Memorial Day in Newfoundland
As the last province to enter confederation with Canada in 1949, Newfoundlanders are sometimes reluctant Canadians. This is especially true on July 1, celebrated in the rest of the country as Canada Day. In a strange coincidence, Canada’s birthday shares this date with one of the most infamous events in the five centuries of Newfoundland’s history. On July 1, 1916, at the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont Hamel, France, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment was decimated by German artillery. On this date, 801 courageous Newfoundlanders were sent “over the top” towards the enemy trenches. Only 68 were able to answer the roll call the next morning. In a place with a population as small as Newfoundland, this loss amounted to a generation of young men wiped out, which impacted the economy drastically in the following decades. Since 1917, July 1st has been known in Newfoundland as Memorial Day, a sombre time of reflection on young lives cut short by war. In modern times this day is a strange dichotomy. A free outdoor concert on George Street entertains folks waving the Maple Leaf, while a parade marches towards the National War Memorial between Duckworth and Water Streets for a wreath-laying ceremony, the Union Jack flying at half-mast. Tourists must be utterly confused.
As a proud Newfoundlander and daughter of a peacekeeping veteran, I make a point each year of participating in the Canadian Army Veteran’s (CAV) Memorial Day ride. The well-organized, police-escorted motorcycle procession stops at the Tommy Ricketts memorial on Water Street West to lay a wreath, then proceeds to the Newfoundland Regiment memorial in Bowring Park for a short ceremony of remembrance followed by the playing of the Last Post, a moment of silence, and the singing of the Ode to Newfoundland in its entirety. It’s a beautiful “national” anthem (though we’re no longer a nation) that professes our love for this rugged, windswept island.
I truly hope that Canada Day never completely overshadows Memorial Day. July 1st, 1916 was a turning point (albeit a tragic one) in our history, and every Newfoundlander should have at least a basic knowledge of the events of that day, pausing for reflection before attending Canada Day festivities.
For more information on the Battle of the Somme, please click here.
Posted on July 2, 2013, in Behind the Visor and tagged Battle of Somme, Beaumont Hamel, Canada, Canada Day, CAV, Memorial Day, motorcycle, Newfoundland and Labrador, Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.