My friend Kyle wrote a piece for the Osgoode Law School newspaper Obiter Dicta last week, talking about the benefits of returning to practice law in St John’s. It was an entertaining piece, and while I didn’t (nor have I ever) respected the bad jokes Kyle threw in his article, I do respect his position. He always states it well, and there’s a particular realism to his patriotism that I think is at the centre of why I can tolerate it.
I find Newfoundland patriotism slightly distasteful and a little deluded. Visiting a couple of weeks ago, my mother joked about a popular documentary that examined what an economic powerhouse Newfoundland could have been if we had maintained national independence in the 1930s. The contrast case was an everlasting boom that would never run into a money problem ever again: Iceland. This is the kind of delusion that annoys me about contemporary Newfoundland patriotism.
But Kyle’s piece centred on aspects of life in St John’s that don’t have the outsized ambition that some of the more naive patriots in the old country have displayed. The lifestyle is relaxed; the people are friendly; the rent is cheap; in the particular case of lawyers, law firms compete to attract students, instead of more frequently the other way around. A lawyer working in St John’s can be more of a community practitioner, instead of a faceless corporate shill. I know most people in law school actually want to be corporate shills. But Kyle is that most rare of law students: he’s actually a very nice person.
This is actually a more personal post on what I found when I returned to St John’s this time. For the first time, it was not because of a special event. It wasn’t Xmas, which I spent in Hamilton for the first time this year. When I went to St John’s this summer, it was for my friends’ wedding, which dominated my time there. This was just midterm break and a relatively cheap direct flight from Toronto. I would have to make my own fun.
I actually found a city that was starting to become distasteful. Ugly box stores were dominating the architecture of the old-growth suburb where I grew up. A very sketchily arranged Burger King was slated to be built within twenty feet of my mother’s condominium complex, ruining the atmosphere with its terrible smell and constant traffic. Hava Java, the legendary coffeeshop that was the centrepiece of the city’s hipster, art, and music communities, was leaving its classic location, forced out by a new building owner who wanted to install office space in the building. He had already forced St John’s’ only gay bar to close the previous Xmas. Some of my friends were doing well, and some of them were stuck in ruts. I hated to see it all.
So I returned to Hamilton, a cheap Ontario steeltown with a bad reputation and an endemic recession, feeling optimistic about where I lived, and much more hopeful for my future outside St John’s than I am for the city itself. My friend Elsa made this movie about it a little while ago, and it reminds me of a city that I’m not sure ever existed.