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NICHOLAS MERCER: Bringing back the community

Corner Brook Come Home Year 2019 organizer Gladys Batten spoke at the Rotary Club of Corner Brook on Thursday about the weeklong event.
Corner Brook Come Home Year 2019 organizer Gladys Batten spoke at the Rotary Club of Corner Brook on Thursday about the weeklong event. - Nicholas Mercer

There is an old joke in Newfoundland and Labrador. It has to do with our residents' love for home and I'm sure you've all heard it at some point. 

Here it is: When the recently deceased make their way to St. Peter looking for admission to heaven, how do you know which ones are Newfoundlanders? It's easy. They're the ones standing off to the side and pining for home.

As a people, we love our home province. Where you live is where you live, but home will always be here.

"A lot of people came from smaller communities where there really was a sense of community and community history," said folklorist Dale Jarvis. "People have come from this place where their families have been for generations. When you're not in that environment anymore and in this big, anonymous place, you miss that sense of really feeling like you belong somewhere."

Leaving and coming home isn't anything new for the people of this province. As Jarvis put it, we've been doing it for decades.

Heading to Alberta for work and sending money home isn't a recent development. It is a traditional piece of Newfoundland's cultural fabric.

Whether it was heading to Toronto, the Boston states or Labrador looking for work, Newfoundlanders leaving and returning is as much a part of our history as the fishery is.

It all goes back to that sense of community fostered in the small towns we grew up in. I also see it in larger centres like St. John's or Corner Brook — that sense of community exists in the cities’ neighbourhoods.

The people of Corner Brook tie their sense of community to institutions (baseball, hockey, the arts, etc.) and to the districts that make up the city as a whole — Curling, the Westside, Townsite, Humber Mouth and the Heights.

At this week's Rotary Club of Corner Brook luncheon, the topic of coming home was front and centre as chief organizer of the city's planned Come Home Year in 2019, Gladys Batten, was the featured speaker.

She gave an update on the progress for the anticipated event that focused on events, the number of people expected to arrive and the planning that is still to come.

The Come Home Year is scheduled for July 19-28.

The weeklong celebration of Corner Brook is concerts, barbecues and other things of that nature.

However, it is something more. It is an attempt to draw that sense of community out of a city that at times feels like it has none.

That isn't a knock against Corner Brook. It's an inevitable problem for any town as time passes. Society changes and people are more inclined to stay where they move instead of have a nomadic approach to things.

This is what makes the Come Home Year important. It allows people to find a bit of what they've been missing, even though they had no idea there was something ever so slightly amiss.

"We want to kindle a sense of family and bonding," said Batten.

According to the organizer, there is one family who has about 120 people set to return. The Townsite Aces baseball organization is also planning a reunion during the week.

Jarvis said the Come Home Year is a phenomenon that is larger in Newfoundland and Labrador than anywhere else.

He isn't sure if it happens anywhere else. There are school reunions, of course, but nothing as large as a town calling their wayward sons and daughters home.

Every other year, a town in Newfoundland attempts to find a piece of the past and invites its mainland diaspora home to spark that journey.

At the tail end of Thursday's session, Batten was asked a question that incorporated that sense of community. She was asked if there was any plan to have a family parade to kick things off. Each family would create a banner to proudly display who they are there for.

Batten said it is something that is in the works, but there was no firm commitment yet.

The goal for the Come Home Year in Corner Brook is simple, in Batten's eyes.

"We want people to live and to laugh," she said.

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