ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A boatload of 75 early risers headed out on the North Atlantic off Newfoundland to be among the first to welcome Canada Day as dawn broke over the country’s eastern edge.Rain and low clouds blocked the sunrise over the flashing lighthouse at Cape Spear but that didn’t bother the flag-waving crowd.They cheered and danced to music onboard the Iceberg Quest vessel Capo de Espera as they celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday.“There’s no sun but there is plenty of mist and rain and cold, which kind of makes it a pretty extraordinary experience,” said Craig Simons. He and his wife, Jennifer, moved to St. John’s a year ago from Houston.“It has been a wonderful experience for us and the kids. It’s nice to see how much Canadians love their country.”The early-morning tour was especially moving for Gerry Cantwell who’s descended from five generations of lighthouse keepers at Cape Spear.He said it’s a day of reflection and gratitude for the men and women who have helped protect Canadian rights and freedoms.Canada Day starts in the province each year on a sombre note with services to remember how the Newfoundland Regiment was decimated July 1, 1916.Of 801 troops who went over the top at Beaumont-Hamel as the Somme campaign began during the First World War, just 68 answered roll call the next day. Families across Newfoundland were stricken with grief and shock.“We’re very fortunate to live in a country with the freedoms that we have and, on July 1, to remember the people who gave us our freedom,” Cantwell said.Kellie Loder of St. John’s sang “O Canada” as the vessel pulled in front of Cape Spear. There was a moment of silence after to remember those who have fought and died in battle over the last 150 years.Loder said as the boat passed through the Narrows from the St. John’s harbour, she thought of those who once sailed the same route not knowing if they’d ever make it home.“I think it’s definitely more than a party,” she said of Canada Day. “It’s more than the festivities and the excitement.“It’s about appreciating what was done before and is still being done around the world.”Capt. Barry Rogers of Iceberg Quest stood in the wheel house after the vessel docked and smiled like a man who knows his own good fortune.“To all you Canadians out there, stand proud. We’ve got a great country and a great province,” he said. “Newfoundland and Labrador is probably — not probably — it is the best place to live in the world. No question.”Follow @suebailey on Twitter.