Dailies: May 4-5, 2013
Everyone in Canada knows about microclimates (well, everyone everywhere does probably), so I won’t get into that but suffice it to say that it was just getting to be tolerably warm weather in New Brunswick when we left for P.E.I. The first afternoon here in Tignish was comfortable, but the following few days dipped back down a bit and Alexandra and I found ourselves pulling the sweaters back on reluctantly. It makes sense, though, Tignish is way up here on the northwest tip of the island, no more than a couple of kilometres from the ocean on either side, and so the gusts of wind are intense. But it is beautiful country, with rolling hills and bright red soil. The industry here is primarily fishing and agriculture.
We settled into Tignish pretty quickly and have found ourselves quite welcome. It’s a quiet kind of welcome really, more like acceptance in a certain way. It’s not to say that people have been unkind or not effusive enough in their overtures towards us, but it’s more that we feel part of a group no matter where we go. We don’t feel so much like strangers. And it also helps that the prevailing custom is one of universal public greeting. No matter where you go or if you’ve seen someone before, they will look you in the eye and greet you. If they are in a car and you are on the street, they’re sure to wave. The other day I was walking down the sidewalk past two men conversing. They stopped midsentence to say hi. I almost felt bad, like I was interrupting or something.
No small part of this can be due to our hosts: Kim Cook is the town’s social media guru who got us to Tignish in the first place, and that initiative is one of many in the Tignish Initiatives Corporation umbrella, a ship that is ably helmed by the enthusiastic Anne Arsenault. We are extraordinarily privileged to be parked and living immediately outside the Tignish Heritage Inn, a former convent run as a hotel by the very accommodating Shirley and Debbie, which is in the shadow of the colossal neo-Gothic St. Simon and St. Jude Catholic Church.
We hit the ground running, and Saturday night was the tribute to Canadian music legend Stompin’ Tom Connors down at the Legion hall. Stompin’ Tom passed away on March 6, and, with his adoptive home of Skinner’s Pond no more than a ten minute drive from Tignish, it was decided by the people here that they should host an event to honour his memory with an evening of music and storytelling. His family still lives in the area and his wife Lena was in attendance for the show, which was absolutely packed. Standing room only. Many got up to tell stories or to play Stompin’ Tom’s songs, including young kids. And while the event was certainly organized around a national hero, it was certainly clear to us that the people involved remembered the man as a friend, as a joker, as a member of the community who as a kid would joke around and come over to your house for dinner. It’s a seemingly antiquated kind of fame that can be celebrated this way, but unlike so many other artists who might eschew the bonds of community or echo them in name only as they jet all over the world, Tom left a measurable impact on people out here that was a wonder to witness.
And then Sunday was the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic (or at least what we now consider to be the turning point in 1943 of the six year deadly skirmish). The event began down at Tignish Run, the small craft harbour just outside of town that is home to most of the area’s fishermen. A small crowd composed of local diginitaries including MP Gail Shea, Tignish veterans, the HMCS Queen Charlotte Naval Reserve unit, local Naval Cadets, and citizens watched over the ceremony to remember the nearly 5,000 Canadian lives lost in the battle and to lay a wreath in the water for them (the priests were taken out in boat by a local fisherman). I enjoyed all of the speeches, but I was exceptionally struck by a moment in the address of the naval chaplain Padre Davis when he went through the Golden Rule as a way to describe what would motivate the men who served to tolerate tense and terrifying situations for years on end. He explained it in Christian terms, of course, but went on to iterate how the same idea had equal veneration in Hinduism, Islam, Aboriginal traditions, and in secular humanism. For some reason, such attention to detail really caught me by surprise.
Soon enough the wreath was layed and the group turned back towards the town for further festivities. Alexandra and I had walked and so could not keep up with the group so we wandered the beach for a bit before heading back. It was truly warm today, and we have the sun to prove it! This week we’ll be back at it, getting the word out and hopefully getting more people involved.