BY DAVID WEALE
I almost never use the phrase, but in the minds of many Islanders I am joined at the hip to a notion called ‘the Island way of life;’ further, what that means to some is that I pine nostalgically for the past, and oppose anything that is innovative, or appears to compromise my imagined ideal of an ‘authentic’ Island society.
For the record, much of that is nonsense; however, I confess I do have a strong conviction about what is at the heart of an authentic ‘Island way of life’, but it is nothing like what many Islanders might imagine.
The main reason I am stuck with a narrow, ‘Island way of life’ label is that for more than four decades my great passion has been documenting and describing the social, everyday history of this Island during the early decades of the Twentieth Century. It’s an era I explored first of all in a weekly CBC program called Them Times, then later in a book with the same title. Stated briefly, ‘them times’ refers to that homespun period in Island history just before modernity swept across the province like a hurricane, transforming every aspect of the society.
Like so many other Islanders I lived that change, and have always regarded it as immense, good fortune to have experienced in my lifetime two distinct epochs in the history of this place. Also, as an historian, I had the opportunity to be on the ground during a period of exciting, dramatic, and often stressful transformation.
And the beat goes on.
Because I spent my earliest years in that horse-powered, kerosene-lighted, pre-modern society I do possess a deep affection for the disappeared rural order, the way the ‘Millennials’ will doubtless feel about the years before the turn of the century. I embrace that nostalgia, and enjoy telling stories that are rooted there, but I do not consider that it represented the quintessential, never-to-be-changed ‘Island way of life.’
A healthy society is an evolving, adaptive entity, where respect and affection for the old ways mingles together with an acceptance of new ideas, new technologies, and newcomers. To ‘freeze frame’ any period in Island history and describe it as the authentic ‘Island way of life’ would be folly, just as it would be to forget where we came from as a culture.
Having said all that, I do believe passionately that there is an identifiable and inviolable core to the Island way of life that has shaped and inspired every creature – human or otherwise - who has ever lived here, and will continue to do so indefinitely. That core of identity is the Island itself.
It is a source of great comfort for me to know that whatever type of culture exists here in a hundred years, or a thousand, will be the expression of an ongoing Island way of life. For that reason, what we must promote most passionately as Islanders is veneration for the beauty and fertility of the Island itself, in its myriad manifestations.
Further, what must be resisted are the schemes of those latter-day Philistines who view the Island irreverently through the narrow lens of profit, investment, or political advantage.
This Island responds best to lovers.
Often, as I walk along the summer shore at St. Peters Harbour, I look across the bay to the dunes at Greenwich and feel a great solidarity with those hunters and gatherers who were living there 2,000 years ago. My way of living is very different from theirs, and yet I possess a profound sense of being rooted, as they were, in the Island way of life.
Going forward that is the best I can hope for: that the descendants of those of us who live here now, and of those who are arriving, will discover along the shores of this Island the ultimate prosperity, which is a deep and reverential connection to beauty and wonder, and to the sacred core of being.
Whatever the century, whatever the human culture, it is the cultivation of a joyous and celebratory relationship with the landscape and seascape of the Island itself that always has been, and will continue to be, the heart and soul of the Island way of life.
- David Weale is a resident of Charlottetown, publisher of RED Magazine, and a founding member of Vision P.E.I.