“Mainland newspaper editors seem unable, or unwilling, to grasp the fact that ‘Newfie,’ like ‘Nigger,’ ‘Frog’ or ‘Wop’ is a term of derision. The Americans, some of whom are masters of this sort of thing, pinned the title on us 20 years ago. ‘Goofie Newfies,’ remember?”
FORTY YEARS LATER
On Nov. 3rd, 2008, Premier Danny Williams made the following statement after Newfoundland and Labrador officially became a “have” province:
“I don't think the Newfie joke is there anymore. I think we're now an example to our fellow Canadians of how it can be done and how to work your way through hardship."
•••So is newfie still a bad word?
Notice I didn’t cap the N for newfie.
I used to, once upon a time as editor of The Independent, but I stopped after readers complained.
They felt that newfie was a garbage word, undeserving of the distinction of a capital N.
newfie (years later and I can’t even cap it to start a sentence) doesn’t have the same negative impact it once did, but I still cringe when I hear it.
Especially by Newfoundlanders — more specifically, those Newfoundlanders who return home after being away on the mainland — in reference to themselves.
Stay-at-home Newfoundlanders don’t call ourselves newfies, in case you were wondering.
I can’t shake the memory of my 12th summer, and a month spent with an aunt in Ontario.
Some mainland kids learned I was from Newfoundland and let the little newfie have it.
So yeah, I still cringe.
Just not as much as I used to.
I got a call this week from a producer with Q, CBC Radio’s national arts magazine show hosted by Jian Ghomeshi.
Ghomeshi is probably best known for an interview he did this time last year with Billy Bob Thornton, who freaked out because Ghomeshi dared ask him about his movie career when he had been instructed to stick to Thornton’s music.
The bizarre interview put Ghomeshi on the map in radioland.
Q is being taped here in St. John’s this week leading up to Juno weekend, and the producer asked me to participate in a Thursday morning panel discussion about the “new Newfoundland.”
The producer asked me a string of questions to feel me out.
Does “newfie” still bother us?
How can newfie still sting when Newfoundland has become so "cool"?
Have Newfoundlanders become cocky?
What impact has all the oil money had on the culture and place?
Good questions all.
The biggest change to Newfoundland and Labrador in recent years hasn’t only been in how the rest of Canada sees us, but in how we see ourselves.
There’s confidence in the air, as thick as fog.
Not cockiness, mind you.
I wouldn't go that far.
There’s talent too, but that’s always been the case.
More people are just lookin’.
The way I see it, there’s no danger to our uniqueness — not as long as we’re an island.
In that light, I say frig the fixed link.
I don’t worry about the impact of oil on our culture (it won't last that long), so much as the impact of the absence of fish and forestry on our culture.
Town booms as the bay bawls, is one way to look at it.
Other than that life is good.
How could it not be with tickets this week to The Once and Hey Rosetta!
The trick to being happy in Newfoundland and Labrador is not to look too far ahead.
•••I’ll end off the post with more Ray Guy words from 40 years ago.
“Newfoundlanders, what are we?
We’re human beings. We’ve had a hard existence for 400 years and some of the rough edges still show.”
It's been 500 years now, and our edges are as rough as ever.
But they look and sound some good on the Republic of Doyle, I must say.