Category Archives: Anthropology

Poppies

My dad had a whole collection of poppies.  Mom kept the ones that we bought every year Black and green-centred poppiesand pinned them on the top of a wallhanging in the dining room.  Every November, Dad would just take one off the hanging and pin it to his jacket.  When I commented that annual poppy sale money supported the Legion, he said “I was in the war. I don’t need to give my money every year to those old farts.”

He had a point.  And since then, I’ve looked carefully at the poppies worn by people old enough to be WWII veterans.  Are they, like Dad, wearing poppies with green centres, years after black-centred ones replaced the green?  Do their poppies look like they themselves had been through the wars, as some of Dad’s did?  When I do see a battered old poppy on an old fella, I smile, happy to think there’s someone who shares Dad’s philosophy.

New Brunswick Legion car poppyBut for the rest of us who haven’t paid for poppies with the currency of our lives, we owe it to those who have, and are, to put money in the collection boxes every year.  If, like me, you lose your poppy or wear a different jacket – well, buy another one!

White or red poppies

A white poppy movement started a few years after the red poppies appeared – so that people could honour war casualties, civilian and soldier, without honouring the act of war.  I white poppy boxsuppose that’s ok.  There was a time in my life when I felt conflicted about buying or wearing a poppy.  It seemed like it was giving positive sanction to war to do so.  I even lectured a couple young cadets once when they were selling apples to raise money.  “I won’t buy your apple because I don’t support the war machine” I told them.  Oh, how absolutely pretentious was I!

I’d read soldiers saying that, in war, their primary concern was with the survival of each other. They were fighting for their own and their comrades’ lives.  Hooey, I thought back then, you wouldn’t have to worry about that if you’d just said “no to war” and not enlisted or accepted your draft call.

Canadian UN peacekeeping troops Rwanda 1994But after getting to know some soldiers, I realized that there are many reasons why people end up in the Armed Forces and few of those reasons involve wanting to fight.  But that possibility is real, and is accepted as part of the job.  When it happens, whether in war or peace-keeping missions, the danger is faced and bravery kicks in.  They do, every day, put their lives on the line.  They want to do their jobs well, stay alive and keep their buddies unharmed.

War itself may be a vicious response to green-centred poppyinternational problems, but when it happens, it’s good that there are men and women who do the job that’s necessary to end it.  And they may well pay with their blood.  And it’s their blood that is honoured by the red of the poppy.

War of 1812

In 1814 we took a little trip – Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’

Johnny Horton Battle of New Orleans youtube linkWe took a little bacon and we took a little beans

And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’

There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago

We fired once more and they began to runnin’

On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

The Americans won the Battle of New Orleans, but not the war.  The War of 1812 was ended by the Treaty of Ghent, signed December 24th 1814, and Canada was still Canada, not part of the US.  The Americans did get this wonderful song written by Jimmy Driftwood,Fort McHenry flag war of 1812 an Arkansas school teacher, and made a hit by Johnny Horton in 1959.  They also got their national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, written for the flag atop Fort McHenry that survived the British attack on Baltimore.  The 1814 Battle of Baltimore followed upon the burning of Washington DC, including the White House, by the British.

The Americans wanted to take over Canada and get Britain totally out of North America.  They thought it would be easy, with the British already involved in the Napoleonic Wars.  It didn’t quite work out.  But the British weren’t going to easily let go of more North American territory.  The UEL settlers of Upper Canada had made their political position clear when they left the United States after the War of Independence and they weren’t inclined Six Nations War of 1812 veterans phototo come under US rule again.  First Nations on both sides of the border, for the most part, fought with the British because they had promised a neutral Indian land in the mid-west.  One of them was John Smoke Johnson, a Mohawk chief from Six Nations near Brantford, maybe related through marriage to my family.  He’s on the left in this 1882 photo of the last Mohawk veterans of the War of 1812.

