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Reviews

Newfoundland: A Sense of Place

By Dennis Minty

2009-12-03

“Where do you belong?” A common question in this province. Not unlike “Where are you from?” but with a big difference. Behind it, there is an expectation of a sense of place and being rooted in it. Most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians feel this in their bones. We don’t really have a choice about it. Nor would we want one. But move one of us to another place on the globe and we can look with wonder, work with vigour, laugh with glee, eat with relish, and mix with pleasure. Then there comes a time when we just have to get home.

We can’t be alone in having this sense of place. I know other people feel it too. I would expect to find it, and do, in New Zealand, in the Hebrides, in the Arctic. Is it something to do with remoteness, otherness, being on the fringe? A bit I suppose. It’s even a little bit tribal, but in a good way.

We don’t own the place; it owns us. Sure its family and heritage and familiarity but there is much more than that. There’s a kind of magical grip on the heart that is bigger than all these things. I don’t understand it fully and choose to leave it as one of life’s mysteries.

Whatever it is and however it is explained, it exists, in spades. And it is this sense of place that travellers see in Newfoundlanders and Labradorians when they visit. It doesn’t matter if it’s in La Poile, a tiny community of a few hundred with no road access to anywhere, or in old St. John’s, our inspiring, port city, visitors find people who are open, enjoy life, are happy to share what they have, are quick to dance and who love, truly love where they live.

Then there is the place itself. As a professional photographer, I have been making images of it all my life, and it still knocks my socks off. Give me a soft summer morning with the mists painting the headlands and the mewing of gulls in the background. Give me a breaching humpback exploding through the ocean’s blue surface, 40 tonnes of life airborne from two or three flicks of the tail. Give me the majesty of Saglek Fjord in the Torngat Mountains of Labrador with ancient, giant, weathered peaks all around and underfoot, a cushion of brilliant colour. I hear the word “spiritual” in quiet, church-like murmurs. Give me a soaring gannet against a northern blue sky, its wings broader than a tall man’s height. Then the wings fold into the body as it plunges with force into the sea to snatch a silvery herring. Give me the steep roofed salt boxes and the shallow-slopped biscuit boxes, houses built by the hands of their owners 100 years ago before “vinyl clapboard” and “bungalows” were ever part of the lexicon. Give me the small boats moored in quiet coves and the increasingly rare flakes and stages where fish was off-loaded,gutted, split and dried in the sun by families toiling together to make ends meet.

Travellers can’t help but absorb some of this sense of place. This enrichment can inspire them to think about their own lives and what’s important. Some will bring home a fine collection of images, but all will have a bank of new memories to lighten the spirits as their journeys continue.



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