Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Enduring Rock

“Francois’s television antennas — make-shift wooden crosses, unnervingly like primitive grave markers — are silhouetted on the hilltops. I heard it said more than once in the outports that the arrival of television had changed Newfoundland irrevocably. However that may be, the music of outport kitchens, the ticking of clocks, the sputter of fireboxes, and the rhythm of knitting needles and rockers now must compete with the cacophony of the sitcom and the quiz show.”
National Geographic, May 1986
National Geographic is in the local news this week after St. John’s city council’s tourism advisory committee said it wanted to join forces with the magazine to establish eastern Newfoundland as an official National Geographic “geotourism destination.”

Which would essentially put our geography front and center on the world’s tourism map.

When I heard the news I was immediately reminded of a 25-page spread that National Geographic did on Newfoundland (before the name change) in 1986 — 24 years ago.

And so I dug out my copy.

Headlined Newfoundland, The Enduring Rock, the article by Harry Thurston was accompanied by extraordinarily powerful photography.

But then that's what National Geographic is known for.
Take today's lead photo on National Geographic’s homepage — a jarring picture of fish with hands.

Found off Tasmania, the pink handfish uses its fins to walk, rather than swim, along the ocean floor.

If our codfish had fingers (and why not, turbot have fingernails) in which direction do you suppose they’d point the middle one?

I digress.
The photography from the ’86 shoot was spectacular — especially of the south coast community of Francois, cod fishing off Twillingate, a sea stack at Cape St. Mary’s, and hanging clothes on a backyard line in Labrador.

Interesting notes:

• NL’s unemployment rate in ’86 stood at 21.9 per cent — the highest in Canada. Today, the unemployment rate is pegged at 15 per cent — still the highest in Canada.

• According to the article, then-premier Brian Peckford had a reputation as a "political scrapper" in standing up for Newfoundland. Brian … Danny … not much has changed politically in 24 years.

• Jack Troake was described as one of 700 Twillingate sealers. I wonder if there there that many sealers in all of NL today?

The feature’s last lines are worth repeating:

“My odyssey through Newfoundland had left me feeling that many of its traditions inevitably would be eroded by oil development or things unforeseen that might come ashore in the decades ahead. But Newfoundlanders would stand like the Rock itself before the winds of change.”

The National Geographic article put the population of Newfoundland in 1986 — 6 years prior to the northern cod moratorium, the first in a string of commercial fishery closures — at 581,000 people.

As of Jan. 1, 2010, NL’s population stands at just about 511,000.

We’ve lost 70,000 people in 24 years.

No doubt we are like the Rock.

Only the winds of change have taken their toll.

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