"No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be"
John Mellencamp, "Small Town"
I don’t know if I’ve shared this with you, but I grew up in St. Stephen, New Brunswick (population 4667, 2001), a small town on the east coast. To be quite honest, I spent a lot of my youth dreaming and fantasizing about leaving and getting to a city – any city. I longed for cafes, broad avenues lined with shops, anonymity, and ethnic food. In SS, everyone knew me and I knew them.
I made it to the city – first to Montreal for undergrad, and then to Toronto for law school. I ended up in Toronto and now call it my home. Along the way, I visited many of the world’s great cities – NY, London, Paris, Rome, Mumbai…you name it. My family relished traveling and we often took off to see the world and expand our horizons. What I didn’t realise for a long time, was how great we had it in SS. A lot of that perspective has come from starting my own family and raising my kids.
In St. Stephen, we played out till the wee hours in the summertime, never once being scared of pedophiles or kidnappers. When my mom was not well in my teens, our door bell rang regularly with neighbours and friends bringing over dinners, freshly baked muffins, pies and other goodies. A trip to the local grocery store took nothing less than 2 hours because everyone stopped to chat, share the latest in their family news and inquire as to ours. I knew everyone in my graduating class because largely, we’d been together since junior kindergarten. I could walk for fifteen minutes and be surrounded by some of the country’s most beautiful nature.
Crystal lakes, and evergreen forests were in close abundance, and I could walk to the river in 2 minutes and to the ocean in 20. I always felt safe and loved – not just by my family, but by my community which was protective and nurturing. For example, when I was 19 and had a car accident, immediately people pulled over to help me, someone called my parents, someone else took me to the hospital and someone else dealt with my totalled car. The "village" was definitely there to raise me, and though it’s a little late – I completely appreciate the snuggly cocoon of my idyllic small town childhood on the east coast. I’m more of Maritimer than I am a Torontonian, and that has become clear.
Don’t get me wrong – I love living in Toronto, and fully appreciate the advantages of living in this cosmopolitan, multicultural metropolis. It’s just that – now, years later – I realise that what I was running from is in actuality that foundation which sustains me and now keeps me grounded.
Here’s a few pics of my hometown:
This is a small lighthouse on the banks of the St. Croix river, the body of water which separates St. Stephen from its sister U.S. town, Calais, Maine (summer of 1993, yours truly was a customs officer! blue polyester and all – I loved it – the power!). Growing up in SS, we would often walk across the border for ice cream or to the American movie theatre (we didn’t have one).
One of the largest industries in SS, is the Ganong chocolate factory, a family run business. The Ganongs are family friends, and I spent the summer after high school graduation working as a clerk in their gourmet chocolatier. Twelve pounds later, I headed off to McGill.
Here’s a pic of the old factory, which now house the Ganong Chocolate Museum (they have all you can eat tours in August – I highly recommend):