December 19, 2007

Capture the spirit of the season

We are -for better or for worse- in the midst of the Christmas season.

Although the origins of Christmas share the origin of Christianity, a major world religion, I won't get into a discussion of world religions here due to the complexities and the overt possibility I may get something wrong, offending someone.

For all intents and purposes, it's a giant birthday party that has been ongoing for over 2000 years. Of course, it's a tradition to give gifts at a birthday party, so we give gifts to each other and have our own parties.

Ah, Christmas. Does it bring to mind an image of families reuniting and gathering around a beautifully lit tree, listening to carols, exchanging gifts and basking in togetherness with the smell of turkey in the oven, with kids laughing and pets playing with the wrapping? Or instead, insane hordes of shoppers scrambling through stores, squabbling over a certain toy, and yelling at the tired store associates because it's not in stock?

I suppose the latter ultimately leads to the former but the money mongering retail empires see Christmas as nothing more than a huge source of profit for them. Indeed, the end result can be a child's happiness, but do these corporations have to slam it down our throats with slogans such as "THERE ARE x SHOPPING DAYS TO CHRISTMAS!"

People are blitzed by an onslaught of advertising campaigns and pressured to spend wads of cash and blow their credit card limit while somewhere executives and board directors in suits are counting cash and dreaming up new ways to lure customers in and make more money.

Some big retail stores in Canada even have their doors open for 24 hours for the Christmas season. I find this ridiculous and unnecessary. Who will be out shopping at 2am in the morning? Go to bed, b'y. The store will be open during normal business hours - in the day. I wish both the hard-working day staff and night crew of a particular store (you know who you are) season's greetings.

And a merry Christmas to the rest of my dear readers. I'll be in Newfoundland for Christmas week. It's been over two years since I've been on home soil and smelled the salty sea air, so this will be a special one indeed. For my fellow Newfoundlanders - particularly some close friends of mine here in Lloydminster - who must stay here for the holiday season, I wish you a warm and wonderful Christmas.

Thanks for reading and I hope to continue this series in 2008!

Setting course for Newfoundland. Warp speed, engage.

November 12, 2007

March into history

For such a small place, Newfoundland's military history is formidable. The original Newfoundland regiment was first founded in 1780 to serve in the British Army. It was disbanded and refounded several times under different names. The regiment was significantly involved in the War of 1812. Soldiers fought aboard ships as marines in battles of the Great Lakes, as infantry in Michigan, and in the battle to defend Toronto from the Americans. It was disbanded in 1816.

As of September 26, 1907 (100 years ago this year), Newfoundland was a self-governing Dominion of the British Empire.

Newfoundland, being a part of the British Empire, entered the First World War on August 4, 1914. It raised the 1st Newfoundland Regiment from a small population base, to fight alongside the British Army. They faced many hardships, but one infamous battle is still in our cultural memory today. The date was July 1, 1916. The location was in France during the first World War, 801 1st Newfoundland Regiment soldiers sprang from the Beaumont Hamel trenches to engage the enemy in the Battle of the Somme.

The regiment was scheduled to reinforce what was hoped to be sweeping victories across the front.

When the time came to march to the jumping-off point, the Newfoundlanders found -most likely to their horror- that the lead trenches were tightly packed with dead and dying soldiers of the first waves. The British soldiers had been stopped by barbed wire and automatic weapons fire. The Newfoundlanders had to fall back and attack from secondary trenches.

They faced an increased amount of open ground which in effect made them sitting ducks. The Germans had a clear line of sight and were able to easily pick them off. The Newfoundland Regiment never made it past their own concentrations of barbed wire.

Out of the 801, 255 were dead, 386 were wounded, and 91 were listed as missing. Only 68 answered the regimental roll call the next day. It was, and continues to stand as, the greatest military loss Newfoundland has ever faced. To this day, Beaumont-Hamel remains the most significant single military action fought by Newfoundlanders, and it marked a turning point in the history and culture of the island. It is possible that Newfoundland never fully recovered from the loss of so many of its male population.

