May 26, 2011

Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves. - Queen Victoria

Victoria Day has come and gone. It’s a day, I understand, to respectfully observe the historical ties between Canada and the British monarchy. And a day that Newfoundlanders refer to as “May 2-4,” when they pull their campers up to gravel pits and burn things.

Victoria Day, according to the Canadian Heritage website, is also called the Sovereign’s birthday. It was the actual birthday of Queen Victoria but has since marked the birthdays of subsequent monarchs. I’m not sure about protocol for this holiday, but I can disclose that I recently received a commemorative tin with the image of Queen Elizabeth II on it, which is now displayed above my fireplace.

However you normally celebrate this most Sovereign of holidays, I would like to suggest that for next year, in Corner Brook, a radical reinvention is in order. This column is a roundabout way of bringing this up, but Corner Brook needs a new attitude toward garbage. And I think this new attitude should involve less littering, and more picking up.

Queen Elizabeth and admirers in Corner Brook

I get around town by walking, and as any walker knows, you’re always on the lookout for shortcuts. Every shortcut that I take passes by forests of sad branches with plastic bags waving in them; empty lots filled with Tim Horton’s cups and soggy sofas; and school lawns covered in cigarette butts that have taken root and are reproducing vegetatively.  I’ve become a bit obsessive about this, carrying bags to pick up garbage as I go.

I don’t mean to paint with too broad a brush. The City of Corner Brook sponsored a clean-up day recently; several schools have begun to pick up garbage on their grounds; and I know that lots of people don’t litter. But I think we should redouble our efforts, and convert the unconverted. I propose that people spend a little time on Victoria Day picking up trash. Or just not throwing it in the first place. I don’t think Queen Victoria would’ve cared about garbage in Corner Brook, but there’s no better way to spend this day than making the city that much more lovely.

I also propose that we take a moment on the Sovereign’s special day to think about the royal family, and how nice it is to have people so devoted to funny hatwear. And how strange to be influenced by their lives, when they are so utterly disengaged from ours. When Peter Penashue, the former Innu Nation leader and Conservative MP from Newfoundland and Labrador was sworn into Stephen Harper’s cabinet as Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, he uttered the routine Oath of Allegiance: “I, Peter Penashue, do swear, that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”

Queen Elizabeth visits Corner Brook, Wears Hat

Now, I love funny hats as much as the next person, but I’m slightly concerned by the implications of this oath. I’ve been told that my discomfort regarding the Queen is unwarranted, for she is a symbol. So what is she a symbol of? What does it mean to swear allegiance to this symbol? And why should she symbolize essentially the same thing to all politicians and lawyers of an entire country, all of whom are required to take the oath?

On this, my very first column for, I will refrain from calling for revolution. Instead, I submit a hearty “uh, thanks” to the Queen and to her family’s undying support of millinery.

Photos dug up from the Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Mill archives. Original photographer unknown.