Chapter 1 – Introduction

The title of the first chapter in Sharon Gmelch’s book, Tourists and Tourism, is “Why Tourism Matters” (Gmelch 2010:3).  In the first sentence of her first chapter Gmelch describes how she became interested in tourism while directing an anthropological field school in Barbados, where she noted the “impact of tourism was visible everywhere” (ibid:3).   If the title of the first chapter of this thesis was “Why Tourism Matters”, then my first sentence would borrow an observation from Becker, who noted that “More people flock to Vegas every year than to Mecca.” (Becker 2013:370)

According to Amanda Stronza the study of tourism by anthropologists can conceptually be divided into two halves.  “One half,” she argues, “seeks to understand the origins of tourism, and the other reveals tourism’s impact” (Stronza 2001:261).  The focus of my dissertation is tourism’s impact.  The setting is Newfoundland, the island portion of Canada’s most easterly province.

It is my contention that Newfoundlanders have welcomed tourism for its economic benefits and in the process fashioned a particular version of Newfoundland culture that has been converted into a commodity and marketed.  I argue that tourists arrive expecting a particular version of Newfoundland culture and their expectations are mirrored back to them. This chain of cause-and-effect is the cultural equivalent of audio feedback – when in the cycle of amplification and re-amplification of the same audio signal distortion is introduced.

My research explores this cycle of amplification, re-amplification, and distortion in the interplay between provincial government tourism advertising, tourists’ expectations, and the production of tourism products in the marketplace .

Selling an idealized version of Newfoundland has long been part of marketing Newfoundland as a tourist destination, but this strategy has become more explicit following the closure of the economically vital Northern cod fishery in 1992, the out-migration of people from rural Newfoundland that followed, and the search for economic alternatives for communities that were dependent on the cod fishery. The process has not been unlike what Jane Nadel-Klein observed in rural Scottish fishing communities where their salvation was believed to “lie in transforming themselves into cultural showcases or icons of one particular variety of Scottish ‘heritage,’ where aspects of the fishery are displayed and performed, yet where fish are no longer locally caught or sold” (Nadel-Klein 2003:8).

 

Cultural Showcasing

The process of cultural showcasing a particular variety of Newfoundland heritage could be observed at the “Fish Catching and Making Workshop” at the site of a fictional fishing village in Trinity Bay in 2011.  The fictional village, called Random Passage, was built as a set for a television mini-series in 2000. The television mini-series, also called Random Passage, was an adaptation of Bernice Morgan’s historical novel of the same name (Morgan 1992).

From mid-May to mid-October in 2011, visitors at Random Passage could “step back in time to learn about the obstacles and opportunities our forebears faced.” One of those learning experiences was a $125 workshop where the visitor could board a boat at the Random Passage wharf and accompany a fisherman to catch a fish, clean it, have it cooked in a nearby school house converted into a tea room and then have it served.

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The creation of a fictional fishing village in a rural Newfoundland where real fishing villages are in decline raises a question posed by Overton in his analysis of the construction and promotion of “a real Newfoundland” (Overton 1996:101).  Overton asks “is tourism the salvation for rural areas or is it their fate?” (Overton 1996:40).  Like the tourism purpose-built Norstead Viking Village on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula, the adapted-for-tourists Random Passage production site forces one to confront what Fife identifies as the “contentious issue of authenticity” (Fife 2004:62-63).

The second destination where I examine cultural showcasing is the village of Trinity, whch one former provincial Director of Culture and Heritage described to me as the “crown jewel” in the Province’s inventory of cultural tourism products (Clair interview: June 3, 2010).  Beginning around 1700 and continuing for almost a century and a half, merchants of Trinity dominated trade in Trinity Bay.  Today the reconstructed merchant premises are the main tourist attraction in what has become a designated Provincial Heritage Site.  Development in the village of Trinity surrounding the Provincial Heritage Site is controlled by municipal regulations which ensure new buildings and changes to old buildings are consistent with the historic character of the community.

Today, the population of Trinity peaks in the summer months with the arrival of seasonal residents from St. John’s, the mainland of Canada, and the eastern seaboard of the United States in the same way the population of Trinity peaked during the summer months in the 18th and 19th centuries with the arrival of merchants, artisans, and tradespeople from England.  One of the questions I address is whether this “crown jewel” in the inventory of Newfoundland’s cultural tourism products is, as another Provincial Director of Culture described it to me, “a storybook village” (Dawson interview: June 9, 2010).

