“Losing the pony to a federal agency would be like losing another piece of our identity…”
Her full name is Mary-Jaine Seymoure of Slievenamon, a Gaelic mouthful, to be sure, that translates into “women of the mountain.” And she does live on a mountain, on a farm in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where she spends her days batting her big eyelashes and peering over shoulders and being playfully mischievous. At nighttime, she lets herself out of her barn, an equine magic trick that mystifies Helene Goyer — another woman of the mountain — and Mary-Jaine Seymoure of Slievenamon’s owner.
“My husband and I still don’t know how she does it,” Ms. Goyer says. “One evening she let herself out and got into our deep freezer and ate all our berries. So we tied a rope around the freezer. The next day she untied the rope and we found her in her barn with five Mr. Freezes in her mouth.”
Mary-Jaine Seymoure is a Newfoundland pony whose ancestors are as central to the story of Newfoundland as the wooden boat. Brought by settlers from the British Isles, some as far back as 400 years ago, the ponies were the engines of the pre-industrial age. Hauling wood, boats, fish, working the mines, clearing the land and becoming, along with the people who brought them over, true Newfoundlanders, a distinct and hardy stock on a hardscrabble island not for the faint of heart, or hoof.
There were about 12,000 Newfoundland ponies by the early 1970s. Twenty years later they were virtually extinct. Made obsolete by mass mechanization, and not meant to be pets, they were sold for meat and shipped to Europe for the enjoyment of continental diners. With the end of the Newfoundland pony nigh the provincial legislature took action, passing the Heritage Animals Act in 1996 to protect and “promote certain breeds or kinds of animals that have an attachment to the province’s history.” The Newfoundland pony, to date, is the only such animal, while the St. John’s-based Newfoundland Pony Society, by statute, is responsible for their protection.
There are perhaps 400 ponies remaining today, many residing in Ontario.
And now a new threat looms. Newfoundland pony lovers, such as Helene Goyer and the Newfoundland Pony Society behind her, are crowing that a bunch of meddling mainlanders — surely with dollar signs in their eyes — want to shift stewardship of their beloved animal away from the province to some cold-eyed federal agency in Ottawa so that professional breeders can play God with the gene pool that made the pony what it is today and knock the Newfoundland Pony Society from its perch as the pony’s designated protector.
“Losing the pony to a federal agency would be like losing another piece of our identity,” Ms. Goyer says. “If we lose control over the Newfoundland pony, if a change goes ahead and there is a mixing of breeds, our perfect little pony — as it has been for 400 years — is going to be lost.
“We’d be giving away our heritage.”
The cod and outports are already gone. Many of Newfoundland’s young people are working in Alberta. Will the Newfoundland pony be the next to go? It sounds diabolical, but the man in the role of mastermind doesn’t, it seems, have a diabolical bone in his body. His name is John Scanlan, a Scotsman by birth and by accent, with a 68-acre Newfoundland pony equestrian centre located northeast of Toronto that he runs with his wife, Jan. Both have utter, unabashed, crushes on the Newfoundland pony. Mr. Scanlan, age 62, is an affable fellow who portrays the entire flap over the Newfoundland pony as people in Newfoundland playing at politics, at fear mongering, instead of dealing in facts…(CONTINUED)