Come Home Year Redux: Newfoundland, Nostalgia Tourism, and COVID Recovery

By Shannon Conway

Newfoundlander and Labradorian ex-pats have something to look forward to in the new year: Come Home Year 2022. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador recently launched the quasi-“post”-COVID tourism strategy aimed at Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who live away from home.[1] Tourism is a key sector of the Newfoundland and Labrador economy, but the industry has been devastated by the pandemic, and despite the boarder having been reopened to Canadians for the past several months, the sector has yet to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.[2] This is not the first time that the provincial government has launched such a tourism strategy to bolster that economic sector. The original Come Home Year 1966 proved to be an economic success, and with the current dire economic situation in the province, the government surely hopes to mirror that past success in the coming year.

Newfoundland and Labrador, “St. John's Map and Guide, 1966,” Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, (Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, NL).
Each region in the province had its own map and guide book for Come Home Year 1966. Cover of the St. John’s map and guide, courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John’s, NL.

The first Come Home Year in 1966 was a tourism scheme created by Newfoundland’s Premier Joey Smallwood in an effort to boot revenue in the tourism sector. With this, the government encouraged “thousands of expatriate Newfoundlanders to visit” their home and regale in the “characteristic milieu” of the island.[3] It required large scale organization to ensure it was successful and the government used the celebrations to be self-congratulatory of all it achieved in terms of modernization and development since joining Canada. There was a nod given to that while Newfoundland was changing and modernizing, Newfoundlanders were still as friendly as always, Newfoundland was still the home they knew it just functioned (somewhat) better.[4]

The Come Home Year project was in conjunction with the launch of a long-awaited tourist and travel enterprise for the province, as well as inculcating a sense of Newfoundland pride (amidst the coming Canadian Centennial celebrations the following year) with ceremonies to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1966. Newfoundland’s Director of Tourist Development, Oliver L. Vardy, touted the endeavour as the “greatest promotional project ever embarked upon.”[5] Aiming tourism towards Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who lived outside the province proved to be a great tactic as 45% of visitor’s during 1966 were visiting relatives.[6] The strategy was quite effective, with the industry seeing a 39.275% increase compared to the previous year, with the average length of stay for visitors being 15.9 days.[7]

Come Home Year created a link between public funding and the arts by entrenching the idea that “traditional outport life could be commodified and marketed.”[8] The tourism industry in the province relied heavily on a particular portrayal of the cultural heritage of Newfoundland and by 1970 the government became increasingly interested in tourism for economic development. Historian James Overton argues that the imaginary of Newfoundland used in the tourism industry was “not invented just for tourists […] The same totems, icons, and images highlighted for tourists came to be seen as the essential symbols of Newfoundland national identity.”[9] This spirit of nostalgia tourism created for and further entrenched by Come Home Year has since stood as a model for the subsequent more localised Come Home Year festivals in communities across the island that continue to this day.[10]

It should be noted that tourism was promoted by the Newfoundland government prior to confederation as well. Newfoundland’s early tourism in the 19th century focused on hunting and fishing, much like the 19th century tourism promotion in Canada. But even as early as the later 19th century, Newfoundland’s tourism promotion was aimed at expatriates. The first example of a Come Home Year tourism strategy with “Old Home Week” promotion in 1904.[11]

The concept of nostalgia was and is invoked in Newfoundland and Labrador tourism to appeal to those away from home, particularly those working away and having romantic remembrance of their home. The idea of going back to visiting home then becomes something to hold on to when the present or future seems difficult or uncertain. In contrast to this romanticisation, is that the remembrance of home may not match the current reality, as things have changed since they left. Newfoundland and Labrador as home was and remains to be a way to have something that’s the “good life” as opposed to the difficulties faced in the place they are currently living – despite the many difficulties and hardships Newfoundland and Labrador faced in the past and today.[12]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Newfoundlanders were away from the land they call home and due to travel restrictions and unlike pre-pandemic life, they were not immediately welcomed back to the place they identify as home if they were without particular residency requirements despite the long history of Newfoundlanders periodically leaving the island for work and educational opportunities. This particular set of circumstances placed additional importance on the concept of home, belonging, and identity in the context of Newfoundlanders and Newfoundland.

On May 4, 2020, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador imposed a travel ban for the province, blocking non-essential travel leaving many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians not permitted to return to their home and loved ones.[13] This message was frequently echoed (at times viscerally) by those who resided in the province; hurtful comments (and at times xenophobic attitudes) on social media towards fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians was a particularly challenging point in terms of identity and belonging for those away from the province during the pandemic.[14]

The nostalgia for home during such a devastating time pulled strongly and to be prevented from returning home for comfort and reclusion was too much to bear. The travel ban struck such a strong chord with ex-pats that there was legal action taken against the Newfoundland and Labrador government for preventing them from returning home.[15] The court challenges failed to rectify the situation as the government imposed travel ban was upheld[16], but that some Newfoundlanders and Labradorians took such great lengths to be able to return home demonstrates their deep-seated identity and sense of belonging despite no longer residing in their home.

