Canada Day will always be a somber day of reflection and celebration. As a Canadian, Canada Day is a reminder of a very dark day in Newfoundland history. July 1 in Newfoundland and Labrador is also Memorial Day – a day to remember, to recognize loss and sacrifice of a generation of young Newfoundland men. It was July 1, 1916. The First World War, known then as the Great War, a war to end all wars, had been raging for two years and would not come to a close until 1919, leaving the world with countless millions dead and injured and far from a better place to be than it was leading up to war in 1914.
The Newfoundland regiment, consisting of less than 900 of Newfoundland’s finest young men with its own distinct caribou shoulder pin were part of the British fighting forces committed to driving the invading German Huns out of France. The NL regiment, nicknamed the Blue Puttees for the blue cloths, or puttees, wrapped around the bottom legs of their trousers, had been together since the first shots fired in 1914, had seen action in Turkey, and now found themselves as part of what would be a major front known historically as the Battle of the Somme.
These young soldiers stood beyond brave for all in NL, defending democracy. On that July 1, 2016 morning at Beaumont-Hamel in France the regiment was slaughtered almost to the man with just 68 answering roll call the following day. The bravery of the NL boys in the face of certain death has been recognized and honoured through the passing of decades, and must continue through future generations. This is what I remember first as a proud Canadian on Canada Day.
As a nation, Canada is not perfect and far from it. But Canada today is still one of the most marvellous countries on this planet to call home.
NL is up there among the best we have in this country, with its wind, rain, black flies, bogs and its people. For some, at times, it appears to be a God-forsaken rock. But it is home. Canada Day celebrating our birth as a nation on July 1, 1867 gives us an opportunity to continue to celebrate this great province.
The events of recent weeks have demonstrated Canada’s dark past. There have been mistakes. Terrible social and cultural crimes are resurfacing from another era. Overcoming racism, accepting gender equity, respecting individual differences, ending domestic violence, breaking down social and cultural barriers are still a daily struggle. But we are getting there.
There has been genocide. Treatment of Canada’s First Nation people’s through a forced program of European colonization will always be a dark chapter in our history. There needs to be reconciliation with purpose. Children stolen from the arms from their parents and the subsequent abuse and death have left a huge void as to ‘why’.
There are horror stories of 60s scoops happening within our own province. Families were left to never know what happened to their love ones. The discovery of unmarked graves of many young children on the sites of former church-run residential schools is a reminder of the very dark tragic days in our past. We must face the past. We must continue with reconciliation to come to grips with new realities. A young First Nation Newfoundland and Labrador resident writes: “Canada Day gives us an opportunity to learn from the terrible things that have happened … and try to improve the Canada we all love, or want to love, for future generations.”
On Canada Day, as we reflect on the tragic events from our past, many must stand tall for our new generation of children and celebrate, unified as a community, unified as a province, unified as a nation. One nation, our great nation, Canada …where all lives matter. We can do better. We have to be better.
Happy Canada Day.
John Spencer, Mayor
Channel-Port aux Basques