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(November 29, 2001, Gazette)

Us versus them?

Jeffery PardySome of the most vivid memories of my childhood are of the trips I took with my family “around the bay.” At least three or four times a year, typically during holidays, my family would visit our relatives in places like Harbor Mille and Harbor Breton. When my sister got older, she began to despise these journeys. Being five years her junior, I wondered why she hated going on these trips that I always enjoyed. They gave me a chance to explore my grandparents and aunt’s houses, and play with the cousins I rarely saw. As I grew older, I began to feel that the people in these communities, as well as my relatives, viewed me in a different light. It wasn’t until university that I realized this was, at least partially, because I am a townie.

I am, without a doubt, a townie. Apart from brief stints in Marystown, Mount Pearl and a few months in Banff, I have lived in St. John’s all of my life. I love this city, apart from the copious amounts of snow and fog we receive every year, and am proud to be a townie. However, I am totally perplexed by the mistrust that many people form “around the bay” have for townies.

According to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English (second edition), a townie is a “native of St. John’s, especially a male; usually derisive, and contrasting with, Bay Men.”

Townies are often thought to be snobby and pompous. They are historical adversaries of baymen in not only sporting events, but bar fights. The Newfoundland dictionary defines a bayman as, “one who lives on or near a bay or harbour; inhabitant of an ‘outport’; ... sometimes with derogatory connotations [baywop].” However, I have heard the term applied to anyone from outside the St. John’s area. In his book Newfoundland: Dawn Without Light, Herbert Pottle suggests that the animosity between baymen and townies is caused by political grudges. He suggests that townies are seen as the haves, the businessmen, while baymen are the have-nots, the fishermen struggling against the corrupt and greedy townies.

At times, each side is equally harsh to the other. Some townies claim that baymen are stupid because of their voices. And while the harsh vowels and dropped h’s are unmistakable, since when has someone’s voice determined his or her intelligence? So what if you can take the boy out of the bay but you can’t take the bay out of the boy? Who says you would want to? Some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met have been from parts of the island outside of St. John’s.

On the other hand, I’ve asked baymen why they don’t like townies. The typical belief is that townies are arrogant, self-centred and stuck up. So does this mean that some people from the bay aren’t the same? It is impossible to really know someone by looking at the way they dress and talk. It propagates stereotypes that destroy the concept of individuality.

I have been at a couple of “bay” parties since I started going to MUN. I always feel a bit uncomfortable because I talk, act, and unmistakably am a townie. Maybe I was being paranoid, maybe it was because I only knew a few people at those parties and not everyone, but I always felt like people there were waiting for me to steal something, or start a fight. At times I tried talking like I was from outside of St. John’s. This really pissed people off because they thought I was making fun of the way they talked. But, like I said, I enjoy spending time with my relatives and travelling around Newfoundland and Labrador because it teaches me where I came from and who I am.

I can’t shake this feeling that there is a “them and us” mentality in all of this. The dictionary entries, the parties, the whole feeling that “you can’t trust a townie.” In historical perspective, I think that people from Newfoundland should distrust Canada and its own government more than itself. There’s no need to fight amongst ourselves since we get enough flack from the pervading stereotype against Newfoundland that exists on the mainland, which claims that we’re all stupid (and in many beliefs perpetually drunk).

I know it’s impossible to reverse years of bad blood with one article, but I do think that we have reason to be proud of ourselves as a people. However, a question that stems from this article begs to be asked: do we, as Newfoundlanders, have a distinct identity of culture and a cultural heritage? I think so. Perhaps the division between townies and baymen is a part of our cultural heritage. Does this prevent us from being a distinct and unified group of people? St. John’s is my home, but I love the whole province. The feeling of isolation from the rest of the world is the same, to varying degrees, across the island. We share a connection to the sea, a struggle to survive on a harsh landscape, and aspects of tradition that can naturally be called culture. In the end, what does it matter if you are from Cape St. George or St. John’s?