Furey says he's been forever changed by the Unknown Soldier

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey receives from Maj.-Gen. Paul J. Peyton the Canadian flag that was draped over the unknown soldier's casket.  (CBC - image credit)
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey receives from Maj.-Gen. Paul J. Peyton the Canadian flag that was draped over the unknown soldier's casket. (CBC - image credit)
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey receives from Maj.-Gen. Paul J. Peyton the Canadian flag that was draped over the unknown soldier's casket.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey receives from Maj.-Gen. Paul J. Peyton the Canadian flag that was draped over the unknown soldier's casket.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey receives the Canadian flag that was draped over the Unknown Soldier's casket from Maj.-Gen. Paul J. Peyton at the National War Memorial in St. John’s on July 1. (CBC)

As Newfoundland's Unknown Soldier travelled from France to Confederation Building and his final resting place at the National War Memorial in St. John's, Premier Andrew Furey says, what began as merely an operational journey became an emotional one.

In the days leading up to the Unknown Soldier's homecoming and Memorial Day itself, Furey was the soldier's ceremonial next of kin, representing all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who lost loved ones during the First World War — and he says he's a different person because of it.

"It's changed me as a person, as a father and as a premier," Furey told CBC News in a recent interview.

Quiet downtown

July 1 has always been a sombre day in the province. Marked for decades long before Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, the day serves as one of remembrance for soldiers killed or wounded in battle.

But this year was different. Thousands turned out for the Unknown Soldier's entombment, with the province marking the centennial of the National War Memorial in downtown St. John's — yet Furey said the city was quiet.

"Forever etched in my memory is how quiet the city was. My family and I lined up behind the hearse as next of kin, and walking up Water Street, you could hear a pin drop. You could hear the gulls squawk, but you could also hear them flap their wings," Furey said.

Premier Andrew Furey and wife Alison Furey followed behind the precession before making their way to their seats on the top platform of the National War Memorial.
Premier Andrew Furey and wife Alison Furey followed behind the precession before making their way to their seats on the top platform of the National War Memorial.

Furey and wife Alison followed the procession before making their way to their seats on the top platform of the National War Memorial. (Mike Moore/CBC)

The silence, he said, symbolized respect for the province's fallen son.

The walk to the National War Memorial was a time of reflection for Furey, he said, reminding him of a moment with his family in France.

"We received the soldier, just the three of us first as the next of kin. The War Graves Commission said, 'Here's the casket and here's the next of kin.' There were no flags, there were no bugles. There were no celebratory moments. It was just us in the room. and we stood in silence."

At that moment, Furey said, he realized the Unknown Soldier likely wasn't much older than his own son.

"The emotion of that moment came flooding back as we started to walk up Water Street," he said. "Holding his hand tight, looking across to my daughters, who are likely the same age as this person, was incredibly powerful, emotional, profound."

'This belonged to us'

The Furey family didn't take its role as next of kin lightly, said Furey, who called it the single most important role they will occupy in their lives.

"This is an emotional responsibility to the fabric and the essence of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians," he said.

Nwefoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey, as the designated next of kin,  and Lt.-Col. Shawn Samson look on during the lowering of the casket as an unknown First World War Newfoundland and Labrador soldier is intered at the National War Memorial in St. John's on Monday, July 1, 2024.
Nwefoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey, as the designated next of kin, and Lt.-Col. Shawn Samson look on during the lowering of the casket as an unknown First World War Newfoundland and Labrador soldier is intered at the National War Memorial in St. John's on Monday, July 1, 2024.

Furey, as the designated next of kin, and Lt.-Col. Shawn Samson look on during the lowering of the casket as an unknown First World War soldier from Newfoundland is interred at the National War Memorial. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

A hundred years ago, Furey said, there were 20,000 people at the War Memorial to christen the monument.

A century later, he said, there seemed to be the same number of people, with more watching on TV and other media platforms, displaying  a level of pride he didn't expect.

"While we love Canada, this belonged to us as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and the pride in that and the subsequent closure, or partial closure, it provides to [what is] still an open wound in our history is being reflected in all the comments that I'm hearing," Furey said.

"I felt everybody in Newfoundland and when I was sitting there, when I took a knee, I felt everybody with me."

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