Home Town Tourist: Remember, Remember the Fifth of November
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Why do we have bonfires on November 5th in Newfoundland?
November 5, 1605 – London, England. Tolerance for English Catholics is low under King James I and many are disillusioned. Twelve men hatch a plot to blow up the House of Lords during the opening of Parliament in order to start an uprising. Guy Fawkes is placed in charge of the explosives. He’s discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder and arrested before the plot can be executed. Of the twelve, four are killed while attempting to evade authorities and the remaining eight are convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Cheery, no?
Though having bonfires and fireworks seems a bit of an odd way to celebrate the thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot, I like the fact that we blow stuff up to commemorate something important not being blown up. English settlers brought the tradition with them across the pond but over time it’s died out, except in small pockets. In Newfoundland, we still have bonfires every year.
The Newfoundland connection
Before Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, we were part of the British Commonwealth so it makes sense that we share some traditions with England. Bonfire night was a big deal for kids and they would start collecting wood weeks before the big night. Bonfires burned in town parks, squares, and private yards alike.
Over time, the event has grown smaller and smaller and some places, like St. John’s, have banned the fires entirely over safety concerns. But many towns like Paradise, Gander, and Torbay still mark November 5th with a community fire.
This year I attended a community fire in the town of Paradise since bonfires aren’t allowed in St. John’s itself. Wood was piled high and over two thousand people showed up to see the giant blaze. Families huddled near the barriers to watch the sparks shoot up into the night sky. There was no burning of effigies but there were marshmallows and hot dogs to burn, I mean roast, instead. Hot chocolate was also on hand to warm up cold souls. Smaller fires dotted the perimeter to accommodate s’mores. The night culminated with a booming display of fireworks. If you ask most people they probably aren’t aware of the details of how Bonfire Night came to be but that doesn’t stop them from getting out and enjoying a fire with their neighbours.
There’s something fascinating about a (controlled) fire. I could sit and watch one for hours. I know I’m not alone in this. Perhaps we’ve all got a little bit of pyromania going on deep down.
Have you ever celebrated Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night?
Community Bonfires in Newfoundland
- Conception Bay South – 7-9pm – Sgt. Ned Nugent’s Park
- Bauline – 6-7:30pm – Bonfire Hill
- Carbonear – 7-10pm – Paddy’s Garden
- Torbay – 6:30-7:30pm – Upper Three Corner Pond Park
- Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s – Recreation Centre
- Paradise – 6:30-8:30pm – Paradise Park
- Holyrood – 6:30-8:30pm – Main Beach Boardwalk
- Flatrock – 5-6:30pm – Flatrock Beach
- Marystown – 6pm – Track and Field Complex
- Bay Roberts – Community Gardens
- Clarenville – 7-9pm – Elizabeth Swan Park