Newfoundland, then and now

I’m kind of losing my mind a bit over the current situation, but while talking with LGW earlier I realized that many folks won’t remember the Newfoundland and Labrador in which I came of age.  My point of reference is when we had a 12% provincial (nearly 20% combined!) sales tax. We had over 51% combined top (marginal) income tax rate.

Compare those to, respectively, a 15% combined sales tax and 39% combined top marginal income tax. I’m not saying it’s somehow ok that these rates are where they are; the differences we’re seeing are too sudden to be “ok” for anyone. And house prices, gas prices, cost of living, are pretty much double what they were then.

I’m just saying this isn’t what it was when I grew into myself.

I didn’t live in St. John’s as a kid. I didn’t really even visit. The closest I came was seeing my cousins in Portugal Cove maybe twice a year. A lot of the circumstances that may have applied to those in the city just didn’t in my life.

I grew up in one of those outports that had a lot of folks relying on fish – the catching and the processing, in a system built for employment numbers instead of wealth capture – and visited Gander a fair bit; then I lived in Grand Falls for a bit, then Corner Brook. It was a pretty good way to work your way to readiness for living in larger centres.

Still, the first time I saw the towers in downtown Toronto, I experienced a kind reverse vertigo. My experience had simply not built into me the topological mindframe required to encompass such great heights.

We left La Scie, my lovely little hometown, because the cod moratorium wrought unholy hell on my father’s business, and he needed to re-enter his life as an educator. Everything about the moratorium was a break for me – a break from the place I grew up (a welcome break, as it was not a good place for a weird/smart/fat kid), a break in my family as my father sought work all over the province, a break in the peace of our lives as we strove to keep ourselves financially afloat, a break in who I might become. A break, too, for my little sister, but one with rather more splinters and sharp edges.

I never heard much about music besides the odd piano lesson as a kid, along with the strained voices and the overly formal playing of organs at church and at home every Sunday. I didn’t partake in the theatrical tradition of the province; mummers were, to me, drunks who felt free to travel where they normally might not, and school “concerts” seldom resembled the difficult and beautiful work that I came to love in Corner Brook.  Even painting and drawing were mostly a mystery to me. My mother’s grandmother had an oil painting of a bridge that I would, for no reason I can identify, come to believe was the Bridge Over the River Kwai when I heard that name many years later; she may as well have cast runes for all that I imagined it a skill available to the likes of me.

To move to Town as a young adult and have the wonders of Downtown available – the LSPU, the tiny galleries (though I was enough of a west-snob to prefer the School of Fine Arts at the time) full of great artists, the pubs and clubs pounding with a golden age of underappreciated music with the likes of young Amelia Curran and Sean Panting and Jerry Stamp haunting the bars and a sense that there were serious people who had no money but a great love for the work they were making – well, all that was a lot to take in. It changed me. It made me wistful or perhaps wishful, and seeing as I grew up in no money, it didn’t seem like that big a deal to take on that life of no money if you could have a side of happiness.

I spent a lot of years working that out of my system, and in a very literal sense, I had to have it surgically removed when I finally admitted defeat after nursing an injury sustained my first term at Grenfell.

The only thing I ever heard about Danny Williams was my grandfather roaring about the many deprivations the man caused to the old and the poor his first years in office. I never got the golden boy, the money-over-fist Danny.

Instead I got the Clyde vision of him, and then I left, and now that I’ve been back a while, all the while sliding back into this well of debt and despair, all I can think is

well, this feels familiar.

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