February 25, 2006
Newfoundlanders celebrate curling victory
BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

To the people in the rest of Canada it might have been just another Olympic medal but to Newfoundlanders the victory in Turin by the Brad Gushue rink goes closer to the heart and holds a meaning that runs deep.

"When they close all the schools in Newfoundland it shows how big this is. A lot of people here (Toronto) say what's all the fuss about," Cal Head said, watching the TV screen at the Eton Pub on Danforth Ave. "But this day is as important to Newfoundlanders as 1972 and the hockey is to the rest of Canada."

Head, like many other transplanted Newfoundlanders, gathered in pubs across Canada.

"But I'd like to be in Newfoundland tonight," Fred Layden, watching the game with friends at Noah's Ark on Dawes Rd., said. "There'll be a three-day hangover after this back home. This is the big time for Newfoundland."

Yes, this was more than just about curling. It's about vindication for a people and a province that are isolated from the rest of Canada geographically -- and often politically and socially.

Tom Adams left Concepcion Bay 40 years ago. But his soul never left The Rock. "We've never won anything before. This is the first time I think someone from Newfoundland has even made it to the Olympics.

"We always seem to get the raw deals. Quebec gave us a raw deal on the hydro. We've got offshore oil, but instead of us getting benefits, it all goes to the U.S. None is refined in Newfoundland. They took away the fisheries but nobody can take this away from us," Adams said, watching Gushue raise his arms on the podium.

Gushue has given the province validation, Newfoundlanders in Toronto said. It shows that, given an opportunity, they can compete with the best in the world. So when Gushue put up a six-spot, Layden, who left Lewisport, Nfld., 25 years ago whooped: "We're kickin' ass now."

Fortunately for a black-hearted columnist who dared use dark humour in praise of Gushue when he won the Canadian championship -- raising the ire of Newfoundlanders -- it wasn't his own.

But many e-mails and telephone messages -- suggesting I should die of AIDS, deserve to be shot and fired, and am a racist who must be the spawn of Hitler -- indicate that others are not about to forget this without a colourfully written letter or a telephone message that would make a sailor blush.

But at the bars, there was only one discouraging word amid the jubilation. It came as the TV screens showed Gushue taking the podium for the national anthems. "They should burn the Canadian flag now and jump on it. Then we should join the United States," said Adams' fellow patron, jamming a hat over his head and heading for the pub door -- leaving his invective without his name.

Probably best that way for everyone.

A DAY OF JOY

Mostly, though, this was a day of joy, happiness and pride.

"This is a big day for Newfoundland. Maybe you have to be (a Newfoundlander) to understand how big," Layden said. "I can't think of any other Newfoundland athletes who've made it this big.

"The thing with Newfoundland is that it's pretty isolated and there isn't a lot of sponsorship, which makes it difficult for any athlete. What's the point in training for something only to reach a point and have to quit and get nothing out of it?"

Cal Head skipped work to watch this final. "I was talking to my sister back home and watching the CBC and all the crazed curling fans at the stadium in St. John's."

He grew up in Glenwood, hard by the Gander River, and knows how starved his home province has been for international heroes. "I hope this makes everyone feel proud. We have Rick Mercer, who is the greatest since sliced bread, and Harry Hibbs was famous -- but he just played the accordion. For anyone to make it internationally or at the Olympics as an athlete is an incredibly big thing for us.

"You've got to remember the whole population of Newfoundland is less than half a million, less than Scarborough," Head said. "We don't get many chances and because of that we probably appreciate it more than other parts of Canada."

Not that we'd be able to comment on that, considering the next medal someone from Toronto wins at these games would be the first.

Not that that's likely to happen.

Final score: Newfoundland 1, Toronto 0.