Happy Canada Day. Condolences on Memorial Day.

It will not come as a surprise to anyone who sees and hears TV or radio that the island of Newfoundland and a chunk of the mainland, Labrador, is in a time zone of its own — Newfoundland Standard Time.  The island is three and a half hours from Coordinated Universal Time (CTU) or what used to be called Greenwich Mean Time.  That means time is a half an hour earlier on the rock.

It’s only one example of how things are a bit different in the land of Your Working Girl’s birth.  Sometimes things are also the opposite of what they seem and people say the opposite of what they mean.

So when people say, “sure, when that Billy Pevie comes over, he wouldn’t drink a thimble full” it actually means that Billy Pevie is a bit of an alky and you’d better look out.”

Or “the sun never sets over the Avalon” actually means there is a lot of rain, drizzle and fog on that part of the island.

Every Canada Day, another poignant difference emerges.

On July 1, 1916 the a Newfoundland Regiment was nearly wiped out on the battlefield of Beaumont-Hamel – 733 of the 801 1st Newfoundland Regiment was wounded or killed. The battle lasted less than half an hour for the Newfoundlanders. The total Allied causalities on the first day of the battle were 57,470 of which 19,240 were fatal.

July 1.  Memorial Day.  Every year.

In the Newfoundland of Your Working Girl’s childhood, there was no joyful celebration.  It was a day when her dear father dug out his World War II medals, put on a blue blazer and joined his friends from the Legion — war veterans — as they marched or shuffled, depending on their age, up and down the hills of Portugal Cove, carrying rifles on their shoulders, to the war memorial in a cleared out little space in the cove.

The War Memorial is a landmark.

“He lives up by the War Memorial.”

“The car ran of gas by the War Memorial.”

“I saw them holding hands up by the War Memorial.”

Your Working Girl’s grandfather’s name is on the memorial.  Every July 1st, me or my sister had the job of worming our way through the assembled crowd to lay a wreath at its feet.  The carnations, mums and daisies poked out of a mushy circle of moss wrapped in green plastic, squishy and heavy.  Your Working Girl remembers heaving it up to the piece of stone and laying it there.  Then, head down, she’d push her way back through the crowd to take up post next to her mother.    She thinks of it every time she sees a world leader laying a ceremonial wreath.

Memorial Day was commemorated in Newfoundland from the First World War on, well before it joined Canada in 1949.  The rest of Canada celebrated Dominion Day.

In 1982, Dominion Day was re-Christened Canada Day and the serious fireworks and celebrations that are now universally held across the country, and sponsored by all levels of government, began to take hold.

Your Working Girl spent one of her best Canada Days on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and has never seen such fire works light the sky against a backdrop of our historical Parliament buildings.  She spent another Canada Day weekend driving through Northern Ontario and was spellbound by the lakes, trees and winding path of the Trans-Canada Highway.  Yet another in downtown Toronto sitting on the front step with her children and a bowl of popcorn waving little Canadian flags along with her neighbours, the majority of whom were not born in this country.

Your Working Girl loves the miracle of our country and every day feels grateful for having won the lucky draw of fate to have been born here.

Yet she also feels the pull the tug of a place and time in Newfoundland.

Like Mole in The Wind in the Willows who, when he gets a scent of his former home, feels an indescribable longing for the place where he feels a familiar shared history.  Your Working Girl’s longing this Canada Day is with those who share the part of her DNA that is rooted in the remembrance of young men who died in a horrible war so long ago, of old men in musty jackets with rifles on their soldiers shuffling around Portugal Cove, of little girls laying wreaths to men they’ve never met.

And her solace is the idea that these men must surely rest a little easier, take a little comfort and maybe even smile a little smile to know their terrible sacrifice has helped make our country what it is today and our lives so much easier than theirs.

May they rest in eternal peace and may they always find a place in our hearts.  Because by marking this day, whether Canada Day or Memorial Day, Your Working Girl feels it important to remember that we didn’t get here by ourselves.

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  1. Nicely done!

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