Theoretical Points of Departure

One point of departure for my examination of the issue of authenticity and the question of whether tourism is rural Newfoundland’s salvation or fate is Greenwood’s analysis of the commodification of culture and more specifically his view that “the commoditization of culture in effect robs people of the very meanings by which they organize their lives” (Smith 1989:179).  In Chapter Two I will discuss that, like Greenwood, I am also following Clifford Geertz’s view of culture where “culture is an integrated system of meanings by means of which the nature of reality is established and maintained” (ibid:173 ). I am also guided by Geertz, who held that “Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but as an interpretive one in search of meaning” (Geertz 1973:5).

My theoretical approach is also anchored by Bruner’s argument that “culture is always contested and in process” (Bruner 2005:28) and Clifford, who holds that identity is a matter of “politics rather than an inheritance” (Clifford 1997:46 ).

In Chapter Two I will also discuss other theoretical reference points for my analysis, including Urry’s concept of the tourist gaze (Urry 1990) and the way “tourists wield power through the way they look at locals and expect them to appear and behave” while “locals acquiesce to the gaze by mirroring back images they hope will please the tourist” (Stronza 2001:271).  I argue that this ‘mirroring’ is a process of accumulation not unlike the process Miriam Kahn observed during her research in Tahiti.  Kahn’s metaphor for this process is an endless hall of mirrors whose “various perspectives of a place all reflect, refract, and recast images of one another” (Kahn 2011:125 ).

I am also guided by Rothman’s view that “tourism is the most colonial of colonial enterprises” (Rothman 1998:11) and MacCannell’s argument that “the relationship between the tourists and the local people is temporary and unequal and any social relationship which is transitory, superficial, and unequal is a primary breeding ground for deceit, exploitation, mistrust, dishonesty, and stereotype formation” (MacCannell 1992:177).

These influences are also apparent in Kahn, whose research in Tahiti led her to conclude that “as an industry based on the packaging and selling of place, tourism constructs, inhabits, and transforms the geographies of the world in ways that have profound physical, economic, social, political, and psychological repercussions” (Kahn 2011:104).

In Chapter Two I will also discuss my research methods.  They include 1) library and archival data collection using historical sources, 2) interviews with key figures in the evolution of the province’s cultural policy, 3) an examination of the province’s tourism advertising campaign launched in 2006, 4) encounters with people in the tourism industry and tourists in Trinity Bay, on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, and in the provincial capital of St. John’s, and 5) interviews with the initiators of and participants in the Screech-In welcoming and initiation ceremony.

My encounters with tourists during the course of my field research have been augmented by my experience operating a tourist enterprise for several years in the community of Pouch Cove, Newfoundland.  In 2006 my partner and I began to market The Cottage By The Sea, a rental property located on the East Coast Trail.  The trail is a 265 km long walking and hiking trail on the east coast of Newfoundland which attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Newfoundland every summer.  As an operator of a tourist business and as a researcher seeking out tourists in the course of fieldwork I sometimes found the line between observation and participation blurred, similar to Canadian anthropologists Dorothy and David Counts in their research into RVing in North America (Counts and Counts 2001:37).

In addition, my research methods have been augmented by the acquired knowledge resulting from living on the island of Newfoundland for most of my adult life.  I mention this personal fact for the sake of transparency in order to address a key research challenge at the outset of this dissertation.  It is a challenge that Dorothy and David Counts also articulated when they observed that “doing fieldwork in one’s own society entails a different set of problems for an ethnographer than does field research in an exotic place.  It is not breaking down the distance that is hard, it is maintaining enough distance to permit analysis” (ibid:37 ).

 

The Research Setting 

     Between 1890 and 1914 Newfoundland tourism advertising promoted the island as a place of “unspoiled nature” (Williams 1980:115) inhabited by people who were “honest, good-natured, noble, quiet, orderly, law-abiding, open-hearted, amiable, and kindly” (ibid:196).  The villages Newfoundlanders lived in were described as “picturesque, charming, pretty, romantic, quaint, neat, nice, pleasant, comfortable, busy and thriving” (ibid:202).  These same themes weave through the provincial tourism advertising campaign launched decades later in 2006.

