My own personal interest in politics in general and in Confederation specifically was thanks to one of my Grade 7 teachers, Mrs. Ella Smith.
We were doing a section on Newfoundland studies at the time and one of our assignments was to interview a Newfoundlander on something Newfoundlandish and present a report.
If I sound vague and somewhat disinterested, it’s because I’m channeling my inner 12-year-old self and, well, it wasn’t very interesting stuff for me – or for any one of us – back then.
We’ve all had to do these type of assignments over the years.
Fishery gone ‘pfff’
Poppy talks about the fishery and loans you a few brim-bagged tied rocks he used to use in his nets to weigh them down before the fishery went pfff and he now uses them for door stops in the shed or Nan teaches you to knit and you bring in – right proud – a hand-made sweater-chummy for a kettle.
Well, I’d done pretty much all that and then some by the time I knew it all in Grade 7, and nothing appealed to me. So, the assignment sat undone. For much too long. It was an over-a-cuppa-tea conversation at our kitchen table that changed all that. One of my mother’s sisters was over and mudder was on me to “get it done.”
My aunt poked her nose in and offered a suggestion; why not interview Joey Smallwood? He was working on his Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador at the time and had an office in the city. A call was made and an appointment booked.
Of course, a sit-down with the last living Father of Confederation was a huge deal. Even my snotty Grade 7 self knew that. While all you needed to do to charm Nan or Pop was simply show up, a one-on-one with Mr. Smallwood required research. How much of an impact did that sit-down have? I’ll never forget his opening;
“I was born in Gambo when I was very young. Yes, I was very young when I was born there, but…” and on he went. I was charmed and I was hooked.
And that 12-year-old proud flush I felt back then was renewed as I got the opportunity to chat with most every premier we’ve ever had since joining Canada as we prepared for this special Herald tribute to 70 years of Confederation.
While there were too many highlights from these conversations on Confederation to mention here, some things stood out.
First of all, just because these folks all held the same job – premier – doesn’t mean they all hang out at some special club or live on a different planet than the rest of us. When I asked Paul Davis if he ever spoke to Kathy Dunderdale he replied, “I ran into her in Sobeys…” That pretty much sums up these individuals, their lives and their attitudes.
Besides the fact they once held the most prestigious job of all in this province, they are really just like any one of us; they lead busy lives, they travel when they can, they interact with family and friends, and they get sick.
Beaton Tulk is battling cancer. While he had hoped to participate in the photo shoot, he simply wasn’t able. At the last minute, the former premier had a good day and I was summoned over for a chat. What he said pretty much summed up this entire edition of The Herald.
“Seventy years of Confederation is something. My father would have been proud. Getting us together in this way? It means something. Not one of us ever took this job on to do anything other than the best for Newfoundland and Labrador.”
After meeting and talking with these fine folks – each one proud as a peacock former premier of NL – for The Herald’s Premier Edition, there’s little doubt that statement rings true for all.
Pam Pardy Ghent, The Herald’s Managing Editor, can be reached by emailing [email protected]