Everyone was saying “the come from aways brought the beautiful weather.”
That was my introduction to “Newfinese” on arriving in Newfoundland. The weather was the best in April in five years. A local gave the credit to the visitors to The Rock (the following week there was a massive 50 cm snow storm that shut the city down for days).
The trip to Newfoundland was to launch nationally the Mayor’s Challenge for Mayors to “Do the Smart Thing” and champion the hiring of the disabled and intellectually challenged in their communities.
Trip started at 5 a.m. at London airport. As an anxious flyer, decided would be as brave as a black protestor at a Donald Trump rally and fly as the opportunity to take the Challenge nationally was too important to not do so.
Can’t remember the last time had flown but was delighted to find the pilots no longer have to turn the propellers by hand. The first flight was a small turbo prop plane to Toronto.
When boarding the pilot recognized me (to quote “Deputy Mayor” Janis because I am a “minor celebrity in Southwestern Ontario”). He asked “Where are you going? I’m sure he could see my panic-stricken look back at him.
On the flight from “Tarana” to St. John’s, wasn’t anxious till close to landing. The pilot came on the PA system and gave instructions for us to set our watches forward one and one-half hours (My Irish Dad, Des, used to joke when you are flying into Northern Ireland they ask you to set your watches back 400 years).
The pilot then said he hoped we would be landing within 10 to 15 minutes and then added “I am not good at math so the times on landing and your watches might be a little off.”
Was strapped in the airplane seat like a condemned man with beads of sweat dripping down from my forehead thinking “Geez, I hope the co-pilot passed math on liters of fuel needed versus flight time to landing”. He had.
Just like the Pope I kissed the ground on arrival and then fell in love with the people and island of Newfoundland. The people are genuine and spirited with a gentle sense of humour, much like the Irish.
Everything went well the entire visit with the only minor glitch being, as an inexperienced traveller, forgot the charger for the electric toothbrush and didn’t have the instructions on how to use it manually.
Spoke three days in a row at the Inclusive Communities Summit in St. John’s and then had a day free. While the main topic was the Mayor’s Challenge each speech gave an opportunity to talk about Sarnia-Lambton as a collaborative community which, in turn, has led to the success of the Mayor’s Challenge and other programs like Circles and Breaking Barriers to Business.
Also freelanced speaking about other national issues connected to the disabilities agenda like poverty, a guaranteed annual income, affordable housing, transportation, mental health and accessibility.
The closing message is always about the “fierce urgency of now” and the need for disability rights and employment to be viewed as a civil rights issue, not charity.
Judge the success of any speech if others quote the contents and the “urgency of now” became a frequent theme at the Summit.
On the final day Mayor Dennis O’Keefe of St. John’s, the capital city; Mayor Simms of Mount Pearl, an adjacent town (he said they were smaller than St. John’s but smarter, sounding like the Village People in Ward 5 talking about Sarnia); along with Mayor Oldford of Labrador City, Head of the municipal association of Newfoundland and Labrador, committed to championing the Mayors Challenge in their Province.
A big breakthrough and it showed why Newfoundland was a good choice to take the Challenge nationwide. The St. John’s Mayor seemed a bit down as the local paper, the St. John’s Telegraph, had just published an editorial saying the Council was the worst in Canada.
Told him not to worry as there were other Councils working hard to claim the title in Ontario. I then presented the Mayor of St. John’s with a special gift of a Talking Stick from the Aamjiwnaang.
Left the Summit empowered with a number of thoughts and ideas from the speakers like “Never believe any place that tells you that it is accessible” and “unless you are disabled you truly don’t know what it’s like in this body.”
Edmonton architect Ron Wickman made a compelling case for VisitAbility which means building all new homes as accessible. No front steps, wider doors and main floor washrooms serve everyone.
Universal access instead of building to the occupant. One home for all stages of your life. There is a strong business case to do so. Already pursuing the idea locally.
A Screeching Ceremony took place at the Summit. Five of us first-time visitors to Newfoundland were lined up in a row looking like guests of a firing squad and displaying the same enthusiasm. The Screecher then took us through the process in a language that was unknown to any of us. We chanted a phrase three times–something about “Long may your big Jib draw”, then drank a shot of screech (tasted like Buckley’s Cough Syrup flavoured with Tar Sands oil) and then kissed the cod (in my case it was a brief, chaste peck and we agreed we would just be friends).
I am now a honourary Newfoundlander. At the office “Deputy Mayor” Janis just rolls her eyes now when I say to her “Whada ya at?, Yes b’y, or It’s a mausey day (a foggy wet day for you mainlanders).
Got the opportunity with fellow screechers after the ceremony to visit the famous (or infamous) George Street in downtown St. John’s (strictly for research for this column).
Two blocks of bars, pubs, bars, pubs and bars. The street is more like Dublin than Dublin and has more bars per square foot than anywhere in North America.
No cars allowed–just pedestrians. The music blasts from the bars so you can hear Irish Jazz, Irish Hip-hop, Irish Rock, Irish Reggae, Irish Blues, Irish Country and Irish Karaoke, with the commonality being everyone is having a good time.
George Street is hilly with cobblestone sidewalks, which may explain why some of the visitors were having a hard time walking straight, or maybe not. People come out late in the evening and the bars stay open till 3 a.m. with many people staying till the sun comes up.
Visited O’Reilly’s Pub where the nationally renowned band The Irish Descendants were playing. Had a great conversation with lead singer Con O’Brien about politics. He was astute and informed and urged him to run for office (although that is not always a qualification).
On the last day I had a personal tour of St. John’s by Andrew McCarthy of McCarthy Party Tours, the premier tour group in the province. Andrew was a delight as a tour guide, urbane and down home at the same time.
Great company and conversation on the tour as we discussed everything under the sun. Signal Hill and Cape Spear were highlights along with going down to meet with the Captain of a crab boat who was heading out to sea for 36 hours.
We talked for a few minutes and to this day do not know what he said and suspect he may have the same version of our conversation. Cape Spear, a National historic site, was beautiful. It is the most eastern point in North America. Tour guide Andrew described it best in his blog “your first impression is that made by the deeply contrasting colours—the endless sky and the broad North Atlantic bring deep hues of blue to play, while a brilliant white froth paints a broad border that separates the ocean waters from the bright, red, conglomerate rock formations that predominate the coast in exclusivity.”
After I returned home Andrew emailed “Perhaps the best story from the trip might actually be found in the aftermath. I was at my parent’s home for a sponded with a question “Who, Dino Ciccarelli?”
Would I go back to Newfoundland? Just like General McArthur said after the “Germans” bombed Pearl Harbor and he led the evacuation of “Dunkirk,” “I shall return”. (in a heartbeat).
If you have any ideas or comments please call me at 519-332-0330 Ext. 3312 or 519-336-8092 or firstname.lastname@example.org
family dinner last evening and when asked about my day, I explained that I had the Mayor of Sarnia on tour!” My brother, without missing a beat, re