In the end, not much changed after 1814.  Geopolitical lines were restored to pre-war status in the Treaty of Ghent.  But Canada got a new sense of nationhood from fighting a war for our land.  The US didn’t lose or cede any land to the British, so claimed it as a map of Tecumseh's war 1811victory.  The First Nations did not get their promised land, which stayed in the hands of the US, and were not given an independent homeland elsewhere in Canada.  Some moved north to Canada, hoping for better conditions with their military allies.  By fighting with the British, they had burned their bridges with the American administration, and it came down even harder on them.  But the British and Canadian governments didn’t keep their territorial promises.  Having defeated US encroachment, Painting by Lossing of what Tecumseh may have looked like ca 1868Canada believed there was no longer need of First Nations as military allies.  They became irrelevant to Canadian plans and were treated either as “wards” to be cared for or obstacles to development.

Tecumseh, the Shawnee war leader and politician, had been the main force behind the plan for an independent homeland.  He was killed October 5th 1813 at the Battle of the Thames, near Chatham, Ontario.

West of London there is what’s now a beautiful wooded park.  It was the site of the Battle of Longwoods, where, this weekend May 5th and Battle of Longwood cairn near Delaware Ontario6th, there will be a reenactment of that battle.  I hope Tecumseh’s spirit watches over it and all the reenactments this centenary year – remembering what might have been, what should have been.

Fanshawe Riot: Educating fools?

Last weekend, St. Paddy’s Day, London Ont. joined the ranks of cities of fools.  Violent, Burning car and London Ont. rioters St. Patrick's Day 2012vandalizing fools.  Students at Fanshawe Community College in the city’s east end overturned cars and torched a CTV news van.  Houses near the campus were damaged and several people were injured.

Over what?  High tuition fees?  The upward spike in unemployment among young people?  The political struggle in Syria?  Outrage over the Kony 2012 video?  Nope, just too much partying and too much green beer.  And, important to note, Fanshawe is in the suburbs, not downtown.  There aren’t a lot of bars and clubs around, no one congregates there other than the college students and area residents.

Fleming Drive house after 2007 party damageThis isn’t the first time Fanshawe students have run amok for no apparent reason.  From Canoe News: “Oct. 30, 2009: About 500 people at a student party on Thurman Circle near Fanshawe College pelt police with beer bottles, overturn vehicles and smash windows.  Police charge 22 people.”  There was at least one such incident a year before that.

But these were before last year’s Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, also starring foolish youth going nuts.  In that case, their home team lost the game.  Not much of a reason, granted, but at least a reason.  In London?  Nobody seems to know, but everybody Facebook posts from imgur.com and reshared many timesseems to have lost patience.  Some of those involved have posted on Facebook and other online sites.  You’d think they’d have learned after Vancouver – don’t take pictures with your phone and don’t post on Facebook!  Police are going through the material, online and contributed to them.

Local tv news said local high school students and “some University students” were involved as well.  The University of Western Ontario is the only university in the city.  Glad to see you’re putting the high cost for your education to good use.

The only major vandalism I remember when I was at Western was, once a year, the engineering students bricked up the bridge that was a main access to the main campus.  UWO bridge looking east toward Richmond Street entranceEveryone knew it would happen sometime in the academic year, including maintenance staff who would dismantle it in the morning, early bus drivers with a load of students anxious about being late for class, and profs with morning classes who knew few students would turn up.  It was pretty funny, the thought of students out there all night long blocking off the bridge as quickly as they could.  And they always did a good job of it, putting their learning to practical purpose.  Even, so I heard, competing against the previous classes that had done it, with each year’s job assessed on the length of time it took to demolish it.

I don’t know if they still do it.  Yes, it was vandalizing university property and, yes, it inconvenienced people.  But I don’t think too many people really minded.  The Police in riot gear watching fires near Fanshawe March 18 2012engineers were using what they were learning and we all took pride in how well they had done the job.

Throwing bottles?  Bashing in windows?  Overturning cars?  You don’t need higher education to do that.

