BY ELEANOR HORA
STANLEY BRIDGE - After five years in Stanley Bridge, you’d think I’d be used to that question by now, but it still bugs me. The truth is, I’m more of an Islander than you are! I was born on Vancouver Island. When I was five, we moved to the Island of Newfoundland, my parents’ home province. I grew up there, and still consider myself a Newfie. True, I lived in Ontario for most of my adult life, but when I retired, I moved here, to my third island. So yes, I’m an Islander…three times more than you are! There’s just one problem, and we both know it: I’m not one of you. I’m a dreaded CFA - a Come from Away - and because of that, no matter how long I live here, I’ll never truly belong.
Being a CFA is a strange feeling for me, because as a child growing up in Newfoundland, I lived on the other side of the divide. I was one of the locals who laughed at mainlanders who moved there because they loved our way of life. To their faces, we’d smile and nod, but behind their backs we’d complain that they were trying to turn us into Ontario East or USA North, and we resented them.
We had a Sunday School teacher, the wife of an American army officer posted to St. John’s, who told us all how thrilled she was that she finally had a chance to “do missionary work in a backward country” and treated us, even our minister, like a bunch of ignorant hillbilly bumpkins.
Looking back now, I wonder: why didn’t our parents or our minister challenge her? Why didn’t they point out that we weren’t all that backward, that some of them knew more about God and religion than she would ever know? They were educated; they read; they watched television; they traveled; they kept up with the news. I think it was because of the old Maritime inferiority complex that’s still alive and kicking today, here as well as in Newfoundland.
But you know what? While you’re complaining that Island CFAs are too pushy and opinionated, they’re talking about you, too. They say you’re too judgmental and that without their pushing, you’d be far too slow to keep up in our changing world. In many ways, they’re right, and I think I know why.
In Newfoundland, everyone knew everyone else, and everyone minded everyone else‘s business. The first question a stranger asked was, “What’s your last name?” That was the key to finding out everything they needed to know about you: your religion, your home town, your extended family, your family’s social class and income level and the political party they supported … and you were judged accordingly. Here, the question is “Who’s your father?” but it seems to me that the results are pretty much the same.
In many ways, being a member of such a close-knit group can be a positive thing; it certainly keeps kids under control and keeps the crime rate down. But it can be a negative too. It hides family abuse and mental illness and addiction under a protective cloak, it creates a false pride that keeps people from asking for help when they need it; and it keeps people from speaking out to make changes they’d like to see in their lives.
In short, sometimes a local might just be too close to a problem; your family ties may be too tight for you to break away from what’s always been done and speak out in favour of change. Sometimes it’s good to have an outsider without the baggage, so with less to lose than you do. That’s when you can give us a chance! Don’t just let us take over while you watch your way of life get whittled away until you wake up one morning to discover that you’re living in Toronto by the Sea.
Don’t put up with the condescending, insulting Sunday School teachers of the world, either. Speak out! Talk back when you disagree, but let’s learn to work together as Islanders who have chosen to live in this beautiful place, no matter when or how we got here. Stop looking at newcomers as CFAs and instead start seeing us as IBCs: Islanders by Choice. We love it here, too.
- Eleanor Hora of Stanley Bridge says she is an Islander by choice. She is also a contributor to the Stanley Bridge Centre website.