Sunday, 16 March 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day - Not

I have a vivid recollection of grinning like a chimpanzee at two Portuguese sailors in the produce section of my local grocery store.  It was shortly after I had moved from Toronto to St. John's nearly twenty years ago.  Both the sailors and I were a little puzzled by my expression but upon reflection I realized what had happened. I had experienced an involuntary reaction to hearing a foreign language.  It was a remedy to a specific kind of culture craving.  I had enjoyed a wash of well being after months and months of being in a vanilla, Anglo Irish environment.  Born and raised in Montreal and living there, Ottawa and Toronto had done nothing to prepare me for St. John's, largely, monoculture.

My how the cultural landscape has changed here.  Yesterday evening I attended two multicultural events and found myself dancing with folks from 27 different countries. Chances are if you live in St. John's, have a first name that ends in a vowel and like to dance, I've danced with you.  I have been at dance parties that featured DJs from India, Pakistan, the Congo and Cuba just to name a few.
Luben Boykov pouring molten metal for a sculpture

With an airport in Gander that used to be the refueling point for many international flights, Newfoundland and Labrador has had its share of political refugees from East Europe and Cuba.  Sculptor Luben Boykov is an example of one such transplant.  And the metal working community here was never the same after Boykov established his bronze foundry.  Similarly, we have inherited several amazingly trained Chinese painters, which boosted hyper realism here.  You could make a long list of artists who are come from aways who are also influential in the visual art scene.

Diana Dabinett is originally from South Africa and is noted for lush paintings of NL sea life.

This year Memorial University of Newfoundand and Labrador has 2,000 students from foreign countries on campus.  Some of those will find jobs or marry a local and stay.  I wonder what impact that will make on our cultural profile.  I know one woman who earned a Phd in folklore here who brings in jewelry and sculpture from her native Nigeria.  She jokes that despite her education– like her mother before her– she still makes her living selling her wares at the local market.

If you are like me and have champagne taste but only a beer budget, multicultural communities are a god-send.  When I lived in Toronto, each Christmas I would pick a different neighbourhood to do my gift shopping; for example: India town, Little Italy, or the East European communities of High Park.  Last night here in St. John's, I went to events where the cover fee was only $5.  I bet the locals drinking green beer at the "Irish" pubs in town spent a lot more.


  1. haha, the "irish" pubs... yeah, they're about as irish as "danny boy", ie, not at all, really

    1. Hollywood and tourism have been a major influence in propagating "Irish culture". Unfortunately most of it consists of drinking alcohol.