Sunday. A day of warm air and light tinged the yellow-white color of roasted corn. The Canadian Weather Office has issued an alert about dangerous UV levels. This is an odd suggestion in a nation where tanning salons adjoin all manner of businesses, from laundromats to coffee shops.
The doors are wide open at the bar in Salvage, a long, spare hall with a high, curved ceiling of wooden slates that could easily be a repurposed longship. Empty tables line the walls and a bright female handwriting in a blackboard advertises homemade chowder and partridgeberry tarts. The bartender moves efficiently, bringing cheap American beer to a clientele of local middle-aged men. A few tourists stop at the bar and quickly scuttle outside where a deck offers views of a calm blue harbor and the steep, rocky arms hugging the town. Behind the bartender, a woman makes something with flour in the kitchen. Perfectly amber-brown loaves of raisin bread are piled next to her. A breeze wanders through the side door, carrying the muted tones of a relaxed conversation on the deck. It's four in the afternoon.
The men at the bar talk about Alberta and the monetary lure of distant oil-sands. "Everybody's been out there, eh." Most of the older generation, men who worked the boom in the seventies and early eighties, have all returned. Some returned richer, some poorer, but all were deeply homesick for the rock: "some guys would actually cry when they had to go back to Alberta after a visit. Grown men." The oil boom played out in the eighties, but resumed a decade later and many of these men have watched their children departing for jobs out west. Talk turns to the younger generation. Do they miss Newfoundland as acutely? Will they remain in Alberta? They can earn between $60k and $100k a year without a college degree, "but they don't often come out no richer, just accustomed to having the biggest truck or the biggest TV... they make a thousand dollars a week, but they'll spend eleven-hundred." Somber heads nod, seconding his disapproval. Some of the men, two fishers and a logger, regard the decision to emigrate to Alberta as a prioritization of money over community. One of the fishermen, whose roots stretch back to the 18th century, offers a thought: "you don't make much here, but you don't need much to live on. A little car or a quad'll get you from here to there as well as a Corvette. And there are a lot of things we have that they don't." Yet the logger, who has raised a family and seen his kids venture out on their own, contemplates heading west for temporary work... money is money. What will he loose? Arms raise beer glasses rhythmically up and down, pumping liquid like a derricks.
Newfoundland's greatest source of pride is its hospitality and the strength of its communal sensibility. This subject invariably surfaces in any conversation between an islander and a mainlander and their bombastic self-affirmation is hardly cheap marketing. Their reality is so cordial that it appears staged to visiting urbanites. Newfoundlanders make eye contact. They say hello—to everyone. They know each other, wave on the road, invite strangers into their homes for dinner. These things can happen in small towns anywhere, but small towns are equally likely to be places intensely hostile towards outsiders, a trait that is rare in Newfoundland. But can this survive for another generation? Can it survive population growth? The men wonder. Will the alienating, materialist culture of Alberta return to Newfoundland? Or will the latest generation of young Newfoundlanders remain on the mainland? The logger peers into an empty glass.
"Now can I ask you a question, mister? Are you doing this radio thing just to make fun of us Newfies?" Newfoundlanders are the butt of jokes across Canada, typically jokes about intellect, or its absence. The stupid Newfie is a staple of Canadian humor in much the same way as the inbred West Virginian is of American jokes. But, unlike West Virginians, Newfoundlanders have poured out of their provence in huge numbers looking for work and their presence is not always welcomed, even when their labor is needed. They are, at once, the West Virginian and the Mexican. Graffiti reading: "Newfie go home!" appeared in one man's work camp in Alberta. Another one overheard his foreman complaining that he wished they could enclose the Newfoundlanders' company housing with a fence. It is impossible to know what life experiences made the skeptic at the bar so fearful of ridicule—maybe he's just a paranoid guy—but he is genuinely surprised to hear a mainlander heaping praise on his island. Satisfied or bored, he picks up his beer and heads for the deck.