Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Finding Parallels: Fishing and Farming

I'm a farm girl, born and bred. In some ways, Newfoundland could not seem more different from southern Saskatchewan. But almost as soon as I arrived on "the Rock" more than a week ago, I've been discovering parallels between the two provinces. The similarities are particularly striking out here in Keels, where I'm finding that fishing and farming, and the lifestyles that grow out of them, aren't so very different at all. 

After four months of living at my farm, being thrust back into city life, especially in a city that was brand new to me, was a huge adjustment. I couldn’t wait to get out of St. John’s and back into the “country”, though around here it’s more “out to the bay.” 

Sometimes differences stand out more than similarities, and there are plenty of differences between a fishing village like Keels and the towns and villages of rural Saskatchewan. For one, the town planning, or lack thereof in Keels' case. Keels grew up from the shore and the fishing stages were the vital centre of the community, its very reason for existence. From a prairie point of view, the layout is, to put it bluntly, haphazard. In the prairies, towns grew up around the railroad, but were usually planned based on a strict grid pattern. 

There are plenty of other differences, too. Some are too obvious to describe (the wet, ocean climate versus the dry prairie, for example), but others are more interesting. I will explore these in more detail in my next blog entry. 
Scenes from fishing and farming showed up unexpectedly today
on this Robin's Donuts box. (Photo: Kristin Catherwood)
There are also some obvious similarities. Though fishing and farming are quite different professions, both are based on extracting a resource from the natural environment, and thus are vulnerable to that same environment. As well, both were traditionally family operations that are facing great challenges in this age of modernisation. I believe the fishing and farming lifestyles also both lead to an intense emotional connection to the place where one was brought up in the age-old traditions of his ancestors. 

Some of the other similarities are more mundane, and more unexpected. The first night, I was struck by the sound of the wind, and how similar it is to the sound of the wind back home. There's plenty of long grass around Keels (in days past, it would have mostly been cut for hay for the various livestock around), and the wind, here uninhibited by trees, freely rustles through it, just like back home. The immense night sky, with all the constellations in full view, is another. Another is the hardy people themselves, who will bend over backwards to help you, but will also tell a joke at your expense if you deserve it. These people, who live in and amongst nature so that they hardly notice its grandeur, are true "salt of the earth" people, and it is comforting to be living amongst them, even if only for a short time. 

In future blogs, I will talk more about some of the similarities and differences between rural Newfoundland and rural Saskatchewan. In this entry, I will focus on one in particular: the school and its importance to rural communities. St. Mark's School in King's Cove, a few kilometres from Keels, is our internet site. We come here every night to check in with the "real world" and, most importantly, to update this blog. On our first night here, the principal John Adams, gave us a tour of the school. 

A miniature house being built at St. Mark's School as part of
 its Skilled Trades program for high school students.
(Photo: Kristin Catherwood)
It is now a K-12 school with just under 100 students, serving several smaller communities in the Bonavista area. Just as in Saskatchewan, every small community would have once had a school of its own, but one by one they closed down as people left the area. Now, St. Mark's too faces potential closure. It's a lovely school, and wandering its halls brought back many memories of my own experiences in small rural schools. These places are more than just educational centres; often they are hubs of not just the community in which they're situated, but of the entire region which they serve. They are a centre of identity for the students and the site of much of the social events in small towns. St. Mark's is a very impressive school with state-of-the-art technology. Distance learning makes it possible for students to explore any of their interests. 

John Adams, principal of St. Mark's School in King's Cove.
 (Photo: Kristin Catherwood)

Country schools are anything but subpar. Often students in rural schools receive more personal attention, and thus have more success in their academics than in city schools. On the wall of graduate photos, which are to be found in every school, is a photo of one former student who earned her Ph.d, a testament to the value of education she received in her formative years. 

In Saskatchewan, many rural schools face a struggle just to keep their doors open, as is the case here in Newfoundland. Bussing students further away to larger centres may seem like the most viable (economically) solution to dropping enrollment rates, but often, it sounds the death knell for small communities. I hope St. Mark's School can continue to educate the children of the Bonavista Bay area for many years to come.  
At St. Mark's School, students receive a well-rounded education, despite its rural location and small size. (Photo: Kristin Catherwood)

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