Atlantic Canada — To outsiders unfamiliar with the Atlantic Provinces, they’re all similar: relatively poor but extremely friendly. “Newfies” of course are the most fun, but the general impression is that the entire East Coast can’t wait to invite you in to their nightly kitchen parties.
In Newfoundland and Labrador it’s all true, according to 90-year-old Lewisporte native Millie Murphy. “Oh, we’re always up for a good party with friends and relatives! And if we takes a likin’ to a stranger, sure we’ll invite them in for a nip and a natter and put another potato in the pot.”
“Nova Scotians love people, any people!” beamed Haligonian Mason Gotreau. “Tourists, new neighbours, rich Americans moving into that old seaside house, we’re all over over them. Here in Halifax everyone walks around all day just to meet strangers and bring them home to supper!”
But, it turns out, the “friendly” Atlantic provinces aren’t all so friendly.
The COVID-19 infection rate in New Brunswick and P.E.I. is far less than in the other two provinces. Why the difference?
“Actually, Prince Edward Islanders don’t much care for people,” muttered fisherman Gordon Messier of Malpeque. “We like to keep a distance from the neighbours and anyone else. Which isn’t easy, given the size of the Island.
“Our ancestors settled here to fish, farm and chop wood — nice solitary jobs, though the forests kinda ran out. Tourism was the last thing Islanders wanted but when that Green Gables foolishness caught on, we thought what the hell — extra cash! But the crowds have gotten way out of control since the bridge was built.
“Every year when the last damned tourist leaves after Labour Day, we can finally walk down the road alone and relax. A lot of us hope this lockdown thing lasts till October!”
But New Brunswickers are easily the frostiest people on the East Coast, says Caraquet historian Mila Gaudet. “Look at our two founding groups. The Loyalists wanted to get the hell away from the United States after the Revolution – they had that British aloofness and they knew the U.S. would soon be crawling with let’s-join-hands activists and door-to-door salesmen.
“The Acadians, they’ve been practising social distancing since 1755. They had to hide in the friggin’ woods for a century after the Expulsion, and when they finally came out they spent another century in isolated villages. No wonder they’re still wary of people!
“But the English and French have learned to work together over the years. Job One was to keep random strangers away from the province — hence Tourism NB,” she chuckled.
“Oh, we’ll smile and talk to anyone. But unless you’re immediate family, people here will always keep, shall we say, a social distance.”
New Brunswicker Bernice Steeves agrees that it’s hard to make friends here.
“I grew up in Upper Coverdale, and moved here to Salisbury, literally two kilometres. After 20 years I’m still not accepted because I’m considered a ‘Come-From-Away.’
“Let me put it this way: if the virus is hoping to get close to someone here, that virus ain’t got a chance.”