Days that changed New­found­land and Labrador


Com­plex his­tory

What are the days that changed New­found­land and Labrador?

Of course, the an­swer de­pends on who you ask. The con­trib­u­tors to a re­cent book, “100 Days that Changed Canada,” have made their own sug­ges­tions of dates that al­tered the Do­min­ion, be­gin­ning with Cana­di­ans ring­ing in Con­fed­er­a­tion on July 1, 1867, and con­clud­ing with Canada ex­tend­ing its mil­i­tary mis­sion in Afghanistan on Nov. 16, 2010.

Be­tween these two years, 1867 and 2010, the writ­ers in­clude such iconic mo­ments as Nov. 11, 1918, the day the Great War ended; March 22, 1922, the day Cana­di­ans learned of the dis­cov­ery of in­sulin (with a New­found­land con­nec­tion, I might add); Oct. 29, 1929, the day Canada suf­fered through the Great De­pres­sion; May 8, 1945, the day Cana­di­ans cel­e­brated Vic­tory in Europe (VE Day); Nov. 7, 1956, the day Canada helped in­vent peace­keep­ing; Dec. 15, 1964, the day Canada em­braced the maple leaf; Sept. 30, 1967, the day Al­berta’s oil sands opened for busi­ness; July 14, 1976, the day Canada abol­ished the death penalty; Sept. 2, 1980, the day can­cer halted the Marathon of Hope; April 1, 1999, the day Nu­navut was born ...

In both words and pho­to­graphs, the con­trib­u­tors pick and choose be­tween the 50,000- plus days that shaped our na­tion.

In her Fore­word to the book, Char­lotte Gray ad­mits that “the his­tory of Canada has al­ways been too com­plex, too multi-lay­ered to shoe­horn into one na­tional nar­ra­tive. His­to­ri­ans of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions tried their best to do so … But there is so much more to the story, and there are other groups de­mand­ing and de­serv­ing their place in our his­tory.”

In her Pref­ace, Deb­o­rah Mor­ri­son ex­plains the book “pro­vides us with a hun­dred tip­ping points, and a hun­dred sto­ries about these mo­ments.”

Ed­i­tor Mark Reid ac­knowl­edges, “the story of Canada — our story — is rich with mo­men­tous events, some proud, some shame­ful, oth­ers joy­ous or sad. Only when they are viewed to­gether do we get a com­plete im­age of who we are as a na­tion, and of where we are go­ing.”

Three of these 100 so-called “tip­ping points” in­volve New­found­land and Labrador. It is in­struc­tive to see which ones h ave be e n in­cluded in this in­trigu­ing com­pendium.

First, the day Mar­coni re­ceived the first transat­lantic wire­less mes­sage, Dec. 12, 1901.

In Cabot Tower in St. John’s, Guglielmo Mar­coni asked his as­sis­tant, “Can you hear any­thing, Mr. Kemp?” Christopher Moore writes: “in 1901 wire­less teleg­ra­phy was new and hotly com­pet­i­tive, and Mar­coni knew the im­por­tance of spec­tac­u­lar re­sults. He had de­cided to stun the world with the first transat­lantic wire­less tele­graph trans­mis­sion …

“The world’s air­waves have never been silent since, ex­cept once. When Guglielmo Mar­coni died in 1937, ra­dio trans­mit­ters in Canada and around the world ob­served two min­utes of si­lence in his hon­our.”

Sec­ond, the day dis­as­ter struck New­found­land’s off­shore oil in­dus­try, Feb. 15, 1982.

Nel­lie Oos­terom writes: “per­haps what stung the most was that the Ocean Ranger’s sink­ing had been pre­ventable. Two other nearby rigs sur­vived the storm with barely a scratch. Sloppy safety pro­ce­dures, de­sign flaws, poor train­ing, and pres­sure to max­i­mize prof­its com­bined to sink the Ranger.”

If there be any­thing good about this dis­as­ter, “lessons learned … led to en­hanced safety reg­u­la­tions and im­proved de­sign …

“Pros­per­ity and pride have not erased the lin­ger­ing anger and mis­trust that are still pal­pa­ble at the Ocean Ranger me­mo­rial ser­vice, held each year.”

Third, the day the cod fish­ery col­lapsed, July 3, 1992.

Richard Foot writes: “Fish­er­men across New­found­land knew the mo­ment of truth was com­ing. Their catch rates had been de­clin­ing for years. Still, when fed­eral fish­eries min­is­ter John Crosbie an­nounced … a mora­to­rium on the north­ern cod fish­ery in New­found­land, the news struck his prov­ince like a kick in the teeth …

“The ex­ploita­tion of the Grand Banks cod stocks lasted more than 400 years. The fish­ery grew, along with the size, ap­petite and ef­fi­ciency of fac- tory-freezer trawlers, peak­ing in 1968, when more than 800,000 tonnes of cod were taken in one year. The de­cline then came quickly. By the late 1980s the destruc­tion of one of the planet’s great food re­sources was al­most com­plete.”

Dec. 12, 1901; Feb. 15, 1982; July 3, 1992: three defin­ing mo­ments in the his­tory of our prov­ince.

Deb­o­rah Mor­ri­son hopes the book “will spark an in­ter­est to share your own story, or to dis­cover oth­ers. To­gether we can cre­ate thou­sands more. The di­a­logue con­tin­ues....”

I won­der, what story will to­mor­row bring?

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