I argue this re-imaging of Newfoundland’s past obscures the otherwise harsh reality of everyday life in rural Newfoundland.  For example, in 1934 a British commissioner responsible for administering the affairs of Newfoundland described fishermen in rural Newfoundland as living in a “state of serfdom”  (Neary 1996:156) and the poverty of the island as “appalling” (ibid:36).  In personal letters the commissioner, Sir John Hope Simpson, described the relationship of merchant and fisherman as “an extraordinary cleavage between the haves and have-nots” (ibid:60) and in a reference to one of the more notorious chapters in colonial history he wrote “It is the Congo over again” (ibid:53).

As unforgiving as everyday life may have been, my thesis does not argue that tourism has destroyed what is unique about everyday life in Newfoundland.  Instead, in Chapter Three I will argue there is ample evidence that Newfoundland experienced tremendous change since the Second World War and subsequently by Confederation with Canada in 1949, driven by factors quite apart from tourism.  I am drawn to the view of Memorial University philosophy professor Lin Jackson who wrote almost 30 years ago that “In the first three decades of Confederation whatever was unique about Newfoundland life has already been diluted to the vanishing point” (Jackson 1986:24).

I concur with Jackson that the loss of representative government in 1934, or as he describes it “when independence lapsed” (Jackson 1984:18), was a pivotal event in Newfoundland history. But it was the Second World War that “brought about a wholesale cultural shift of focus in Newfoundland” (ibid:18).  Jackson argues that until 1934 “Newfoundland’s institutions were still entirely British, its education European, and its cultural paradigms still essentially English and Irish.  People generally understood themselves as proud descendants of those mother-cultures, living on the western limits, as it were, of a British Atlantic.  In other words, Newfoundlanders were, until the war, not North Americans but still Europeans, their faces, minds, and hearts still facing East across the ocean” (ibid:18).

I share Jackson’s view that the impact in Newfoundland of the Second World War was profound and in Chapter Three I will focus on the political, economic, and cultural shift that occurred in Newfoundland as it turned its face from east to west in the 20th century.

 

The Evolution of Cultural Policy

In Chapter Four I will focus on the “cultural revival” (Overton1996:48) of the 1970s in Newfoundland, the emergence of what has come to be called cultural industries, and the evolution of government cultural policy that accompanied them.

I will examine how cultural policy in Newfoundland evolved over four decades from a point when the provincial government had no explicit cultural policy in 1967 to a point in 2007 when the provincial government was led by a political party who proclaimed that “No resource is of greater value to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians than our distinctive culture” (Progressive Conservative Party of NL, 2007).  Borrowing from Handler I will examine “how competing conceptualizations of ‘culture’ both shape and are expressed in government policy” (Handler 1988:118) in Newfoundland.  Of particular interest in my research is the point where cultural policy and tourism marketing intersect.  I share Can-Seng Ooi’s view that “In tourism, culture is capital” (Can-Seng Ooi 2002:92) and at the point where cultural policy and tourism intersect “cultures are being manufactured for the tourism industry” (ibid:93).

It is at this point of intersection where my view about the dilution of the uniqueness of “Newfoundland life” differs from Jackson’s.  My view is that what was unique about “Newfoundland life” has not vanished, though in the realm of tourism what has been and is being marketed is an idealized remnant of it.  I argue that this idealized remnant of “Newfoundland life” serves to sanitize history.

 

Selling Newfoundland

Central to the provincial tourism advertising campaign launched by the Newfoundland and Labrador government in 2006 was the notion that Newfoundland was “As far from Disneyland as you can possibly get.” Television advertising was a central part of the campaign.  By 2011 twelve television advertisements had been produced and were broadcast on the mainland of Canada and in Newfoundland, financed by a doubling of the tourism advertising budget.  By 2011 the provincial Minister of Tourism and the government’s advertising agency boasted that the campaign had won “over 100” national and international awards (The Telegram 10/19/2011 and Target Marketing: 1/26/2011).  The significance of the campaign and its success is found, I suggest, in Wright’s observation that “the images we see on our television screens play a crucial role in determining how we construct our reality” (Wright 2008:88) and Kemper’s contention that “whether it sells commodities or not, advertising creates culture” (Kemper 2001:4).

