Newfie Picnic at their home in Lisbon, Maine. There’s always great food, mummering and live entertainment. It helps people reconnect with their Newfoundland and Labrador roots and bring them closer to home for a short while.

But what should an expat pining for home do for the other 364 days of the year? Sometimes they find solace in joining social clubs, a phenomenon that began cropping up in the mid-20th century. The number of clubs have dwindled over the years, partly because of the turnaround careers that bring folks home several times a year, and because Facebook is the way most people keep connected these days. But there is still a desire for organized, in-person get-togethers that continue to fuel some club memberships. Downhome recently caught up with the happenings at two such clubs.

Newfoundland Club of Victoria
Back in 1988, Mary Johnston was a newly relocated Newfoundlander from St. Jacques trying to adjust to life in British Columbia. She put an ad in a local newspaper looking to connect with fellow Newfoundlanders. She attracted a group of 30 expats who formed the Newfoundland Club of Victoria. Membership swelled to 150, then went into a decline as folks retired, moved on or passed away. However, the club is now enjoying a resurgence with a new generation.

“We’re still running strong,” confirms Andrew Russell, the club’s current president. Two years ago they had around 40 members, but under his leadership, it’s grown to 135 members. It also has social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.

Andrew moved out west in 1995. His wife (then his girlfriend) made the trip with him. “She jumped in the car with me and we went with nothing, it just happened!” he says. Andrew had two sisters already living in B.C., one of whom was a member of the Newfoundland Club of Victoria. The couple was invited to the club’s dart league and soon after they became regular members.

Andrew says social events are what people look forward to and it’s the backbone of the club. “That’s what a club is all about. Everyone wants to have events and enjoy, you know, each other’s time,” he says. They gather once a month for a potluck dinner and host a dart league from September to June. The club is “a lot of fun, it’s great bringing Newfoundlanders together and a lot of people have heard about our culture,” Andrew says.

The Newfoundland Club of Victoria is a non-profit group, so fundraising for causes is a part of their socializing. They raise money for a $500 scholarship given out every year to a member’s child or grandchild, and they fundraise for community charity events, including the CIBC Run for the Cure. 

On November 26, the club is holding its annual Newfoundland Christmas kitchen party at the Langford Royal Canadian Legion. There will be a dinner, a prize for the best-dressed mummer and a performance by the Victoria School of Irish Dance. 

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Pining for home, expat clubs organize social events throughout the year, like the Newfoundland Club of Victoria's annual Christmas kitchen party (pictured above). Photos courtesy Andrew Russell

Cambridge Newfoundland Club
When the Bell Island iron ore mines closed back in the 1960s, a lot of islanders packed up their lives and moved to Cambridge, Ontario for work and opportunities. When Dick Stoyles found himself in this new town, though, Newfoundlanders weren’t immediately welcomed with open arms.

“We didn’t get along too well with the Ontario people. We weren’t accepted,” he says. He remembers feeling like a black sheep, “So at the time I decided to do something about it and I got a couple of people together and we started having dances in 1971.” The Cambridge Newfoundland Club was born, and Dick served as its president from 1971 to 1975.

A formal association was a way for people to stay in contact with their fellow expats and get a taste of home. “That’s why the club was built, especially for that. It gave us a place to go and meet and be friends, you know, and keep up our culture,” Dick explains.

Their club building on Dunbar Road opened in 1974, and they had no trouble filling the space. Dick remembers when it first started, “Oh my God, we had 800 members and a list a mile long. You couldn’t get ’em in the doors, they were blocked.” 

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Back then people would drive from as far away as Hamilton, Toronto and Burlington to attend the club’s Saturday night dances. It was a great opportunity for people who hadn’t seen each other in ages to catch up.

The activities of the club also helped Newfoundlanders and Labradorians find acceptance by becoming involved in their community. Throughout the years, the club has raised money for various Cambridge area charities, like the hospital and softball teams. 

A few other Newfoundland clubs were founded in Brampton and London, but Dick says they didn’t survive, though they sometimes host a dance every once in a while. He thinks the Cambridge Newfoundland Club might be the oldest in Canada now. 

The Cambridge club also saw a drop in numbers since its heyday. At the moment, membership is somewhere around 280. “The young people never got involved in the club,” Dick laments. 

However, the social club’s traditions continue. Every summer the club hosts a massive Newfoundlander reunion - the 2017 event will be its 46th. And this month, on December 17, folks will gather for the annual members’ Christmas dinner and dance. There will be delicious food and live entertainment, and donations raised will be given to the Cambridge Firefighters Basket Fund. And they’ll get together once more this season to toast another great year at their New Year’s Eve Bash on the 31st. By Elizabeth Whitten

Do you have a Newfoundland Club in your area? Send a letter to the editor and tell us where you’re to and what you’re at.