Drifting into Doom: Book

link to DRC Pub for Drifting into Doom by Earl B. Pilgrim
Click to see on DRC Publishing

It was a dark and stormy night when I began reading Earl Pilgrim’s Drifting into Doom: Tragedy at Sea. Winter rain blew at the windows and tree branches hit the house. Reading about two men drifting in a dory during a January 1883 storm on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, I got chilled and thought “I knows how you feel!” Then I recollected myself, realized I was in a warm house, on a couch, with the wind and rain outside. No, I had no inkling of how Howard Blackburn and Tommy Welsh felt.

The story of the Banker schooner Grace L. Fears and the loss of one of her dories is itself a harrowing one. Trawling cod from tiny two-man boats set off the side of a schooner was a hard way to fish, especially for the dorymen. Many lives were lost on the Grand Bank fishery. This is the story of the loss of Tommy Welsh, a 16 year old 1890 painting, G. F. Gregory, Storm King at seafrom Grand Bank on the south coast of Newfoundland. It is also the story of the saving of the life of his dory mate, Howard Blackburn, an experienced fisherman originally from Nova Scotia who worked out of Glouchester, Mass.

Blackburn got the dory to shore near the tiny settlement of Little River (later called Grey River) on Newfoundland’s south coast. His frozen fingers and toes could not be saved but his hands and feet were by the skill of a local woman called Aunt Jenny Lushman. She was helped by a Mi’kmaq woman named Susie Bushney. Experienced healers and midwives that they were, neither woman had ever dealt with frostbite so severe. But Mrs. Bushney’s advice and Mrs. Lushman’s steely nerves kept Blackburn alive.

Howard Blackburn in later life sailingBlackburn went on to become a well-known businessman in Glouchester and a world adventurer. His dorymate Tommy Welsh was buried in Little River. The story of these men was not lost on the Grand Banks. Accounts were published at the time and Pilgrim uses these to tell a tale that lets you get to know them, the Blackburn family, the fishing company personnel and the people of Little River and Burgeo. As the cover blurb says, it keeps you “spellbound”.

The Lushman Family

Another story came from this one. Aunt Jenny Lushman lives on her own with her grown children. There is no Mr. Lushman.  That’s the other story. As a photo of Grey River by Holloway 1933result of publicity over Blackburn’s rescue, the story of what happened to Mr. Lushman came to light. It is also one of unbelievable happenstance and hardship. Probably it too is not an isolated case of people lost and believed gone, but it is one that became known and loose ends could be tied up. It is as epic as is the story of Howard Blackburn.

Jenny Lushman’s husband and one son left Little River for the United States in search of work. I found the story of what happened to them in a December 1912 Newfoundland Quarterly article by Sir Edward Morris.* You’ll want to be tucked up in your Snuggly while reading it too. Thank you, dear reader Jim F., for this book. And Newfoundland filmmakers? Movie here!

*See my transcription of Morris’ NQ article at A Tale of the Sea and  my post A Tale of the Sea, etc. for more. The entire Dec. 1912 NQ can be seen at the MUN digital archives (link in previous paragraph). For books on Amazon by Earl B. Pilgrim, click his name.

Musée Acadien PEI

If you have a drop of Acadien blood in your veins or if you just enjoy Permanent gallery, Acadian history, Musee Acadien, Miscouchethe distinctive sound of an Acadien fiddle, a place for you to go is the Musée Acadien in Miscouche, near Summerside.

A library full of binders of historical records, drawers of documents 3 generations of Acadian women with petsand compilations of genealogical research. I was there with only a few hours to spend, and a broad interest in all Acadian families with any connection to Newfoundland Mi’kmaq.  That’s a pretty tall order for assistance from archivists.  I figured I’d just poke around and get a feel for what was there.  Instead, files and books were pulled out and stacked on a table for me.  “Here, these might help you,” museum director Cécile Gallant said.

