Why choose the caribou as a Newfoundland symbol ?

Archival Moment

October 2, 1915

Honour the Newfoundland Regiment at the Dardanelles

CaribouThe woodland caribou has long been an important symbol to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  In October 1915 there was a movement in the dominion of Newfoundland  (now province) to have every person “wear the emblem of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment.”

On October 1, 1915 the St. John’s newspaper the Daily Star reported that members of the St. John Ambulance Nursing Division would be on the street corners in St. John’s selling the caribou emblem for 5 cents. Their goal was to have every person “wearing the emblem of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment in Honour of our boys who have had their first baptism of fire in the Dardanelles.”

It was at Gallipoli that the Newfoundland Regiment received its baptism of fire.  The 1,076 Newfoundlanders landed on the shores of the Dardanelles on September 19, 1915. The St. John’s newspaper reported:

“We are proud of them and grateful to them all, and our hearts especially go out to those who have the added Honour of being wounded in fighting for these, their distant homes.”

The sale of the caribou emblem had a twofold purpose, it encouraged patriotic fervor and monies realized helped “the members of the Women’s Patriotic Association (W.P.A) in their effort to provide our defenders with the most essential necessaries.”

In addition to their monetary efforts the “necessaries” that the Newfoundland women supplied included knitted scarves, socks, helmets and waistcoats for the men overseas. Between 1914 and 1916, the women produced 62,685 pairs of socks, 8,984 pairs of cuffs (mittens with a trigger finger), and 22,422 mufflers. The WPA also aided the Red Cross and nursing services by preparing medical materials for the war.

The caribou has always held a significant place in Newfoundland history. The caribou that is found on the uniforms of the Newfoundland Regiment was copied from that of the Presbyterian Newfoundland Highlanders, a para military cadet corps formed in 1907.

It could be said that the caribou as an official symbol stumbled into our history. In 1638 King Charles I granted Sir David Kirke (Ferryland) the Coat of Arms of Newfoundland.  The crest is unique in that the shield is topped by an image of an elk, remarkable in the fact that elk never inhabited Newfoundland or Labrador. Caribou, however, were and are commonplace. The elk is most probably used due to the fact that none of the English heralds of the 1600’s had ever seen a caribou and, therefore, could not draw one. They did, however, know what an elk looked like and this animal was used instead.

On October 2, 1915 it is doubtless that the St. John Ambulance nurses sold many caribou emblems to the patriotic citizens of St. John’s all wanting to show their support to the Newfoundland Regiment.  It would also mark the first time that the emblem was sold solidifying its place as the iconic symbol of Newfoundland and the Newfoundland Regiment.

Today in what were the fields of battle where Newfoundlanders fought,  on what is now known as the “Caribou Trail”  the  caribou, the symbol of the regiment and the province (then-dominion), stands facing the enemy line with its head thrown back in defiance, a symbol of Newfoundlanders’ bravery and fortitude.

Recommended Archival Collection:    From your home visit the website, The Great War: http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp  This site  created by the Rooms Provincial Archives will resonate with audiences who are interested in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador’s involvement in the First World War. The site contains the military files of over 2200 soldiers from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who served in the First World War, including those of the 1305 young men who died in the conflict. These files are searchable by name or by community and will therefore provide invaluable information for all viewers, but will be of particular interest to those who are conducting either family or community research.

Recommended Museum Visit:   At The Rooms provincial Museum  vit the exhibit Here, We Made a Home  in The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4. This exhibit highlights some of the artifacts associated with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and what was happening on the ‘Home Front.’

Recommended Song:   Recruiting Sergeant (Newfoundland-Great Big Sea) +Recorded by Great Big Sea (Play, trk#10, 1997, Warner Music Canada, Scarborough, Ontario.  Listen: http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/04/recruit.htm