ST. JOHN’S, NL — The opening song of “Come From Away” is “Welcome to the Rock” which is another name for the island of Newfoundland.
Seeing the Johnson Geo Centre at Signal Hill, I went to learn about the geology of the island. This geological interpretation center, buried underground itself, is remarkable with its exhibits on how the island was formed a half-billion years ago, and an eye-opening exhibit on the demise of the Titanic, which occurred just 350 miles south of Newfoundland.
There’s a great view of Fort Amherst and its lighthouse, a national historic site, built in 1770. An hour’s drive from here in Ferryland is a really cool lighthouse experience called Lighthouse Picnics. They launch their 16th season on May 26.
Included in my tour from Maxxim Vacations was a voucher for free admission to The Rooms Museum.
Opened in 2005, it’s the largest public cultural space in the province. It’s a stunning building, with majestic views of the city, and it includes remarkable artwork and exhibits on Newfoundland’s history and natural environment. Their new summer exhibit is “Future Possible: Art of Newfoundland and Labrador to 1949.”
As an American Irish Catholic, I was pulled into an exhibit about history of Irish emigrating to Newfoundland for work in the fisheries. The early years were very hard on them for many reasons, and many faced discrimination for their religion, with locals burning down Catholic churches.
Today there is a beautiful Catholic church in the heart of St John’s. Regardless of religion, you should visit because of its stunning beauty. I celebrated Pentecost Sunday mass at The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, which opened in 1855.
I happen to be gay, and in Come From Away, my character is comically referred to as the “gay lumberjack” when he dons a Buffalo plaid shirt donated to him when he has no clothes while stranded in Gander on 9-11. The compassionate people of Gander helped 7,000 unexpected refugees from 90 countries, helping each regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.
I decided to meet some of my LGBT+ brothers and sisters, so I visited Velvet Nightclub and Lounge, a dance club which welcomes everyone, including LGBT+ individuals.
I heard stories of a recent Newfoundland controversy. There’s been a debate about how LGBT+ should be welcomed in rural communities.
One small town recently voted down a request to paint a rainbow-colored crosswalk near a school, and in another town, parents yanked their kids out of school because of a harmless presentation about LGBT+ equality.
This inspired more communities than before to paint rainbow sidewalks and benches in other parts of the province.
In my experience, when ministers and public officials promote compassion, their churches, schools and hotel rooms are filled by others who wish to visit and live in such communities. Although not everyone in Gander believes in marriage equality, they still have a rainbow-painted crosswalk in front of Town Hall. All are welcome, and I’m headed back there today.
Kevin Tuerff is author of Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11, one of the true stories inspiring the smash-hit musical Come From Away. He is also an ambassador for Charter for Compassion. See more photos and videos from the #ComeFromAwayExperience @kevintuerff on Instagram and Twitter. This week, he is taking Maxxim Vacations’ “Come From Away Experience,“ a self-driving tour of central Newfoundland, and writing about his experiences.
In the spirit of “Come From Away,” we’re encouraging readers to commit random acts of kindness this week. Send photos and details of your acts of kindness to this paper’s social media accounts. We’ll share them with our readers and https://www.payitforward911.org/.