I am not (Necessarily) a Canadian

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Nov 30, -0001 12:00 AM
We may not need a Newfoundland history lesson, but a brief one is important to my Point-Counterpoint contribution to Downhome, which we all know is the best magazine coming out of Newfoundland to keep all of us who are away in touch with the "Rock." (Ed. note: thanks for the plug, Alexis.)

The first foreign claim was laid to this "new found land" by Britain on August 5, 1583, through Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Following that, Newfoundland went through a period as a British colony and then the Dominion of Newfoundland. Then on March 31, 1949, Newfoundland joined Canada as its 10th province.

With that event things changed, some for the better, some for the worse. The Confederation agreement was done under the guidance of our then-premier Joey Smallwood and a narrow margin of votes from those Newfoundlanders who saw advantages in being a part of Canada, such as the baby bonus.

Both of my parents (now deceased) were born in Newfoundland, as were their parents and their parents before them. My grandfather, Arthur Barter, was a survivor of the sinking of the Duchess of Cornwall and was once a prisoner of war. My father, Alexander (Sandy) Barter, was born in Burgeo in 1916, after which the Barter family moved to Corner Brook to build a home and make their mark. My father was in the home forestry and when World War II broke out, he joined the British Navy as an able-bodied seaman, went overseas under the Union Jack to fight for King and country, and finally returned at the end of the war. Years later in 2000, when my father was brought home to be buried in the land he loved, the Legion hall flew its Union Jack at half-mast in his memory. Legionnaires attended the church service and played last taps as they lay one of their fighting brothers to rest.

I am so very proud that my father and grandfather were part of Newfoundland history. I was proud that we were British and sang "God save the King;" now we still sing of our beloved Queen Elizabeth II. My grandmother had a picture of Queen Victoria on her wall and said what a wonderful queen she had been. All this is part of the history of so many Newfoundland people still living today. We are very proud of our heritage and our beautiful land.

Perhaps that is why Canada Day brings mixed emotions in Newfoundland and Labrador. It's the national holiday for celebrating our nation, yet July 1 is also a time of remembrance in this province for the members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment killed at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916. On any given day, many of us still fly the Union Jack. It is more than a historic connection with Britain; it is a symbol of our past and the fine Newfoundlanders who came before us.

Clearly, my family and many like us identify strongly with our Newfoundland and British heritage. But here is where our allegiances and histories get complicated. I have three siblings and we were all born before the end of the Second World War in 1944, five years before Confederation. Why then, when I sent my baptismal certificate to St. John's, as did my mother, Lilla Jeanette (nee Cater), did we receive Canadian birth certificates? None of us were born in Canada, though some will argue we were naturalized Canadians when Newfoundland joined Canada.

But I see something wrong here. Why were we not issued a certificate that states we were born in Newfoundland? Even more precisely, why were we not issued dual citizenship: British and Canadian? Would we all be American-born had Newfoundland joined the United States?

I view this as a very important question. I had asked my parents but they had no idea why our birth certificates are Canadian. Aren't there other Newfoundlanders in this position who have been wondering the same thing?

I think those of us born in Newfoundland before Confederation have a right to dual citizenship. I am sure many of our forefathers would feel remembered and we would be doubly honoured.

By B. Alexis Barter
B. Alexis Barter is a Downhome reader and a Newfoundlander who is proud of her British roots.