I argue that tourism in Newfoundland depends heavily on selling an idealized, almost mythical version of “Newfoundland life” and as I discuss in Chapter Five, one of the things being sold is nostalgia.  For a definition of nostalgia I am guided by Goulding and Domic’s view that “nostalgia is more than just memory; it is memory with the pain taken away” (Goulding and Domic 2009:97) and the novelist and travel writer Isabel Allende who contends that “nostalgia is a sort of bittersweet sentiment that forces you to reinvent the past in better terms most of the time.  It’s deceptive – nostalgia is very deceptive because you end up thinking that things were in a way that they never were” (Shapiro 2004:127 ).

This idealization can be observed in one of the Province’s tourism television ads launched in 2006 called Architecture.  The sixty-second television ad begins with a sequence of pictures of a boat being pulled up a wooden slipway by a steel cable in the coastal community of Pouch Cove.

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The audio track accompanying the images is a gentle sound of the surf breaking over the rocks mixed with the sound of a piano played one note at a time.  The image of small, open boats climbing the rugged cliffs of Pouch Cove has become almost iconic.  Any sunny day in summer tourists can be observed standing beside the main, paved road in the community taking photos of boats on the slipway.

What the 2006 Architecture television advertisement does not reveal, however, is that the commercial cod fishery in Pouch Cove has been closed since 1992 and except for a few weeks in the summer when people in the community pursue a limited food fishery the few boats remaining on the slipway do not move.  That situation changed after a fierce winter storm in 2013 that damaged the slipway.  Several of its planks washed away and during the food fishery of summer 2013 not one boat from the television ad was launched from the slipway.

The fishing boats on a Pouch Cove slipway are just one example of romantically colouring everyday life and portraying a province at odds with history.  The Memorial University historian Leslie Harris sometimes writes almost affectionately about everyday life in Newfoundland, but his affection is balanced with reality. Harris argues that cod fish were “the raison d’etre for Newfoundland’s existence as a distinct society” (Harris 1990:18) and in an essay titled The Outport Phenomenon (Harris 2008) he described those Newfoundland communities whose existence depending on the cod fishery as places where

“. . .land and property were held without benefit of deeds; wills and testaments were normally oral and only infrequently led to disputation; contracts were by oral agreement between friends; crimes of violence were rare; property was generally secure; even in the absence of clergy monogamy was the practice; orphaned children were the responsibility of the extended family and when necessary the community; the aged were an accepted responsibility of the children.  In the absence of any of those institutions and organizations that we now describe as community infrastructure, the virtues of a caring and sharing neighborliness were of pre-eminent value” (ibid:40/41).

If Harris had failed to also observe that everyday outport life was “a hard life of never-ending struggle with a hostile environment where mere survival was a daily miracle” (ibid:40) then one could say he was being nostalgic when describing outport life as one of caring, sharing, neighborliness.  The everyday reality, according to several researchers, is that “from the earliest days of the fishery the spectre of starvation loomed in lean seasons” (Byron 2003:4) in places “afflicted by. . .bitter poverty . . .always . . .on the brink of survival” (Porter 1993:4) where “men and women worked unremittingly hard and everyone was poor” (ibid:92).

By one count, one-third of the population of the island of Newfoundland was “hovering near the edge of starvation” as recently as the 1930s (Sider 1989:19).  A visiting member of the British House of Commons wrote that one-third to one-half of the population was “living in conditions of squalor and poverty” (Lodge 1939:17) and in his memoir the Newfoundland nationalist politician Peter Cashin described the poor in the 1930s as living in a state of “pauperism and degradation” (Ed. Roberts 2012:116). These historical facts were the result, according to Clark, of “the appallingly exploitative character of merchant capitalism” in Newfoundland (Clark 1986:18).

What makes the Newfoundland tourism advertising campaign launched in 2006 nostalgic is that it recalls a way of life that could fairly be characterized as caring, sharing, and neighborly yet ignores completely Newfoundland’s history of poverty and exploitation.  The consequence of what Overton characterizes as a “mythologizing process” is, he argues, that it “does not simply create an illusion.  Myths and ideology are real; they are a material force, not merely empty fancy” (Overton 1996:117 ).

Another way in which Newfoundland tourism advertising sells nostalgia is in its portrayal of contemporary outport communities as picturesque places where children run through fields beside the sea on sunny days while freshly washed clothes hang on clotheslines and flutter in the wind. In contrast, Sider describes outport communities as “being shredded” (Sider 2003:38) following the closure of the cod fishery in 1992 and out-migration as being of “biblical proportions “(ibid:5).