The emphasis is on Acadian family history.  But there are some church records from the nearby Lennox Island Mi’kmaq First Nation.  I started there, recording information as fast as I could.  I flipped through other files, recording names Earle Lockerbyand dates that seemed relevant to “my” people.  I looked at two huge published volumes of Acadien genealogy by Jean Bernard.  Vol. 1 was “A”: in PEI, for Arsenault.  It was also in the gift shop.  I bought it.  It seemed likely that everyone in PEI is somehow connected to the Arsenault family.I also bought Earle Lockerby’s Deportation of the Prince Edward Island Acadians.  If I could read French, the gift shop has many books on Acadien history that I would love to have.

Museum exhibit rooms

A quick tour of the exhibit rooms.  A whole room with a permanent 3rd painting in Acadian series by Claude Picard, Musee Acadien PEIexhibit of paintings by Claude Picard, depicting the creation and official adoption of the Acadien flag in the 1880s.  In another room, a temporary display of the lives and work of Acadien women.  Exquisite photographs, both professional and family snapshots.  Spinning wheels and kitchen tools, knitted and sewn goods, the implements and products of women’s hands.

St. John the Baptist Church cemetery beside the museum.  Names so familiar to me from Newfoundland west coast families.  I’d see these same names if I went to a graveyard in Louisiana.  Same families, but their move wasn’t voluntary.  In the 1750s, when Britain Cemetery gates, Miscouche beside Museumtook control of North America, the expulsion of the Acadiens began.  Many were sent to what’s now the US, especially Louisiana where they became Cajuns, adding their heritage and language to the cultures already there.  Others were “returned” to France on ships, to a homeland they’d never seen before.  Acadiens escaped to Quebec and Newfoundland or hid out and were missed by the British. Some stayed in their new homes.  Some returned to their homeland when it was safe.

carved panel telling Acadian history on side of Museum building, MiscoucheIn the museum and the cemetery, you get a sense of how vast Acadian history is in time and geography, and how strongly rooted it is in this small island.

 

Attawapiskat ‘Solution’

In a Sun Media op-ed column this week, Jerry Agar suggests a solution for the people of house interior Attawapiskat news.sympatico.cbc.ca 9 Dec 2011Attawapiskat, the embattled Northern Ontario reserve: leave it.

He points out that doing the same ineffective thing over and over again is, in general, a good definition of insanity.  His second point is that, in order to solve problems, individuals need to take action themselves.  I agree with both points.

But his solution – go to where the opportunities are – has also been tried and doesn’t slums of Ramos Arizpe Mexico photo by Codowork that well. The shantytowns of Mexico City are testament to the decisions and actions of individuals to leave their rural homes in search of employment and a better life in the city.  On a small scale, it works.  On a mass scale, not so much.

Will it help individuals and Canada as a whole to have everyone flocking to Toronto or Winnipeg?  What about the rest of the landmass we call our country?  The government has to pay incentives to medical students to get them to practice in rural areas.  Everybody, it seems, wants to be a doctor in Toronto, not so many in Nippers Harbour.

I give Mr. Agar credit for thinking laterally.  But let’s go a little further than just “leave the reserve.”  Why not make the reserve a centre of enterprise itself?  If people want to stay in the north or in rural areas, why shouldn’t they?  Who exactly benefits in the long run by having overcrowded megacities and vast expanses of unpopulated land?  In making First Nations communities viable wherever they are, the big stumbling block is the Indian Act.  So let’s think way outside the box and change that.

Miawpukuk Example

Aerial view of Miawpukek, from mfngov.caLet’s use the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq reserve Miawpukek as an example.  It was created from the village of Conne River and surrounding land in 1987.  At that time, Indian Affairs was promoting new measures of band self-government.  The people of Conne River, never before officially recognized as Mi’kmaq, were accustomed to the control afforded over life and actions afforded by regular municipal, provincial and federal government.  They were not about to give that up.  So, from the beginning, Miawpukek had a degree of control over economic and educational development that went beyond the Indian Act.

