The ‘Newfoundland and Labrador’ naming fiasco – Part 2

It started out being about Quebec’s lust for Labrador, but it changed to being about Labrador disaffection.

As outlined in part one, Smallwood’s Labrador Act was the beginning of the reference to this province as “Newfoundland and Labrador.” Initially, this was limited to provincial government documents. Smallwood’s intent was to continually remind everyone, particularly Quebec, that Labrador was part of this province.

The people of Labrador and how they felt about their place in the province, was very much a secondary concern. That would change.

In 1951, before all this started, Labrador’s 7890 people made up just over 2 per cent of the provincial population. By 1961, as Lab West development got underway, Labrador accounted for almost 3 per cent (13,500). That jumped to 4.3 per cent by 1966 (20,000). Western Labrador, especially, saw a huge influx in the ’60s.

That got the attention of the politicians in St. John’s.

Most newcomers were from the Island – they were Newfoundlanders– but apparently, they quickly became Labradorians. In Labrador West, discontent grew over all the money flowing to the provincial treasury, with so little flowing back. By the early ’70s, it was serious enough that the New Labrador Party was formed, twice managing to elect an MHA.

That got the attention of the politicians in St. John’s. Clearly, Quebec was no longer the main concern. Now, it was the mood of Labradorians.

Fast forward to 1992. After 20 years or so of head-scratching around the Cabinet table, trying to figure out how to make Labradorians feel loved, some sharp guy said, “I know what let’s do! Instead of just the government calling the province Newfoundland and Labrador, let’s officially change its name. Then everyone in the WHOLE WORLD will have to say Newfoundland and Labrador. That should keep ‘em happy, wha?”

In April of that year, the House of Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to take the steps necessary to formally change the name. In May, a Select Committee was struck to “enquire into the matter.” The committee, chaired by Danny Dumaresque, MHA for Eagle River, toured Labrador, asking residents if they wanted the WHOLE WORLD to say “and Labrador” every time they said “Newfoundland.” Of the 25,000 people in Labrador, 24 made submissions. On the Island, one more hearing in St. John’s heard from three people.

A clear consensus?

Neither in Labrador, nor on the Island, were all presenters in favour of the name change, but most of the 27 were. Good enough for (by then) Premier Brian Tobin, in 1999, to say in the House, “A clear consensus emerged for the name of the Province to be changed.”

The name change resolution passed in the House of Assembly in 1999, and two years later, in the House of Commons and Senate, and on Dec. 6, 2001, the Constitution of Canada was amended and the name of the province officially became “Newfoundland and Labrador.” It had been 37 years since Joey pushed the snowball down the hill.

During those years, we all just got used to government documents and politicians saying “Newfoundland and Labrador.” It didn’t affect anyone’s day-to-day speech; we could just ignore it. The name of the province was still Newfoundland, and you could still say, “I’m a Newfoundlander, luh,” and get away with it.

… this is a problematic name.

But in the 10 years since the official name change, it’s become abundantly clear that this is a problematic name.

I’ve read all the available Select Committee documents, and no one ever ventured to ask, “Will it not sound silly to say ‘I’m proud to be a Newfoundlander and a Labradorian’”?

Brian Tobin, born on the Island but having grown up in Labrador, is one of the few who can say he’s a proud Newfoundlander and Labradorian, and have it make sense. Maybe he just couldn’t see the problems.

It’s a conundrum.

The word “Labradorian” is cherished in Labrador. Anyone else who uses it is an impostor, and resented. The word “Newfoundlander” is cherished by Islanders, but no Labradorian would ever call him- or herself a Newfoundlander. Added to that was the tendency of ignorant people to refer to “the island province,” and then there were all those maps showing a huge island, and Labrador, at a quarter its real size, in a little inset box. Something had to give, and Joey had brought us halfway there – why not go all the way?

What to call what

There were other suggestions made to the Select Committee in 1992.

One was to change the name of the province to Auroraland. Another, to Terra Nova.

Yet another was to keep Labrador’s name, keep the province of Newfoundland, but change the name of the island to Beothuck Island.

One presenter suggested “Newfoundland-Labrador” with a hyphen instead of an “and.” If you think about it, this might have worked better.

None of these swayed the committee, whose decision was “Newfoundland and Labrador.”

It still makes no more sense than “Nova Scotia and Cape Breton”

No matter how many times I hear it, it still makes no more sense than would “Nova Scotia and Cape Breton,” or “Ontario and Northern Ontario,” or “Quebec et la Baie James.” They wouldn’t work as names. Ours doesn’t either.

But we’re stuck with it. Ain’t no going back.

There’s no place for a seven-syllable name to go but to abbreviation. This province is fast becoming NL and we, NLers. Which makes me urge, because there’s no more un-pretty combo of two letters than NL, with the possible exception of BO and VD.

NLers. Cripes. I’ve got to go pad all my doorjambs.

And what of Labradorians? This was for their benefit, wasn’t it? Well, when the official name change came through, I doubt the Premier’s office was flooded with telegrams saying, “Way to go! We’re good now. Thanks.”

Mount Pearl and half of CBS have as many people as does Labrador, a landmass double the size of the Island. Labradorians feel hard done by because the wealth from their immense resources goes straight to St. John’s, to pave roads in Mount Pearl and CBS. Fair enough. I get it.

When the chance presented itself, people did what had to be done to get Labrador incorporated into the name of the province, because it was something, at least. Fair enough. That’s how politics works. I get it.

Someday, He will appear

One of these years, a Labrador Danny Williams will emerge, fight for and get a real solution to the inequities. For their sake, I hope it’s soon.

Meanwhile, what I hope for most fervently is that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians or [Newfoundland and Labrador]ians (or whatever) who like the name get very, very great, never-ending gobs of enjoyment and satisfaction out of it, to counterbalance the frustration experienced by those of us who see it as ill-considered and awkward as hell.

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