*Originally published in our May 29-June 4, 2022 issue
At one recent Newfoundland Growlers hockey game, announcer Chris Ballard paused to welcome some newcomers to our province who had also been invited to the game that night.
Following the formal introduction, those gathered to cheer on the home team stood in unison and gave the many Ukrainian refugees in the stands a standing ovation that seemed to go on for at least three minutes.
It’s little wonder that Newfoundlanders were welcoming to come from aways seeing how our ‘put the kettle on,’ mentality for strangers and loved ones alike has long been celebrated around the globe. There’s lots to be proud of certainly.
Commitment to Kindness
From our commitment in battle over 100 years ago as proud members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment to our demonstration of colour-blind humanity following the sinking of the Truxton & Pollock near St. Lawrence to our hospitality following the tragedy of 9/11, Newfoundlanders & Labradorians have stepped up and dusted off the welcoming mat. It doesn’t matter how you get here, as no matter the method of entry, the welcome is always the same.
Remember ‘the boat people?’ In August of 1986, 155 refugees from Sri Lanka were found adrift near St. Shott’s by a local skipper, Gus Dalton. Starving and dehydrated, Dalton said at the time that he knew helping the ‘boat people’ was simply “the right thing to do.”
In fact, this province has long demonstrated a commitment to kindness and the fact that it continues is a tradition to be proud of. The fact that NL was the first in this country to welcome Ukrainian refugees fleeing their country in droves following the brutal Russian invasion should only add to that pride.
Of course, this province needs workers to add to our population deficit, so it’s a win/win situation. Minister of Immigration, Gerry Byrne, said that many of the 166 people who arrived as refugees had jobs they could go to once they rested up from their travels. That’s great news.
But more than the need to contribute to the NL economy or population census numbers or the need to earn a living is the need to belong, and that doesn’t seem to be an issue at all for these recent arrivals.
One Facebook group, Newfoundland & Labrador Help/Host for Ukrainians, has over 10,000 members as of press time.
Wrote one woman shortly following arriving here with her six year-old son, “I do not have enough words to express my gratitude … I want to add that Canadians, you are incredible people! Thank you for everything!”
Wrote another, “Some days ago I was in Odessa, Ukraine. Today I am in Newfoundland. Still, I don’t believe how I made (it) alone with my pets, but I don’t feel alone. The whole way I got support (from) everyone I met and I am still feeling it. It is amazing!”
At the Growlers game following the arrival of the refugees, Ukrainian flags joined our own provincial and country’s throughout the stadium, and as the National Anthem rang out, the words “stand on guard…” felt particularly moving to all gathered. That long-lasting standing ovation was simply more proof that welcoming newcomers to our country and province is a long-held NL tradition we have no plans on abandoning.
Pam Pardy, The Herald’s Managing Editor, can be reached by emailing [email protected]