Point of View

I came to Newfoundland for the oil and stayed for the weather

A geosciences career brought Emily Deming from Houston to St. John's. The raw, unpredictable weather here persuaded her to stick around.
Emily Deming embraces many things about life in Newfoundland and Labrador, including the Great Auk sculpture on Fogo Island. (Submitted by Emily Deming)

Newfoundland is not the most beautiful place in the world. Labrador might be (I haven't been there, but I hold out hope).

Though no single feature is the most beautiful, each inch of Newfoundland is pretty, except the suburbs of St. John's and the strip malls of Clarenville.

I hear smack-talk about Stephenville too, but I love it; there's nothing like crumbling airstrips, little paths to nowhere, and those benches along the low beach cliffs of the Port au Port Peninsula with its bleached mysterious flotsam.

So even with our careless subdivisions and our secret mattress dumps in the woods, the island as a whole maintains an decently high attractiveness coefficient.

But how are we managing this resource, this ease on the eyes?

Do we appreciate it? Do we monetize it properly? Do we cling to it for our identity sufficiently?

Our tourism ads say we do. On flights and in magazines, we are gorgeously selling this townie vision of a simpler, sunnier bay where each wool sweater swaddles a dad-bod full of wisdom and Nan's bread, and the kids play tag with painterly clotheslines.

While, statistically, the bay is flocking to the ugliest parts of town, and the hot young man in that sweater is either a lot older than he looks or has no idea how to row a dory and is currently working as a band rep in Toronto but is sure he will come back someday.

Neither used nor guaranteed

Why the hard sell on features we no longer use and cannot guarantee? Maybe it's the most practical resource allocation.

If Newfoundland isn't sustaining itself from the ocean in the ways it used to, pack it up in Technicolor and sell it.

Emily Deming and her daughter cuddle during a typically unpredictable May 24 weekend. (Submitted by Emily Deming)

Indeed, selling our resources is what brought me here from the U.S. 

I was a geoscientist working for an oil company in Houston and wanted a transfer to a real ocean. I've told this story before but the immigration officers at YYT still laugh every time and shake their heads.

What good is the ocean without the sun? And it is true I did not quite understand where I was heading.

The sun is the single most glorious thing to hit our planet and our allotment is a pittance.

But you cannot celebrate the sun when it is daily trying to kill you.

I used to freeze, but in an office building

In Texas, we hid from it. Air conditioning in the south is a far more frigid depressant than the climate of the North Atlantic. I had office long johns in the summer.

But in Newfoundland? One year of climate data convinced me to sell my commuter sedan for a convertible. I would wring every wave and particle out of every one of the 1,500 hours of annual sun.

We have so very much more bad weather than good. That is what we need to push.

We might laugh at the ubiquitous sun of the ads and Republic of Doyle, but they aren't far off how we act when it does shine. Punch drunk. 

Even those in business casual leave work early, roll up their cuffs and grin on the sidewalks. Children run past brightly coloured houses, laughing, towards sparkling harbours.

But we have so very much more bad weather than good.

That is what we need to push. What else do we have that other ocean destinations don't?

We produce more politics than cod. We still have the oil beneath our waves and will have for a while yet.

Newfoundland exists without Newfoundlanders

But that's not why I stayed. I stayed for this bad-tempered air and ocean. It is cold, slippery, dark, and ubiquitously corrosive to metal, land and humans.

Without mild weather to soften it, to scale it down, the ocean here reminds us, like the stirrings of awe before great art, that there is importance outside ourselves.

Emily Deming, a freelance writer in St. John's, takes in the summer cod fishery off Newfoundland. (Submitted by Emily Deming)

We cannot pretend it has anything to do with us, though we've everything to do with it. Newfoundland exists without Newfoundlanders. Though loath be the one who says so. Everest may be the tallest peak, France may have the greatest wines, but our water and our weather cares the least for you.

Come to Newfoundland! If you can find a flight, if that flight braves the skies above us. It is not for the soft.

You may get stuck in Halifax or turned back to Toronto halfway here.

But, if you make it, you will have an ocean almost to yourself, there is so much more of it than there will ever be of us, and most days we don't want it.

On this island of perpetual tempest, our rare jewel in the world is our uncaring ocean and the terrible wonderful weather that reveals it.

About the Author

Emily Deming

Emily Deming is a freelance writer living in St. John's.