In late 1917 the regiment was granted the "Royal" prefix by King George V, making it the only regiment of the British Empire to receive that honour with a war already in progress.

After Newfoundland was made part of Canada in 1949, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment became the main militia unit for the province with battalions based in St. John's, Corner Brook and Grand Falls-Windsor. Since 1992, soldiers and sub-units of the three-battalion Royal Newfoundland Regiment have been alongside regular force units in Cyprus and Bosnia on peacekeeping missions.

July 1, while it is marked as a celebration of Canadian Confederation across the rest of the country, is also a Memorial Day in Newfoundland. Of course, Sunday marked November 11 - Remembrance Day. A day we fall silent to remember those who have fought for our freedoms . . . and think about those soldiers who are currently fighting in conflicts across the globe.

Three simple words: lest we forget.

October 12, 2007

Avalanche on the Rock

The Newfoundland Inkslinger news bureau was intently covering the Newfoundland provincial election this past Tuesday evening. In reality, this major news bureau consisted of myself munching on pizza and listening to VOCM Radio streaming online while reading CBC News.

The Conservatives led by Danny Williams won by a landslide. Make that an avalanche. Newfoundland and Labrador is now almost totally coated in Tory blue.

To put it bluntly, the Liberal Party of Newfoundland is effectively annihilated. They now hold three seats. The Conservatives hold 43 seats. The NDP holds one. Prior to the election campaign, the governing Tories had held 34 of 48 seats in the House of Assembly. The Liberals had 11 seats, while the NDP had held one seat. There were two vacancies.

Granted, the Liberal party had some shortfalls along the way, which were unfortunate and nothing for any moral-minded person to gloat over. Liberal candidate for the Grand Falls-Buchans district Gerry Tobin died suddenly of a heart attack, shocking everyone. Nominations for that district will close Oct. 27. Voting will take place November 6.

Another candidate, Clayton Hobbs, in the Bonavista South district withdrew because of health reasons. The region's running Tory was acclaimed by the chief electoral office. Then on the big night the leader of the Liberal Party Gerry Reid was defeated in his own district by just seven votes, which will be contested (a margin of less than 10 votes triggers an automatic recount). The last time an Opposition caucus was limited to three members was in 1966, when three PCs squared off against a Joey Smallwood majority of 39 members.

According to Elections Newfoundland and Labrador, the province has 353,304 eligible voters. There were 220,339 ballots cast, making the voter turnout roughly 62 per cent, which was lower than most elections.

Williams' 69.5 vote percentage is the highest since the 1949 election, when Joseph R. Smallwood's Liberals formed the first provincial government with 70 per cent.

This is all very exciting for Newfoundlanders home and abroad. After more than 50 years since confederation, the foundations are being laid for "have" province status. Under Williams' watch annual deficits, which had were approaching about $1 billion, have been replaced by a surplus for this fiscal year of about $261 million.

However, it comes with several problems.

There is no official opposition. William's government is now essentially free to do as it pleases. For instance, buying full page ads in the Globe and Mail to make fun of Prime Minister Steven Harper seemed a little childish . . . but effective nonetheless.

I do have respect for Williams and what he's been able to accomplish for Newfoundland so far, but an Opposition is needed to keep the government in check. An Opposition is an important part of the democratic process.

The media will have to step up to be the opposition. The local newspapers, radio and television stations will have to raise the issues.

And I will be here in Alberta, navigating them from afar.

September 19, 2007

A study of language

Since arriving in Alberta, I've heard the word “eh” or the phrases such as “you betcha”, “gong show” and “bunny hug” (I don't understand what bunnies have to do with a hoodie) being uttered often. I've often wondered about their origins. I have a speech impediment, and casual study of speaking styles is interesting to me.

“Whatta ya at, b'y?”

If you're an Albertan or from elsewhere in mainland Canada, you probably notice a Newfoundlander's distinct dialect and quick rate of speech upon first meeting one. I'm an exception - my irksome speech impediment forces me to sometimes slow down my rate to speak clearly - which despite getting some therapy is easier said than done, pardon the bad pun. Where does our particular style of speaking come from? How did your speech evolve into what it is today? Here's what I know of Newfoundland's background.