 Come Home Year 1966 License Plate, courtesy of Fred Hutton, CBC News-Newfoundland and Labrador. VOCM-Local News, “Government Unveils New Provincial Licence Plate for Come Home Year,” VOCM-Local News, November 16, 2021. https://vocm.com/2021/11/16/government-unveils-new-provincial-licence-plate-for-come-home-year/ and Fred Hutton, “Why Newfoundland and Labrador is – and always will be – home,” CBC News-Newfoundland and Labrador, November 26, 2017.  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/point-of-view-newfoundland-is-home-1.4417663.
The advertising campaign for Come Home Year 1966 was impactful and included specially designed license plates. Come Home Year 2022 will have a new version of the sought after item and will feature a blue and white colour theme with a backdrop of a life-like illustration of a whale, with the ever important “Come Home” text at the bottom.

After nearly 14-months, the Newfoundland and Labrador Government reopened its boarder to the rest of Canada on July 1, 2021.[17] The announcement of the reopening witnessed an immediate rush of plane ticket purchases, followed by busy airports in the province and excited families and friends.[18] This past summer saw many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians returning home, with laughter and tears of joy shared between friends and families just outside of the doors of the St. John’s International Airport.[19] Even though the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador held a firm position of demanding ex-pat Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to stay away during the pandemic (which made good epidemiological sense), a message that reinforced a belief that these Newfoundlanders and Labradorians no longer belonged, they will be sure to return in droves during Come Home Year 2022, as they always have – and this time, I’ll be one of them.


Shannon Conway received her PhD in History from the University of Ottawa in 2020 and is currently a Research Associate with the Gorsebrook Research Institute at Saint Mary’s University. Her present research is on perceptions of Newfoundland culture, identity, and nationalism in Newfoundland children’s literature from 1990-2015 and post-Cod moratorium Newfoundland culture and identity more generally.



Notes:

[1] CTV-Atlantic News, “N.L. launches 2022 Come Home Year as a post-pandemic boost to tourism and morale,” CTV-Atlantic News, November 15, 2021. https://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/n-l-launches-2022-come-home-year-as-a-post-pandemic-boost-to-tourism-and-morale-1.5666603.

[2] Terry Roberts, “N.L. Tourism bounces back, but recovery still cramped by COVID-19,” CBC News Newfoundland and Labrador, September 24, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/tourism-bounce-newfoundland-1.6186729.

[3] Ronald Rompkey, “The Idea of Newfoundland and Arts Policy since Confederation,” Newfoundland Studies vol. 14, no. 2 (Fall 1998), 269-270.

[4] Shannon Conway, National Project, Regional Perspective: Newfoundland, Canada and Identities, 1949-1991, PhD Thesis, (University of Ottawa, 2020), 229.

[5] Newfoundland, Tourist Development Division, Report of the Tourist Development Division of the Department of Economic Development 1966, (St. John’s: Dept. of Economic Development, 1966), 10.

[6] Newfoundland, Report of the Tourist Development Division, 22.

[7] Newfoundland, Report of the Tourist Development Division, 1 & 24.

[8] Rompkey, 271-272.

[9] James Overton, Making a World of Difference, (St. John’s: Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1996), 17 and Roger Bill, “Culture vs. Policy vs. Culture: The Evolution of Cultural Policy in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1967-2007,” Newfoundland Studies vol. 24, no. 1 (2009), 106.

[10] Conway, 229-230.

[11] James Overton, “Come Home: Nostalgia and Tourism in Newfoundland,” Acadiensis vol. 14, no.1 (1984), 92.

[12] Overton, “Come Home” 88-90.

[13] VOCM-Local News, “Travel Ban for Those Entering Province Comes Into Effect Today,” VOCM-Local News, May 4, 2020. https://vocm.com/2020/05/04/travel-ban/.

[14] CBC News, “Living here, but not a livyer: How N.L’s ban on outsiders is raising sharp questions,” CBC News Newfoundland and Labrador, May 6, 2020. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/seasonal-resident-travel-ban-nl-1.5555207.

[15] Sean Fine, “Newfoundland faces court challenge to ban on non-essential travel from outside province,” Globe and Mail, May 20, 2020. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-newfoundland-faces-court-challenge-to-ban-on-non-essential-travel-from/ and Holly McKenzie-Sutter, “COVID-related travel ban arbitrary, violates mobility rights, St. John’s court told,” CBC News-Newfoundland and Labrador, August 11, 2020. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/covid-travel-court-1.5682109.

[16] Ryan Cooke, “N.L. travel ban upheld in provincial Supreme Court ruling,” CBC News-Newfoundland and Labrador, September 17, 2020. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/nl-travel-ban-supreme-court-decision-1.5727549.

[17] Sarah Smellie, “N.L. lifts controversial COVID-19 travel ban nearly 14 months after it began,” The Canadian Press – Global News, June 30, 2021. https://globalnews.ca/news/7994963/n-l-lifts-controversial-covid-19-travel-ban-nearly-14-months-after-it-began/.

[18] Alex Kennedy, “Travellers on the move as N.L. reopens border to the rest of Canada,” CBC News Newfoundland and Labrador, July 2, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/nl-non-essential-travel-opens-covid-1.6087323.

[19] Andrew Hawthorn, “‘It’s just absolutely magical’: Tearful reunions aplenty as N.L. reopens to the rest of Canada,” CBC News Newfoundland and Labrador, July 4, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/reunions-nl-canada-reopen-travel-1.6089116.

About The Acadiensis Blog

The Acadiensis Blog is a place for Atlantic Canadian historians to share their research with both a scholarly and general audience. We welcome submissions on all topics Atlantic Canadian. If you are interested in contributing to the blog, please contact Acadiensis Digital Communications Editor Corey Slumkoski at corey.slumkoski@msvu.ca.
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