Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Newfoundland

How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb?

There was a time not so many years ago when ethnic jokes were popular. The jokes generally depicted members of the targeted  ethnic group as being not very smart. Members of an eastern European ethnic group who are quite numerous in Canada were often the brunt of such jokes. One such joke went this way:

Question: How many [people of this ethnic group] does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Four: one to stand on a chair and hold the bulb and three to turn the chair.

You will understand why I  avoid naming the ethnic group in question. A sister in one of our Ontario congregations, observing the Mennonite penchant for turning almost any task into a social occasion, modified the above joke into the following:

Question: How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Four: one to change the bulb and three to bring coffee break.

Now that is a gross exaggeration. But close enough to hit home. I still tell it on occasion, usually to Mennonites.

Newfoundlanders, often referred to as Newfies, are another group who were the brunt of jokes. When the cod fishery failed and the jobs related to it disappeared, many people from Newfoundland moved to other parts of Canada in search of work. They have a unique accent and there are unique features of their culture and attitude that are different from  other Canadians and that gave rise to jokes. The following incident might be called a Newfie joke, but it isn’t a joke on the Newfies, rather a joke on officialdom.

A young couple from Newfoundland bought an old house in a little Ontario village. They soon discovered that the house was slowly sinking into the ground as termites turned the log foundation into sawdust. The house had been built right next to the sidewalk, but zoning laws had changed and if the house was replaced the new house would have to be placed about 10 metres further back. This would place it on top of the septic field, thus a whole new septic system would also have to be installed.

The young couple came up with an ingenious solution – they got a building permit to renovate the old house. They called on the help of friends, gutted the house, leaving only the outer walls standing. They dug the basement deeper by hand, poured a concrete foundation and basement, then commenced to build a new house within the walls of the old. After the main floor was complete, they removed the roof and built a second storey and a new roof. Neighbours, municipal councillors and officials, all came by from time to time to observe this wonder that was taking place under their noses and shake their heads. Apparently it was all legally done.

When the project was  complete, they removed the shell of the old house, and voila! they had a brand new house sitting where the old one had been.

Saskatchewan – the sensible time zone


The world is divided into 24 time zones and Canada sprawls across 5½of those zones (more on that later). When the Canadian Pacific Railroad was being built, Sanford Fleming realized that the vastness of the country was going to be a problem. People still set their clocks by the time the sun stood directly overhead at noon, thus time varied from city to city. How then were people at any given location going to know when to expect the train? This led Fleming to the invention of Standard Time, with each time zone having the same time across the width of the zone.

That helped to establish a reliable schedule for the trains, and was useful for many other purposes. Then someone else came up with the idea of Daylight Saving Time, which makes as much sense to me as the unisex public washrooms that have been mandated in some jurisdictions to eliminate discrimination.

The line dividing the Mountain Time Zone from the Central Time Zone runs down the centre of Saskatchewan. When I was a boy, most of the province was officially on Mountain Standard Time and every town and city could make their own decision about adopting Daylight Saving Time. At home, my father told time by the sun, so he always knew when to come in for dinner. When we travelled, we were never quite sure what time it would be in the place where we were going.

Various solutions were attempted, none of which satisfied everyone. The solution which finally prevailed was for the whole province to adopt Central Standard Time year round. Which means that we don’t have to remember to turn our clocks back one hour tonight. Not everybody is satisfied, there will always be people who stir up controversy simply because they like a good argument. Most of us realize that any other solution would be divisive, and even have some pity for our neighbours who have to remember to re-set their clocks twice a year.

The time zones of Canada are Pacific, Mountain, Central, Eastern, Atlantic and Newfoundland. Newfoundland time is one half hour later than Atlantic. This is an eminently sensible solution, given their location, but has given rise to some Newfie jokes from people who have never lived there. As the map shows, time zone borders have been adjusted in various ways. Without looking it up, I believe that Indiana, Arizona and perhaps Hawaii also maintain the same time year round.

