When it comes to living in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are three kinds of attitudes people might embrace: City only, Outport only, or both.
There is all manner of in between, so it’s not as simple as identifying with just those three categories. But it is a starting point to the topic of what happens when the lack of services in smaller communities forces many in those places to move somewhere bigger they never really wanted to be. Because, let’s face it: There is no impending doom facing city dwellers that would force them to move to an outport. At least, not anything they’re aware of.
Attitudes play a big part in this discussion. Remember how folks living off the Avalon Peninsula used to be critical of the St. John’s crowd generally not knowing much about life “beyond the overpass?” Similarly, folks in the city, also generally, thought of outport dwellers as somewhat less sophisticated, likely to the point of being out of touch with the “real world.”
Here’s an example of where some of this comes from. To begin, accept that our attitudes are shaped by our experiences and what we learn along the way. Some of what we learn along the way comes from the opinion of those who have been entrusted with our formal education. So, what can you make of a university education professor who routinely impresses his young charges with an opinion that the best teachers all come from St. John’s? And, nobody in the room challenges that announcement?
Thirty-seven years ago, that statement was made in a class I was taking to change careers. I was 10 or more years older than the other students in the class, having moved that year from a city to an outport of 600 people. By choice. After scanning the room waiting for someone to respond and realizing that no one was going to say how biased and misleading that statement was, I spoke up to make that point.
He assumed that the only reason someone would teach in an outport was because they were unable to secure a position in the Centre of the Universe. He affirmed this several years later by repeating the sentiment during a distance education course. Apparently, I was unsuccessful in getting him to analyze how he might just be wrong about that, thereby confirming that a false attitude held too long eventually becomes an alternative fact. Not sure if you’ve noticed but there is a lot of that going around these days
Here’s what we all have the opportunity to learn. We are dependent on our natural resources. Oil is a natural resource, but so is food. We can figure out a way to live without oil. Food, not so much. Because we have decided to live on top of one another in places called cities, we have come to rely on a decreasing number of other people to work the land into farms to grow our food and others to harvest from both the land and the oceans to provide other food, every bit of which is, thankfully, renewable.
That reliance has been a factor long enough for city folks afraid of bugs and such to race up and down the city grocery store aisles filling their carts with all manner of food with hardly a thought of where it comes from. It’s a function of where you live, and it shapes your attitude about everything, including where you might want to teach. Hence, my example above.
So, here’s the deal. Fish harvesters worrying about crab quota cuts is important. Fishing communities dying from outmigration because of a lack of services is important. Farm land being paved over to make cities bigger is important. Among the thousands of things demanding our attention, every once in a while, the basics need our attention too. We’ve constructed and then inherited what comes from choosing to live in a city. Outport life is decidedly less complicated and puts you closer to the land, but it too extracts a price, especially as it becomes harder to live there without essential services like health care and education. Ignore them too long, and you’re likely to experience changes you can’t live with.
Alex Harrold is a retired teacher and attorney, living in Westport with his wife, Eileen.