The prosperity of the community speaks to the success of that.  In the 1990s, former chief Shane McDonald showed me around.  Driving in, he laughed, “see, we’re on reserve land now, and the pavement starts.  Usually the pavement ends when you come into a reserve.”

dancers-from-miawpukek mfngov.caThe reason for its success?  The people used Indian Affairs money in ways that worked best for their community.  They built up a local economy that had people moving back there to find employment.  That development is largely connected with their traditional methods of land use.  The culture and the environment are alive and healthy.

So my solution for reserves like Attawapiskat starts with the Department of Aboriginal Attawapiskat 'solution' photo of town sign firstnations.ca/attawapiskatAffairs.  Redraft the Indian Act so that those who come under it have the same freedom to develop businesses and own property that other Canadians have.  Don’t force depopulation of northern and rural communities by action or inaction.  Let them develop in a way that makes sense for their people and their environment.

Notre Dame du Mont Carmel, Ile St-Jean

The church and graveyard at Mont Carmel on the west coast of PEI. Here, the island feels Notre Dame du Mont Carmel, Ile St-Jean now PEIlike it should be called by its old name, Ile St-Jean, when it was part of Acadia. First seen at night, it’s scary and beautiful. The archway looming overhead in the twilight, the rows of headstones white and dark against the setting sun. ‘Oh My God’ isn’t blasphemous here. You feel the power of God – in the form of the Roman Catholic Church – on this windswept bluff with the church and cemetery from coast line photo Jim Stewartdark brick monolithic shape on the horizon pointing skyward.

Revisited in the daylight, still imposing but less frightening. I wander the graveyard – and see the names. Aucoin, Arsenault, Gallant, Poirier. Names I’ve known for decades, names from my genealogy database. Maybe not the same individuals, but the same names. My people with these Poirier grave Mont Carmelnames are from Newfoundland, and more likely connected to Nova Scotia. But I know there are connections between Newfoundland and this island. The people buried here are related to mine. This was all Acadia, with families that spread throughout the area.

I’d see the same names in graveyards in fence post cross memorial Sylvere Aucoin photo Jim StewartNova Scotia, Quebec, Louisiana, France.  Same families. In the 1750s, the British deported Acadiens to Louisiana and France. Some escaped to Quebec and the west coast of Newfoundland, away from British control. Others remained where they were, hidden. Some returned to their homeland when it was safe and some stayed in their new homes.

Acadien history in a graveyard

Acadien history is rich and has spread across North America for two and a arch at graveyard entrance photo Jim Stewarthalf centuries. On the west coast of PEI, it is everywhere around you. In this churchyard, it is awesome.

I don’t think to see if the door to the church is open. I am overwhelmed by the power of the building. Go in? Not when there is no Mass. It doesn’t occur to me to treat it as a monument, a landmark of beauty and detail of arch Mont Carmel photo Jim Stewartarchitecture – to sightsee. I step gingerly around the building, not going too close, afraid of it I guess.

A large brick house is beside the church, the priests’ house I assume. I see a car there, but no people. I imagine black-cassocked priests flocking around. Probably I’d have got a shock if a real-life present day priest or brother had come out, likely in jeans and sweatshirt. The new SUV sitting out front looks out of Interior of church from shepaintsred blogplace. So I’m glad nobody came out, maybe glad I didn’t try to go in the church. I like the picture I have in my head. But I’m glad that someone went inside: at shepaintsred, you can see what I missed.

The feeling of family reverence I had in the graveyard has stayed with me. Seeing names so familiar to me that they could be Magloire-Gallant Road sign, Mont Carmel PEImy own family. The solidity of community roots showing in rows of gravestones, hundreds of years of ancestors present with you.