As you probably know, Newfoundland is an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The Dominion of Newfoundland's original settlers were from England, Scotland and Ireland. Over the generations, isolated from the rest of the world, a unique dialect was formed from a mixture of English, Scottish and Irish accents. Furthermore, every Newfoundland community has its own unique sub-dialect. Communities long ago were also isolated, which caused them to develop their own micro dialect. For instance, I'm from Carbonear, and my speech patterns are different from someone, say, in Red Head Cove - which is about an hour's distance.

English spoken in Newfoundland contains many non-standard linguistic features - mainly including pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, meanings and expressions. For the most part these features are preserved speaking styles from areas of the British Isles. Other features are variations that were once standard in earlier stages of the English language. The island-nation of Australia went through a similar development.

We even have our own dictionary compiled - The Dictionary of Newfoundland English. Go online and point your Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers to this address: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/.

By the time Newfoundland was made a part of Canada in 1949, roughly three hundred years of isolated development which deviated from Standard English had taken place. There are three distinct pronunciations of “l”, dropping and adding of the initial “h”, pronunciation of “th” as “t” or “d” and loss of “r”. As I mentioned earlier, we seem to have the throttle kicked up in our speaking speed - according to my research, this may be actually a combination of the pronunciation differences and unusual sayings.

I admit that observing a non-Newfoundlander's reaction to our speaking style is interesting. I remember once having a conversation with two friends from Newfoundland one day during lunch at my previous place of work. I remember hearing someone next to us remark (and this is possibly paraphrased): “I can't understand what they're saying - they talk so fast.” The speech sounds perfectly ordinary to me.

August 29, 2007

Be hopeful, but skeptical

After a series of tense negotiations, Newfoundland and Labrador signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Wednesday, August 22 to develop the Hebron offshore oilfield.

Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, said during a press conference in St. John’s that it is a “historic day” for the province. Since it entered Confederation in 1949, resources were essentially given away by misguided politicians. “Step by step, we are becoming masters of our own house,” he said.

“Today’s announcement is good news not only for those directly related to the oil and gas industry,” said Kathy Dunderdale, Minister of Natural Resources, “but also to every Newfoundlander and Labradorian who will enjoy the economic benefits of this exciting development.”

At the current oil price of approximately $70 dollars (US) allowing for two per cent inflation, total revenues of $16 billion (CAD) are expected to accumulate in the province over the 25-year life of the project. In addition to revenues for the province, the federal government and Canadians will be benefiting from more than $7 billion in revenues from this project.

Local benefits are maximized with this agreement. From the start of construction through to the end of oil production, Hebron will generate significantly more jobs in the province than either the Terra Nova or White Rose offshore oilfield projects. For instance, a gravity based structure (GBS) will be constructed in Newfoundland and Labrador and all fabrication work will be completed in the province, with the exception of the utilities/process module. It will provide more engineering benefits, more revenue and more fabrication tonnage in the province than White Rose or Terra Nova does.

Based on the estimates of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, the Hebron-Ben Nevis field contains in excess of 700 million barrels of recoverable oil. The field, which was discovered in 1981, is located approximately 350 kilometres offshore. The owners expect it to be able to produce 150,000 to 170,000 barrels of oil a day.

Liberal Opposition Leader Gerry Reid is pleased but skeptical. “While today’s announcement is not an agreement and negotiations could once again go off the rails, it is encouraging that at least all parties are once again talking,” he said. “I am disappointed that it took 18 months to reach this point while thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have left the province in search of work.”

The province will purchase an equity ownership position of 4.9 per cent at a price of $110 million (CAD). If the $16-billion Hebron deal is finalized, construction could begin in 2010.

I am agreeing with Mr. Reid on this one and taking this agreement with a grain of salt. When or if this project gets underway, are there hidden details we don’t know about? Williams is insisting confidentially on the details of the MOU, which immediately raises suspicions. Coincidentally, campaigning for an October provincial election will be officially underway soon.

Be positive, but don’t get too excited. My email is hutchings_i@yahoo.ca. What are your feelings on this agreement?

