Nfld. & Labrador

'I was wrong': Negativity abounds following Margaret Wente's apology to N.L.

More than a decade after hostile remarks about Newfoundland and Labrador, Margaret Wente's apology did not fall on deaf ears this weekend.

Wente gave no indication she was a columnist, says innkeeper

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente, reflects on Sept. 11 as she accepts her National Newspaper Award for columns in Calgary on Friday, April, 26, 2002. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

More than a decade after hostile remarks about Newfoundland and Labrador, Margaret Wente's apology did not fall on deaf ears this weekend.

The often-contentious Globe and Mail columnist visited Newfoundland last month, and wrote a follow-up to an inflammatory column from 2005 when she called the province a "vast and scenic welfare ghetto," full of "ingrates on pogey."

On Saturday, she wrote, "I got them all wrong, and I'm sorry."

While Wente's name was being disparaged across social media in Newfoundland and Labrador over the weekend, Joan Penney went about her business at her saltbox house in Little Seldom.

Penney, who hosted Wente, her husband and friends during their stay on Fogo Island, had no indication her guest was a columnist, or intended to write about their conversations over dinner.

"We had no idea who she was. She introduced herself as — hang on, let me check here," she said, flipping through the pages of her guestbook. "Peggy MacLeod."

Joan Penney runs Nan's House, a saltbox house in Little Seldom on Fogo Island. She hosted Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente last month and was subject to her latest column. (Submitted by Joan Penney)

Indeed, Wente writes she used her married name on the trip so as to not draw the ire of anybody remembering the backlash from her previous column.

Penney, along with her husband, sister and brother-in-law, joined the travellers for dinner one night. Wente details their conversations, quoting to illustrate their accents: "I remember dem all in deir beds, all huddled up in deir noightcaps."

Her brother-in-law, Aubrey Payne, carried much of the conversation while Wente mostly remained hush.

"She was here, she played the part and she kept quiet," Penney said. "It would have been nicer if she had got up at the end of it and told us about her previous remarks, said who she was and apologized. But then again, some people have a hard time saying sorry."

Social media reaction mostly negative

Others are having a hard time accepting Wente saying sorry.

Reaction to the column was outwardly negative, with many on social media questioning the sincerity in her tone. Among her backhanded compliments, Wente describes the province as having "pretty good food," despite being a place where you can "still get fried baloney pretty much anywhere."

Some opted for the high road on Wente, who has written inflammatory columns denying rape culture and downing feminism, while admitting to plagiarism in the past.

Many others, fixating on the opportunity presented in the column's headline, were not so polite.

Attempts to reach Wente for comment were unsuccessful.

Spreading a better understanding

For her part, Penney was not convinced by the apology. 

Initially, she felt blindsided by the column when she went on Facebook and saw she'd been mentioned in a post. Beneath the current column on its website, the Globe attached Wente's previous column where she disparaged the province in the midst of then-premier Danny Williams' campaign to remove the Canadian flag from provincial buildings.

Penney was struck by her words.

"My husband and I are definitely not welfare cases. We work hard for our living," she said, noting the entire island community has put in decades of hard work to make ends meet. "I worked in health care for 37 years before retiring. My husband is a fisherman."

But the more she thought of it, the more she appreciated the effort made by Peggy MacLeod, who sat quietly and listened to her brother-in-law's many stories of life on Fogo Island. 

"I hope our conversation over dinner gave her a better understanding of our beautiful province and people," she said. "And who knows? Maybe it was the dinner table that night that changed her mind."