(Click photos for larger views)

Attawapiskat

Look at Google News today:  “Send troops to help Attawapiskat.”   For a month, we’ve read about the Band Chief declaring a state of house in Attawapiskatemergency over the lack of housing and Prime Minister Harper saying that millions of federal dollars have been spent in the northern Ontario Cree reserve.  People have been living in tents and crammed into a construction trailer because there aren’t enough habitable houses.

So, I have just one question about those millions of dollars.  How much of that money was actually spent within the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Development, not only on ministerial and high level bureaucrat salaries and expenses, but also in the low- and mid-level “worker bee” bureaucracy and on consultants?  How many memoranda and discussion papers have been prepared over how many years and at what cost in wages, expenses and materials?

Attawapiskat housing photo huffingtonpost.ca 2011 11 26 Red CrossAnd another question, I guess.  Why does reserve housing continue to be built using southern Canadian designs and materials when it seems pretty evident that neither usually hold up very well to northern weather and usage conditions?  And why is the construction often slipshod in the first place?

Inadequate housing on reserve is not new, especially in the north.  So a rhetorical question, I guess, is when is someone in government going to seriously look at how things are done and find a solution that works better.  The problems have been outlined and witnessed for decades, solutions have been suggested.  Why is a system still in place when it has been shown to be unwieldy, inefficient, and just not working?

Amazon link for The Dispossessed
Click for Amazon link

For those of you who may not know about it or have forgotten it, Geoffrey York’s book The Dispossessed is an excellent collection of his essays on, as the subtitle says, “life and death in Native Canada.”  First published in 1989, it unfortunately is still a valid commentary on First Nations conditions today.  Read Chapter 3 “Inside the Reserves” especially.

When the book came out, the problems outlined in it were already old and patience was running out. Two decades later and it’s like it’s a big surprise that conditions on many reserves are appallingly bad and there are problems with people being able to adequately provide for themselves and their families.

There are calls for the Canadian military and/or volunteer agencies to help out with the crisis in Attawapiskat.  The Red Cross of Canada has already become involved.  That is great, and maybe volunteers and the military can help alleviate the immediate problems.  But why on earth should any of them have to, in Canada, one of the richest countries on the planet?  If this is due to legislation (Indian Act) and bureaucracy, let the legislators and bureaucrats earn their money and get it sorted out – for the long term.

Qalipu Band of the Mi’kmaq Nation

Monday it was announced: Mi’kmaq people of Central and Western Newfoundland are now members of the Qalipu band under the Indian Act.
Jim John and Dorothy, Gander River 1979 It’s been 39 years since they began politically organizing for that recognition. Hallelujah, and about time.

I’ve wondered if it actually would happen in my lifetime. I have spent my working life on and off involved in this process. I began in 1979, as a new graduate student at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Over the years, I’ve continued working for the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI). The early enthusiasm I felt every time there was a hopeful word from Indian Affairs faded long ago. All we have to do is show x, y or z? Yep, sure thing. Sorry, heard that before.

I’ve never really understood the reluctance by Canada and Newfoundland to give people Qalipu St. George's, Newfoundland, view from the beachthe recognition and status to which they are entitled. It was a fluke (or trade-off) when Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 that excluded the new province’s First Nations from status under Canada’s Indian Act. At the time, it would have limited their rights of citizenry. Status Indians did not have the vote and other rights taken for granted by most of us. But the First Nations of Newfoundland and Labrador also did not have the benefits and recognition that inclusion in Indian and Northern Affairs legislation accorded. And, in 1949, a major overhaul of the Indian Act was already in process. In 1951 the most restrictive aspects of ‘wardship’ were removed from the Act.

In the early 1970s, Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland and Innu and Inuit in Labrador began working for the same rights and recognition as their kin in the Maritimes and Quebec had. Together in one association at first, they split into separate groups to pursue their Sign entering Miawpukek (Conne River) reserve, Newfoundlandobjectives in the best way for each of them. The FNI was born in 1972, representing all Mi’kmaq people of the island.

