Newfoundland and Labrador: So Close­—And Yet So Far

Matthew and Kate
Matthew and Kate

Life has kept Anglican Journal editor Matthew Towsend away from The Rock and The Big Land—but it can’t do that forever, he writes

Back in 2016, on the eve of our marriage, Kate and I considered where we might take a honeymoon. We lived in Rochester, New York, at the time—she was from the area, and I was working for the Episcopal bishop of Rochester—and we both had ideas about where we might go. Being a bit of a Canadaphile, I had made lots of suggestions that would bring us north, while Kate tended to gravitate more towards Europe and the United Kingdom, especially Scotland.

I love Europe, but our wedding coincided with both Brexit and migration crises. We decided to figure out something else. What’s like Canada and the northern British Isles? It didn’t take long for us to consider Newfoundland and Labrador, and we began a fevered phase of research. Stunned by the beauty we were seeing online, I texted to a friend that I’d never even looked at photos of St. John’s or the Avalon Peninsula. We also realized we could incorporate Europe into our honeymoon with an excursion to St. Pierre and Miquelon. We imagined hiking in Gros Morne, touring L’Anse aux Meadows, and perhaps biking across the island. I also dreamed of heading to Labrador, up to the Torngat Mountains—a landscape that couldn’t be more different from my native Florida. (OK, so that part of the trip was very unlikely. But I dreamt.) We became very excited.

An homage to Jellybean Row in Rochester
An homage to Jellybean Row in Rochester

We went as far as reaching out to the Rev’d Moses Tucker (now a priest in Lewisporte) to discuss the possibilities. I had met Moses during my year at Trinity College in 2006, and I figured he wouldn’t steer us wrong. He was also, at the time, the only person I knew in all of Newfoundland and Labrador. Moses left an extremely positive impression on me about The Rock. I still recall some of his explanations and jokes about the province. Why is the porch called the bridge? “Well, it connects your home to the world.” I’ve heard people joke that Newfoundland may one day attach propellers to the island, to head towards Ireland—but wouldn’t helicopter rotors be faster? “Well, we’ve always been a seafaring people.” Is St. John’s like Toronto? “Yes, we even have skyscrapers—but we put them on their sides and call them malls.”

Moses gave us a number of suggestions about when and where to honeymoon, but we didn’t get to use them. As fate would have it, my father wasn’t well enough to travel to our New York wedding, so we spent our honeymoon roasting in Florida’s July heat. It felt important to see family.

And yet Newfoundland and Labrador were still on our minds—the province had wormed its way in. We even decided to bring a dash of Atlantic Canadian style to our street in Rochester, painting our home’s exterior “100 Mph Red.” The choice offered stark contrast to the drab, landlord-driven palette on a street that straddled working class neighbourhoods and pretty intense poverty. The colour was so brilliant that it cast a crimson hue on our neighbours’ home in the afternoon sun, spilling into their kitchen and calling to mind The Martian Chronicles. Many neighbours complimented the choice, noting the improvement over the horrid hues previously found on the home: a muddled brown with trim we called “Painter’s Tape Blue.” One passerby asked if it was legal to paint your house that red in Rochester. The question was serious.

A few years later, life found us immigrating to Canada and settling in Nova Scotia, where Kate could study for a master’s degree at Dalhousie University while I looked for work. (Once again, we decided to average our preferred destinations of immigration, Canada and Scotland, as New Scotland). Part of my excitement in moving to Nova Scotia was the opportunity to see and know Newfoundland, with the ferry only four hours away. And then we would make it to Labrador, as well! And having met people here from Newfoundland and Labrador, that trip felt both inevitable and important—a chance to encounter the kindness we’ve continuously experienced from Newfoundlanders here and also see a place that, I think, many Canadians don’t bother to understand.

Of course, it’d have been hard to go while Kate is studying—Cape Breton seemed a more reasonable destination in her first summer break—but after graduation, of course! Come the summer of 2020, Newfoundland, here we come!

Sigh. With the Atlantic bubble, that may have been possible—even COVID-19 has struggled to break the connections that seem to run so deep in Atlantic Canada. However, Kate became pregnant in the summer, rendering the prospect of a long ferry voyage unattractive. So, we stayed closer to home.

All of this finds me writing a love letter to a place I’ve never been to, which is a very odd feeling. And yet, I can’t help but believe that I do love Newfoundland and Labrador, and Kate feels the same. On the day that 100 new cases were announced in the province, I told Kate and she audibly gasped—something I’ve witnessed very rarely from my wife. Newfoundland and Labrador have been in our prayers during the pandemic—everyone there, as well as the church. We were both deeply saddened by Bishop Geoff Peddle’s death last year. I think often of people I’ve interviewed by phone in St. John’s, Churchill Falls, and Rigolet. We feel connected, in relationship, even from this distance.

My friends, I know I will see you soon—that our now-growing family will join you in worship, laughter and, I’m told, fish kissing. Until that time, know that you all remain in our prayers through the pandemic and beyond. And please keep us in yours. As I write this in early March, the birth of our daughter, our firstborn, is but weeks away. She will need prayers as she enters our beleaguered world. And yet, I also know she will be blessed—to be born in this place we call Atlantic Canada, where the people are decent enough to look after one another, to concern themselves with the well-being of the aged and the sick, and to imagine that we weather storms best when we batten down the hatches together. As we’ve all learned in the last year, not everywhere, not everyone, is like this. We feel very lucky.

Matthew Townsend is the editor of the Anglican Journal. He and his wife Kate (and daughter-to-be) live in Dartmouth, N.S.

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