The Next Chapter

Alan Doyle didn't really understand Canada — until he toured with Great Big Sea

The Great Big Sea singer discusses his memoir about travelling across Canada, A Newfoundlander in Canada.
The Great Big Sea musician opens up in A Newfoundlander in Canada about the journey towards understanding what it means to be part of a diverse country. (Dave Howells/Doubleday Canada)

Alan Doyle had never been to mainlaind Canada until he went on tour with his band, Great Big Sea, in the 1990s. To kick off the tour, he climbed into his bandmate's hatchback and took the ferry to Cape Breton. It was a long and memorable journey — and Doyle discovered that Canada wasn't quite like the country he heard about growing up. He recalls this tour in his latest memoir, A Newfoundlander in Canada: Always Going Somewhere, Always Coming Home. This interview originally aired on Jan. 15, 2018.

Imagining far away places

"My grandfather was a Newfoundlander until the day he died. He would have been a young adult in 1949 and would have voted in the referendum. It's no secret that he voted to stay part of an independent Newfoundland. I was the first one in my family who was born a Canadian. I was part of a country that I didn't have a clue about. Stuff from Ireland looked more familiar to me. I remember realizing that Vancouver was further away from my house than Berlin. Dublin was closer than Winnipeg. Yet, apparently I'm Canadian — but I didn't know much about it. That was my early vision of the country." 

Moving to the mainland

"Until I wrote A Newfoundlander in Canada, I never quite understood what it is like to be a band from Newfoundland. The more we travelled, the more aware I became of how far away I live and the more reasonable it became that people had never been to Newfoundland.

"When you think of the geography of St. John's, Halifax was the most important city in the world. When we got to Halifax, the Lower Deck pub, a Maritime-themed place, needed a band exactly like us for people who came to sing songs and drink beer. I fell in love with the place and I still go there whenever I'm in Halifax."

Connected by more than a map

"Newfoundlanders recorded their history in song and stories. As the years went along, I became more aware that, in terms of joining a country, we couldn't have joined a better one. If there is a country somewhere in the world that celebrates its regions more than Canada, I'd like to go there. If you're concerned about losing your regional or national identity by joining another country like Canada, you needn't worry because so many cultures in the country are not only accepted, they are celebrated."

Alan Doyle's comments have been edited and condensed.