Whether selling nostalgia is good or bad is a fair question, but there is no disputing the fact that Newfoundland’s tourism ads are selling nostalgia and 2006 is not the first time Newfoundland has pursued this strategy.

Alan Byrne observes that in the early 20th century Newfoundland tourism advertising constructed “an image of Newfoundland as a primitive, anti-modern society which appealed to a growing number of educated elite travelers seeking an escape from the perceived negative effects of urban-industrial landscapes and lifestyles” (A. Byrne 2007:4).  In language remarkably similar to Byrne’s description, officials in the provincial government responsible for the tourism advertising campaign launched in 2006 identified their target demographic as people who are “travelers, not tourists” (provincial government submission to Canadian Advertising Success Story (Cassies) award competition 2007:4) who are “sophisticated and experienced travelers, seeking unusual places and experiences as an antidote to the plastic composition of urban life” (ibid:3).

Selling the landscape and the promise of escape has been a feature of Newfoundland tourism promotion for decades.  For example, Byrne noted a similar theme in tourist promotion from the 1930’s where many tourists “became enamored with what they perceived as the ‘simplicity’ of Newfoundland people, their refusal to adopt or embrace modernity or industrialism” (A. Byrne 2008:48).  Pocius made a similar observation, noting that Newfoundland tourism advertising from the early 20th century portrayed Newfoundlanders as “happy, energetic, and somewhat childlike” (Pocius 1993:66).

Selling happy and friendly people is an old product in Newfoundland and my research suggests, not surprisingly, that visitors continue to expect it and buy it. I interviewed a tourist in Gros Morne National Park on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula who said “the people” was the experience that most closely matched her expectations before she arrived.  When asked what she liked about “the people” she replied, “I like their simple way of life” (Tourist interview/Norris Point: July 8, 2011).  Another tourist from Ontario described Newfoundlanders as “down to earth” (ibid). When I interviewed tourists in the town of Trinity, Trinity Bay they described the Newfoundlanders they met as “friendly” and “warm”  (Tourist interviews/Trinity: July 22,23,24, 2011).  Those sentiments were also echoed by tourists I interviewed in St. John’s who, whether they were from Quebec, Saskatchewan, or Nunavut, told me the experience most like what they anticipated was meeting “extremely friendly” and “very warm,” Newfoundlanders (Tourist interviews/St. John’s August 2 &11, 2011).

As flattering as the tourists’ comments may have been, the question that accompanies them is this; when does ‘simple’ mean ‘backward’?  Or, when does ‘down to earth’ mean ‘unsophisticated’?  Or, what does it mean when a tourist describes Newfoundlanders as “traditional”?  Does the word carry the same meaning as it does in Sri Lanka where Kemper notes, “I once had an executive tell me that Sri Lankans were ‘traditional’ because of the late arrival of television technology.  In this sense, ‘traditional’ means behind the times and not technologically savvy” (Kemper 2001:143 ).

An American tourist I met in Gros Morne National park told me she thought Newfoundlanders were “charming and sweet.”  She described small, rural Newfoundland villages as “exotic” and told me she was struck by the way people would stand beside the road and wave as she and her partner drove by.  Her remarks were not unlike a visitor in the early 20th century who “arriving in Port aux Basques, remarked on the ‘politeness of the natives’” and the children who “smile, but do not stare, and without exception the boys lift their caps to you” (Pocious 1993:66).

The tourists who said they liked the “simple way of life” in Newfoundland said “simple” in an affectionate and unconsciously condescending way.  The tourist who thought the Newfoundlanders standing beside the roadway waving as she drove past said “charming and sweet” in an affectionate and unconsciously condescending way.  My view, however, is that even though condescension may be unconscious it is still corrosive.

 

The Screech-In Ceremony

Many researchers have commented on the unintended consequences that result from the process of turning culture into tourism products (Abbnik 2010:115, Boissevain and Fowler 1993:88, Handler1997:184, Greenwood in Smith 1989:179, and Rothman 1998:10).  In Chapter Six I will argue that marketing a nostalgic version of Newfoundland culture for tourists plays a crucial role in the cycle of amplification, re-amplification, and distortion.  What is of particular significance in this process in Newfoundland is the reinforcement of the negative Newfie stereotype.

