The most wonderful place I ever spent New Year’s Eve was the waterfront in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The tradition started, according to CBC, in the 1960s with one family going to the harbour front. In the 1980s, when I first went, it was still just a small group of people, mainly those who lived downtown. You’d leave the bars about 11pm and walk to the harbour. And wait. At midnight, the ships that were docked blew their horns. Every one of them, as many as were in port, would toot one after the other, then in unison. A few minutes later, they’d stop. That was it.
Everyone would cheer, open champagne, sparkling wine or beer bottles, toast each other and themselves and yell “Happy New Year”. Then everybody would make their way back up the hill, either back to the bars or home.
I remember one New Year’s Eve so cold with gale force winds that only maybe twenty diehards were there. You nearly got blown into the harbour it was so windy. Still, if you could survive until the ships’ horns marked the passing of another year, the fireplace at the Ship Inn up the hill on Solomon’s Lane was waiting to warm you up.
From ship horns to fireworks
Over the years, the waterfront became the spot to go. People began coming in from the suburbs. City officials decided it would be good to have fireworks at the harbour. That was nice, but in the opinion of many of us it was also unnecessary. I assume, prior to that decision, there were fireworks somewhere in town.
Anyway, with the fireworks came even bigger crowds. People were bussed in to downtown because there just wasn’t enough parking. Then, in the early or mid-1900s, someone decided to make it a commercial event. Snowfencing was placed along the harbour apron, with one entry gate. You needed a ticket to get in. Vendors were there, so were police. Hauling a bottle of Baby Duck out from under your coat was no longer permissible. I suppose it never was, but there was no one around who was going to complain.
I read on CBC’s website that the fireworks won’t be held at the harbourfront this year due to liability and insurance issues. That’s ok, I think. Maybe the harbour can go back to welcoming those who want to stand on the apron and clap and cheer the new year in without fireworks. Maybe the ships will blow their horns again.