There may be no chauvinism greater than that of the St. John’s East Ender.
The sense that it’s better over here is deeply held without much logical foundation. It’s colder and damper than any other part of the city. It can be ten degrees warmer in Bowring Park than it is in Bannerman on any July day.
The infrastructure is old and crumbling. The sidewalks are ice-covered and treacherous much of the year. But it is the historic quarter, with the greatest inventory of heritage properties; it’s where you find the better bars and restaurants, a couple of stages, the art galleries.
It’s where St. John’s is like St. John’s and not like anywhere else in the world. Kenmount Road could be anywhere awful. We, east of Adelaide, have, for a long time, been quite self-satisfied and smug about it all, and in a way that drove the crowd from the west end, baymen, and especially Mount Pearl to distraction. We are the worst Townies.
I think though, all of us A1ers are lately losing the confidence it takes to claim bragging rights. Our act is getting old. The St. John’s City Council has, for several terms, been a Gerontocracy, a bunch of witless old geezers variously cowed or owned. They’ve cared little for the town’s material culture and have demonstrated a naked hostility to the downtown. P
Pleading impotence or ignorance they’ve allowed significant older properties to be demolished, put up harbour fences, and green-lit chain restaurants on the harbour apron. They have made a fetish of the automobile, sprawl, and hockey. In order that Council not appear so aged, Dennis O’Keefe has gone so far as to spend public money encouraging vast ship-loads of still older visitors to come and shuffle around the place.
Dare I suggest that there are the beginnings of an exodus of cool kids from the Capital for the country? I suspect Rising Tide’s Seasons in the Bight Festival was the beginning of what’s becoming the buzz up the Bonavista peninsula. It isn’t the tourist traffic and business the summer theatre event brings to Trinity and environs, so much as it is the young actors and stage technicians Donna Butt hires each summer.
Soon after “Trin” was established there was Fisher’sLoft , the Bonavista Social Club and more. John Norman’s Bonavista Living initiative is restoring and preserving that town’s built heritage with as much enthusiasm as St. John’s City Council has contempt for its. And now there’s Port Rexton Brewing and the Bonavista Biennale.
I was on the bill at The Woody Point Writers Festival last year and hoped to cross paths with a pal from my poker game, local rock star Jody Richardson. He was out west developing projects for Gros Morne Summer Music.
It wasn’t until the morning of my last day we managed to connect. He was a grinning wreck; from too many impromptu jams, too many shows, too much 3 am karaoke with Ron Sexsmith, too many moonlight dips off Galliot’s pier and into phosphorescent waters of the sound.
There are towns in rural Newfoundland, admittedly too few, that are crafting a narrative attractive to young people. These are the places that have a chance of beating the odds and thriving.
If St. John’s stays on its course it will be left with ample parking on Stavanger Drive, unsold building lots in needless suburban developments, and a shrinking tax base of seniors. If it doesn’t soon pick up its game St. John’s action will be going ‘round the bay.