Research conducted for Newfoundland’s Royal Commission on Renewing and Strengthening Our Place In Canada in 2002 found that Canadians identified Newfoundlanders as being warm and friendly, but also as simple or “uneducated/stupid/unskilled/unsophisticated” (Report of the Royal Commission on strengthening Our Place In Canada 2003:432).  Danny Williams, the Premier whose government doubled the provincial tourism advertising budget between 2006 and 2011 and who supervised the production of the Find Yourself advertising campaign, told me in a 2010 interview that one of his motives in launching the campaign was that “we have been stereotyped as a people for too long . . . we had to change the way we presented ourselves to the rest of the world” (Williams interview: May 10, 2010).

It is arguable whether Mr. Williams’ attempt to enhance the Newfoundland brand image has succeeded or not, but he was clearly aware of the group label Newfie (King and Clark 2002:537) and the goofy Newfie or stupid Newfie stereotype that emerged in the mid-20th century and led some, like Sider, to observe that “contempt, ridicule, and resentment of Newfoundland is widespread in mainland Canada” (Sider 2003:319).  This stereotype serves, according to King and Clark, as a “vehicle of social marginalization” for people living in what has been until recently Canada’s poorest province (King and Clark 2001:537). For the purposes of my argument the significance of the Newfie stereotype is found in Whalen’s contention that stereotypes are “powerful” and “constitute one means of policing the borders between dominate and subordinate” (Whalen 1998:117) and Pickering who argues that “stereotypes operate as a means of evaluatively placing, and attempting to fix in place, other people or cultures from a particular and privileged perspective” (Pickering 2001:47)

In discussing the cycle of amplification, re-amplification, and distortion in Chapter Six I will focus on the invention of one of the most popular tourism products in the Newfoundland marketplace, the welcoming and initiation Screech-In ceremony.

In the process of promoting the island as “an antidote to the plastic composition of urban life” and tourists arriving with expectations of experiencing that antidote, one of the ways the marketplace meets such expectations is by delivering a product, the Screech-In ceremony.  I argue that at the point where the tourist’s expectation and the tourism marketplace meet distortion is introduced and negative stereotypes are reinforced.

As an example of an invented tradition (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983) the Screech-In ceremony is a relatively recent one.  Hobsbawm remarked that the process of inventing traditions  “has not been adequately studied by historians.  Much of it is still rather obscure” (ibid:4) as an understanding of their origins is often lacking.  That is not a weakness in my analysis of the Screech-In welcoming and initiation ritual.

The earliest evidence I found leads me to conclude that the ceremony was invented in 1976 in a bar in St. John’s, though it roots reach back to the 1940s and the arrival of large numbers of American and Canadian military personnel on the island.  According to High, the war years had a “profound effect” (High 2010:5) on St. John’s and 1942 was described as a time of prosperity “without precedent in the history of the island” (ibid:15).  According to Major, however, the war years were also a time when “Newfoundland became ‘Newfy’” (Major 2001:376).

Jackson characterizes the arrival of American and Canadian military personnel during the Second World War as an “invasion” at a point in time when Newfoundlanders were not North Americans, but “still Europeans” (Jackson 1984:18).  It was a period of time when, according to O’Flaherty, “the age-old apartness of Newfoundland”was being bridged (O’Flaherty 2011:73) .

I will argue that the Screech-In ceremony endures because Newfoundland’s “age-old apartness” has not been completely bridged and the ceremony provides tourists with a product that has the appearance of authenticity, though some would describe the product as a parody of Newfoundland culture (King and Clarke 2002:550).

Some elements of the original 1976 ceremony and a subsequent variant remain unchanged, like consuming a one-ounce drink of Screech-brand rum, eating a Newfoundland food item, and kissing a cod fish or a toy squid or puffin.  The successor to the original ceremony introduced an additional element, the mastering of a tongue-twisting Newfoundland saying, firmly entrenched in every contemporary variation of the ceremony I observed.

