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the view from here

August 7, 2014

Halifax is the capital city of a struggling province that is old and tired.

The residents of Nova Scotia – per capita – are the oldest in Canada. The average rural age in Nova Scotia is about 100. What with all the talented youth gone to points west, seeking their pots of gold, leaving the ones that are left behind to find work – if they can find work – in the world of minimum wage.

All Canadian cities are essentially provincial in their outlook. In their aspirations to be Manhattanites, Torontonians always feel themselves to be inferior and second rate.

Calgarians – believing themselves to be the last frontier of capitalism, and evangelical Christianity’s last line of defense before you hit the tundra – are a back-slapping circle of good-ole-boys.

Both cultures are essentially expansive in nature. Both cities grow by about 50,000 people a year. The sheer size of Toronto – the GTA now the 5th largest urban area in North America – lets you believe by its sheer enormity that anything is possible. And Albertans are tripping over so many jobs everyone acts like a happy drunk out there.

Maritimers, on the other hand, are playing a whole other game.

City leaders, newly enlightened to the ideas of inclusivity and non-discrimination, gave the queer community a 2 hour parade permit and access to a couple of Halifax streets in order to have this year’s Pride Parade. (And the queer community was happy to get the 2 hours.)

Yet last holiday Monday’s Alexander Keith Natal Day Parade had the MacDonald Bridge shut down from 8am til 3 in the afternoon, with the parade winding its way through Dartmouth, across the bridge, and into Halifax. 

People find it hard to breathe because they are choking on their own deep pride of history and of their long-held traditions.

The majority of Nova Scotians are paralyzed by their fear of change.

Nova Scotia has always been white and straight – the economy has always been dominated by fishing, government, and the military – so the old ones who have a monopoly on these jobs do not know any other way to live.

And the rest of the people – the vast majority – have been poor for so long that they think $13 an hour is an excellent middle class income.

As an outsider, you quickly realize that poverty seeps into everything in this province. How the people eat, their lifestyle choices, the crime rates, religious attendance, binge drinking, gender politics, culture, race – you name it – it is all washed with the brush of poverty.

Poverty makes people deeply conservative. Cautious Nova Scotians don’t take readily to new ideas, or outsiders. Oh sure, they’ll put on a smile and a jig for the come-aways as they happily take your tourist dollars – but the real jobs always go to locals first. Regardless of talent or experience.

Halifax, as the capital city, and Halligonians – especially the educated ones – prides itself as being the urbane centre of Maritime finance and social enlightenment. And, in many ways, it is. 

But, if you look, you’ll see that it’s still only a matter of degrees.

There is a special sense of insular here – of the type typically found in isolated communities. People have that false pride of the reactionary, who has an inferiority complex developed over years of watching the rest of the world move ahead, while they, at best, tread water. I’ve seen the same sentiment in places like Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee – to name a few.

I grew up in rural Ontario. I know that emotion well.  

But if you pay attention you will see that there is a growing divide between those Nova Scotians who want to remain standing in place – culturally speaking – and those who know that the only long-term solution is to address the problem head on.

The second camp wants more immigrants and other Canadians to bring their ideas and money and passions to Halifax. They want to re-create our ideas of building local economies; they want to invest in education and trade schools; create sustainable energy solutions.

It’s a hard slog to be sure.

And victory may only come when the grave takes the old ones away.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 7, 2014 9:15 pm

    This is true of so many areas, a paralyzing lethargy takes over, and fear of change chokes the inhabitants. Very sad.

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