In the early 1980s the Baie d’Espoir community of Conne River split off. As a small predominantly Mi’kmaq community, they believed they’d have better luck on their own than working with a larger Mi’kmaq population spread across a wide area. And they did.  It took direct action, like a government office occupation and a hunger strike, to do it. In 1984 the people of Conne River gained Indian Act status. Three years later, land around the village was designated as Miawpukek reserve.

FNI to Qalipu

Soon after, Indian Affairs allowed people with direct kinship to Miawpukek to apply for “off-reserve” status. That gave them individual rights like post-secondary Larry Jeddore with moose in Glenwood tannery 1983education and non-insured medical benefits. Of those eligible to apply, many did. However,  people like the late Glenwood chief Larry Jeddore did not. He had been born in Conne River of a chiefly family. He spoke the Mi’kmaq language. And he was one of the founders of the FNI. But he wanted to see all Mi’kmaq people of the island recognized. He didn’t live to see it but he fought hard for it.

FNI Larry Jeddore in Glenwood band office 1983Agreement in principle to register all Newfoundland Mi’kmaq as members of a landless band was reached in 2008. And finally the new band, Qalipu, exists. Without reserve lands, members receive only the benefits of “off-reserve status.” However, it is official recognition of what they have always known and kept alive: their ancestry, heritage and community as Mi’kmaq people.

St. Thomas Ford Plant

Selectivity tower at Ford plant erected 1968In Grade 11, at St. Thomas’ Arthur Voaden Secondary School, I was the only girl, and only Art student, in an English class with Shop boys. I had read most of the assigned books already, in school or on my own. So the teacher said for me to just get my papers in. If I had any questions, come to him. Then he left me alone and concentrated on the boys. There was one boy he left alone too, one who really had a hard time in school. He could read a little bit and should have had remedial help. But he wasn’t worried. His dad worked at Ford.

He and I sat in the very back row of desks and played tic-tac-toe during class. The teacher knew but he ignored what we were doing. We talked some, in low voices. I must have worried about how he was going to get through school and what he’d do after. He told me his dad could get him on at Ford and he’d make $20 an hour. It would be a job for life and it didn’t matter if he “couldn’t read too good.”

Over the years, I’ve wondered how he got on. I felt kind of sorry for him, until I moved back to St. Thomas and found out, yes, people at the Ford plant did make very good money and the jobs were pretty much for life. If that boy was hired at Ford, where, yes, children of employees did have a better chance, he’d have done a lot better financially than I had despite university degrees and having read The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Falcon on St. Thomas Ford assembly line 1968Until two years ago when Ford announced the Talbotville plant would close. The boy I knew is now probably retired with full pension. I wonder if his son followed him to Ford. If so, he may be one of those facing layoff with a good severance package but with the belief in the “forever” job gone forever.

Ford Plant Closure

Possibly the big suburban house, the big gas-guzzling Ford pickup in the driveway with the bumper sticker reading “Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign.” – all financed on expectations of overtime pay, all in jeopardy. Some will do ok, if they lived within their real means, and if they can think outside the factory environment and build a new job for themselves. Some, if they didn’t or can’t, will be in trouble.

The real estate market has been glutted with big, expensive new houses ever since Ford began the layoffs. Food bank usage has increased. We’ve seen that first-hand because we have a pet food donation programme and it can hardly keep up with the demand.

Restaurants, bars, stores – all are feeling the impact as people stop going out, stop buying. Everyone in the amalgamated municipality of Southwold will suffer with increased taxes to make up the shortfall caused by Ford no longer paying property and business taxes.

Out of a job yet bumper sticker on Ford pickup“Keep buying foreign” – not a lot of choice when the manufacturers move outside the country. A job forever? – not likely in “the new normal” of global economics.

I guess I’m glad I never had a job that was a sinecure, whether in a factory or government. You learn to expect job loss and be prepared for it. To my friend from Grade 11, dark hair and dark rimmed glasses, I hope you and your family are doing ok.