August 8, 2007

Where is home, really?

What does home mean to you? Is it the house you grew up in or, as a relation put it: “home is where your stuff is.” What is your heart crying out for when you are homesick? Do you miss your family, your friends, your house or hometown or province, or a combination of these?

I’ve been living in Lloydminster for over a year, but the Welcome Wagon came to the Booster office several weeks ago and officially welcomed me to Lloydminster with a bag of coupons and letters. I guess I’ll be living here for awhile, if you’ll have me. Since my arrival in January 2006, life has been a roller-coaster, as I bounced from job to job, from a restaurant to retail, then to the Booster.

I recently had the joy of seeing my mother and aunt again for two weeks. They, along with a few other relatives who live in Lloyd, helped make the transition easier. My apartment actually looks liveable now – all it needed was a mother’s touch. Sadly, the ten days we were allocated went by much too quickly. Not everything that I planned was done, due to my busy life. It was a fun time though, one that I really didn’t want to end. Due to the great distance between Newfoundland and Alberta, the last time I saw my mom and aunt was in October 2005. I haven’t seen my father since September of that year, as he had left on a business trip. Neither of us expected that I suddenly would be getting my first newspaper job and flying off before he got back. Due to the rapid cascade of events that took place, I sometimes feel like I was ripped away from home too quickly.

At the end of their visit, there was no long good-bye. I was relieved, because I was dreading it. When we arrived at Edmonton International Airport in the early morning, my cousin and I helped our mothers with their luggage, made sure they had their tickets, and after several quick hugs, kisses and "love yous", we parted ways for another span of time.

I can't help but feel a little empty inside right now, though – which is natural, I’m sure. I guess for me, “home” is more so the people than a physical building. It’s more than a mere place of residence. Home is where the heart is, as the saying goes.

Carbonear, Newfoundland was where I was born and raised, but new roots have been planted here. I now consider myself a resident of Lloydminster, Alberta. I have a positive feeling about this unique little city based on the friendships that are being cemented and my recent integration into the Meridian Printing staff. But . . . it’s not “home.”

Once again, my email is hutchings_i@yahoo.ca, and I spend a lot of time in the ever-expanding Facebook network. What does the concept of home mean to you?

July 6, 2007

Sea Fever

I've been living in Lloydminster for about a year and a half. There are times when my heart pines for the my distant island home. These days, one of my greatest wishes is to stand on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and watch the cold frothy waves crash in, while breathing in the marine air.

I'd love to aim my camera lens at a massive slow-moving iceberg as it plows through the water.

I'd like to watch a humpback whale breach and dive.

I want to stand on the deck of my uncle's longliner, participating in Newfoundland's way of life and greatest tradition.

I'd like a Blue Star beer. Or to camp in a gravel pit on the May of 24th weekend.

I'm not a fisherman by profession, but my habitat is the sea. I'm sure many of my fellow Newfoundlanders living in the Booster's coverage area will agree.

I hail from Carbonear, Newfoundland. Since 2004, I've held a diploma in journalism from College of the North Atlantic. The basic knowledge gained from this course has given me the opportunity to go from newspaper to newspaper, learning more from real-world experience than school was ever able to teach me. I covered news and wrote columns in Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories, and now I have arrived here in Lloydminster hoping to bring an Eastern view to local issues.

The story of how I ended up on the Booster staff is a long saga that stretches back several years. I have achieved my goal of working with these fine men and women after about a year and a half of living here. For clarification, I don't work in the newsroom - I'm a new bindery operator.

Due to the extreme distance, I decided it would be best to apply to a community where there are some familiar faces, not someplace totally alien to me. I have some family here.

Like so many others who have made this great trip out West, my trip and my story was long and complicated.

Nonetheless, I found myself in Lloyd on a cold snowy day in mid-January 2006.

So, here I am, with my pen and notepad ready. My email is hutchings_i@yahoo.ca, and if you're so inclined, I'm somewhere in the ever-expanding Facebook network.

Let's set our course forward and navigate the issues that concern Newfoundlanders living in Lloydminster.