Where is Ottawa?

Judith Adler teaches a course on families and the cultural traditions of families the world over at Memorial University of Newfoundland.  A few years ago she began to suspect that her students had no idea where some of the places she was talking about actually were. So she gave them  a quiz.

The quiz consisted of a blank map and a series of questions. Questions like: label South America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Label the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. Three quarters of the students failed the test. Memorial University is located in St. Johns, Newfoundland, a port city on the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the students could not correctly identify the location of that ocean.

Ms. Adler gives this test every year now. She says the students are not dumb; when faced with the reality of their ignorance they get to work. When given a second opportunity to do the test they never flunk it the second time. They simply have never been taught the simplest elements of geography.

Classrooms used to have large maps that could be rolled down over the chalk board like a blind. There were probably large globes or atlases in every room. The world has become much smaller today. We are linked to the whole world via the internet and hear news from every corner of the globe. How are these students going to comprehend what is going on if they don’t even know where these places are?

My wife was only 17 when we married and had just finished Grade 11. She started Grade 12 that fall, but she was the only married lady on the bus or in the classroom, plus she had responsibilities at home, so she dropped out after a week or two. A few years ago she enrolled in a course to prepare for the GED exam. One evening the teacher began the class by giveing each student a list of 20 capital cities with a space beside them to write the name of the country. Chris thought there was probably a time limit so quickly ran through the list and wrote in the countries.

Then she looked up and realized the other students were completely at sea. The teacher then told them they could work together to find the answers. They came to Berlin, decided it was in China and proceeded to find equally astute answers for the other cities. Then they came to Ottawwa and were totally stumped. The teacher told them they could use the atlas. They found Ottawa and saw that it was in Ontario.

“But Ontario isn’t a country,” Chris protested.

“Well what country is it in then?”

“Ottawa is mentioned in the news every day,” hinted my wife.

“Oh, we never pay any attention to the news.”

These people were not immigrants, nor were they fresh off the northern trap lines, they were normal city folks, the product of our fine public education system. They had dropped out before finishing high school, but a Grade 6 student from years ago would have found that test a snap.

This is one of the reasons why we did not send our daughter to public school, and why our daughter does not send her children to public school.

Maybe snow isn’t so bad, after all

Where I live we suffered through a long winter and a spring that progressed at a barely discernible pace.   The weather always gives us something to talk about here in Saskatchewan, mostly in a worried or complaining tone, but summer did eventually show up, just as it always has.

Now we are in those glorious days where the sunshine never seems to end.  The sun rises at 5 AM and sets at 9 PM.   The birds start singing at 4 and don’t stop until 10.  And we still have a month to go until the longest day.

Meanwhile, we hear that Gander, Newfoundland, at the far east end of Canada, had a freak snowstorm Monday, dumping 60 cm of heavy white stuff.  For those who don’t speak metric, that is a whole two feet.  Those poor people!

Then we heard of the tornado in Oklahoma – homes, schools, a hospital reduced to rubble, many lives lost.  That puts a different light on our little woes.  No lives were lost in Gander, all the buildings are still standing.  The snow will soon be only a memory and life will go on as usual.

The worst tornado in Saskatchewan history, the worst in all of Canada, happened in 1912 in Regina.  The funnel cloud went through downtown and a large residential area, causing immense amounts of damage and taking 28 lives.  We have never had anything like it in the 100 years that followed.  Last year we had 33 tornadoes in our province, a record.  Most of them were small and occurred in places where they did no property damage.  There have been no lives lost in Saskatchewan due to tornadoes for many years.

I suppose that comes from living in a more northern climate, where the heat does not build up to the intensity it does in places like Oklahoma.  Maybe snow isn’t so bad after all.

I think we had better stop complaining about the weather we have here and start praying for all those in Oklahoma, and elsewhere, who have lost homes and loved ones.  May God grant a special grace through the coming days.

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