A bit of New­found­land cul­ture

Des­tined for Fresh­wa­ter to ex­pe­ri­ence prov­ince’s cul­ture and her­itage

The Compass - - Front page - BY CHRIS LEWIS

Beloved New­found­land mu­si­cian Ray John­son of Buddy Wa­sis­name and the Other Fellers is work­ing with a Univer­sity of Toronto pro­fes­sor on a project that will bring a group of stu­dents from the school to ex­pe­ri­ence New­found­land cul­ture in per­son.

When he isn’t tour­ing the prov­ince along­side fel­low mu­si­cians Wayne Chaulk and Kevin Black­more as Buddy Wa­sis­name and the Other Fellers, Ray John­son ded­i­cates much of his free time to ap­pre­ci­at­ing the cul­ture and his­tory that New­found­land and Labrador has be­come so well known for over the years.

The Lower Island Cove res­i­dent has a long­stand­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for every­thing that makes New­found­land the unique prov­ince that it is, and his love for his island home is im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent to any­one that sits to have a con­ver­sa­tion with him.

Now, John­son is work­ing closely with a group of stu­dents and a pro­fes­sor from the Univer­sity of Toronto to share knowl­edge of ru­ral New­found­land, and spread the word about just how spe­cial the prov­ince’s cul­ture re­ally is.

John­son and Matthew Brown have been friends for a num­ber of years, orig­i­nally com­ing into con­tact with one an­other through Brown’s father, Roger Brown. Re­cently, Brown landed a po­si­tion as a pro­fes­sor for the Univer­sity of Toronto, and is spear­head­ing a class that looks into the in­tri­ca­cies of New­found­land and Labrador, in­clud­ing the ways New­found­lan­ders have man­aged to cre­ate their own way of life along the edges of North Amer­ica, in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cul­ture and the be­gin­nings of the prov­ince, such as what ini­tially brought peo­ple to the island, and, more im­por­tantly, what made them stay.

The course is to be sep­a­rated into three parts – Nis­so­log­i­cal Sound­ings, where stu­dents will study how dis­tance and iso­la­tion have shaped the prov­ince in many dif­fer­ent ways.

Part B is where stu­dents will get the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore and study New­found­land on a first-hand ba­sis. It is here where the 12 stu­dents will take a trip to the prov­ince and spend twothree nights in a ru­ral com­mu­nity to see for them­selves how out­port com­mu­ni­ties con­tinue to thrive on the island.

The third and fi­nal por­tion of the class will see stu­dents com­pile their re­search and find­ings into a Ru­ral Re­vival Guide, which Brown is hop­ing will act as an eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble doc­u­ment that will aid out­port and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties when tak­ing on their own re-en­vi­sion­ing work. The doc­u­ment will help lo­cals vi­su­al­ize fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties and projects to help ex­pand their com­mu­ni­ties us­ing the find­ings of each in­di­vid­ual stu­dent.

John­son said he sees this class as a means of not only sharing New­found­land with those who are un­fa­mil­iar with the prov­ince, but also as a means of pre­serv­ing what New­found­land was built upon – fam­ily, com­radery, and hard work. In or­der to prop­erly show­case these things, John­son has cho­sen Fresh­wa­ter as the des­ti­na­tion for the stu­dents’ visit.

“Matthew al­ways knew how much out­port New­found­land meant to me,” John­son ex­plained. “For years, I’ve been do­ing pre­sen­ta­tions and such where we dis­cuss out­mi­gra­tion, regionalization, and all the other things that go with it. Matthew knew this, and just re­cently he came to me ask­ing for my help with this course.

“He wants his stu­dents to see and un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence be­tween an island as op­posed to the main­land. He wants them to see what it’s like to live in ru­ral New­found­land, and all the things that go with it – the cus­toms, the mu­sic, the folk­lore, the fish­ing, every­thing. And at the end of the day, I think Fresh­wa­ter is a per­fect lo­ca­tion for them to see all of that.”

John­son ex­plained that Fresh­wa­ter’s prox­im­ity to Car­bon­ear meant that it was a fairly eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble com­mu­nity. How­ever, on top of this, John­son is cer­tain that the things Fresh­wa­ter can of­fer the stu­dents is ex­actly what Brown is look­ing for.

Along­side a team con­sist­ing of four or five peo­ple, John­son is hope­ful that the ex­pe­ri­ences pre­sented to these stu­dents dur­ing their stay in the prov­ince will be some­thing they won’t soon for­get.

“We’ve cho­sen Fresh­wa­ter so they can get first-hand knowl­edge as to what it means to be a part of this island,” he said. “Fresh­wa­ter is a com­mu­nity that of­fers ex­actly that.”

The topic of ru­ral New­found­land is some­thing John­son holds very close to his heart. Over the years, he says he’s seen a de­cline in in­ter­est in New­found­land’s her­itage among the youth of the prov­ince, and he fears that this same lack of en­thu­si­asm for New­found­land’s roots will lead to a fu­ture with no ties to the past.

“Work to­gether, and as a group, as New­found­lan­ders and vis­i­tors alike, we can re­vi­tal­ize an in­ter­est and re­spect for our her­itage, start­ing at the roots.”

— Ray John­son

“I’ve been try­ing to spread a mes­sage here,” he said. “If the young peo­ple in this prov­ince don’t see what the el­derly peo­ple have done for New­found­land and Labrador, every­thing is go­ing to drift off.

“This project means a lot to me, be­cause this is a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to spread that knowl­edge with peo­ple, even peo­ple out­side the prov­ince, who have an in­ter­est in ru­ral New­found­land. I’d like to see these stu­dents come here and ex­change in­for­ma­tion and ex­pe­ri­ences with peo­ple who have been here their whole lives.” John­son added, “Work to­gether, and as a group, as New­found­lan­ders and vis­i­tors alike, we can re­vi­tal­ize an in­ter­est and re­spect for our her­itage, start­ing at the roots. There’s po­ten­tial here.”

The stu­dents are plan­ning to take the trip to the prov­ince dur­ing week five of the se­mes­ter, sched­uled for Oct. 9-12.


Ray John­son is work­ing di­rectly with Matthew Brown, a pro­fes­sor from the Univer­sity of Toronto, to or­ga­nize a trip for stu­dents to visit Fresh­wa­ter for a few nights next month.

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