The contentiousness surrounding the ceremony remains unchanged as well. Former Premier Danny Williams told me he thought the Screech-In ceremony was “entertaining” and that he “never felt embarrassed by it” (Williams interview: May 10:2010).  In contrast, Anita Best, one of the authors of the cultural policy which Williams’s government adopted, told me in an interview that the Screech-In “Is not who I am as a Newfoundlander” (Best interview Dec. 5, 2010).  She is not alone.  The late John Furlong, a Newfoundland journalist, wrote in 2012 that he is “embarrassed and offended by Screech-ins, which I consider to be racist, and silly tourist gimmicks.  We wouldn’t ask African-Americans to “shuffle” when they walk, and we wouldn’t ask Irishmen to drink themselves into a stupor, but somehow it is OK to have me and my family and my relatives and my fellow Newfoundlanders stereotyped as illiterate, toothless, goofy hillbillies” (Furlong 2012).

 My view is that the contentiousness surrounding the ceremony is a reflection of a competition between differing versions of Newfoundland identity.  I am arguing that the Screech-In ceremony can be viewed as a “diagnostic event” that “reveals ongoing contests and conflicts and competitions” (Moore 1987:730 ).

Whether the Screech-In ceremony is an act of acquiescence or an act of resistance is arguable, but it is not, as Bruner says of stories, “ideologically neutral” (Turner and Bruner 1986:144).  For example, consider the large billboard adjacent to a coffee shop on Ropewalk Lane in St. John’s in December, 2010.

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The billboard displayed the words “Long may your big jib draw” in large, white letters set against a blue background.  In smaller letters the billboard displayed the words “Pattison” and “Outdoor Advertising” and the local phone number for the company.  The Newfoundland Manager of Pattison Outdoor Advertising, a large national Canadian company, is Gary Huxter. In an interview Huxter told me that when the billboard is not rented the company engages in some self-promotion (Huxter interview: Dec 11, 2010).  In this case the display of what Pattison advertising professionals think is a distinct Newfoundland expression is a way of communicating to potential customers that Pattison Outdoor Advertising is led in Newfoundland by Newfoundland management who know the local market.

The“Long May Your Big Jib Draw” billboard in St. John’s raises the question of how a nautical expression that disappeared from everyday usage at the end of the age of sail came to signify Newfoundland in 2010?

During the course of my research I asked individuals, small groups of people, and people attending seminars and classes in Newfoundland whether they had heard the expression “Long may your big jib draw” in everyday conversation?  Only a few people responded that they had, but it was in the context of a party or in the company of visitors and not necessarily in the course of everyday conversation.

I have asked people whose childhood homes were in Newfoundland if they ever heard the expression “Long May Your Big Jib Draw” in everyday life as they were growing up.  The answer in almost every case has been, no. I moved to Pouch Cove in 1971, more than 45 years ago as I write this, and I have never heard the expression “Long may your big jib draw” in the course of everyday life.

In his analysis of the concept of “the Folk” in Nova Scotia McKay noted that local “urban cultural producers” rather than “contemptuous outsiders” invented the stereotype of “the slow-talking unimaginative, placid, and contented Nova Scotia Folk” (McKay 1994:222).  My view is that a similar pattern can be observed in the invention of the Screech-In ceremony, when a school teacher living in St. John’s in 1976 was inspired by the song lyrics of another teacher, who lived most of his adult life in Montreal, to create the expression “D’ed I is me ol’ cock and long may your big jib draw.” The teacher dressed in fishermen’s clothing and began entertaining tourists, or as Jackson caustically puts it, became one of the “buffoons playing the Newf for pay in the pubs” (Jackson 1986:28).  Regardless, little did the St. John’s school teacher know in 1976 that more than three decades later the expression “Long may your big jib draw,” which, with the exception of a reference in a song seemed to have disappeared from everyday use, would become a signifier for Newfoundland in the 21st century.

When Bruner observed that “the way local people tell stories about their traditions to foreigners influences how they talk about and express their own culture to themselves” (Bruner 2005:22) he was describing a Balinese cultural performance constructed for tourists.  My view is that he could have been describing the Newfoundland Screech-In ceremony, but unlike the Balinese cultural performance, the Screech-In ceremony is not an adaptation of an old Newfoundland cultural performance, packaged and sold to tourists.  On the contrary, it was created explicitly for tourists and in a little over three decades it has become not only a signifier for Newfoundland, but as Seiler and Seiler observed in their examination of a similar welcoming and initiation ceremony in Calgary, Alberta, a “site of struggle” (Seiler, R.M. and Seiler, T.P. 2001:29).

 


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