Oil may gush, but cultural angst thrives, afloat amidst the flood of petro-dollars.
In Newfoundland (and Labrador), some people worry the outports are gone forever, disappearing with the cod, with a way of life young people won’t want to return to.
Out West, Albertans face a similar dilemma: the decline of cowboy culture.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first Calgary Stampede in 1912, reminders of which were plastered all over Cowtown during our recent visit.
The century milestone of “the greatest outdoor show on Earth,” coupled with all that oil money, has apparently spurred saddle sores, metaphorically speaking.
Some say Alberta’s cowboy culture is a myth, a stereotype created to give substance to an empty place. Such assertions are stunning in their ignorance. Albertans’ attachment to the land is as deep — but not as long — as Newfoundlanders’ attachment to the sea.
To assert Alberta’s cowboy culture is a mirage denies and ignores the three-quarters of a century of ranching and farming that drove the economy prior to the modern oil boom in 1947.
Newfoundland’s cultural dilemma is far more extreme than Alberta’s. The equation here is straightforward: if there are no fish, there will be no outports.
The number of tourists could triple, but it won’t save a dying outport. The place will merely become a fake outport, similar to what westerners call a dude ranch — outwardly real, but in reality non-functioning.
In contrast to Newfoundland’s lack of fish, Alberta still has lots of land. Calgary’s suburbs may have rolled over 20 or so miles of former ranchland, but once you get beyond them, the cattle herds and grazing horses are still there. Nobody tells Alberta ranchers they should try to survive on tourism.
Some other observations regarding the two foremost oil-producing provinces:
• Car culture is directly related to boom times. A decade ago, there were almost no muscle cars in St. John’s. Now, they cover the roads like salt. More often than not, their drivers have greying hair, if any — they finally have the car they dreamed of in their 20s. You go, guy! In Calgary, postponed satisfaction is rare. The driver of a Porsche or Audi roadster is most likely a youngster.
• Let’s hope the building boom in St. John’s doesn’t go the way of Calgary’s, where half a million bucks doesn’t get you much. Construction in Calgary is a six-days-per-week industry, tearing down old houses and putting up two new ones in their place. I was disgusted to notice most new houses have particleboard on not only the walls, but also the roofs. And for that, someone will pay a million dollars. I’m no expert, but it does make you wonder: if they’re doing that, what other qualities are they skimping on to cut costs? Older Boy and I used higher-quality wood when we built our chicken coop.
• Newfoundlanders are the best experts in the world when it comes to ripping off Newfoundlanders. Try to make this compute: long-term parking at the St. John’s airport costs $14 per day; long-term parking at the Calgary airport costs $9 per day.
• We went for a lovely walk near Longview, south of Calgary. If you saw “Unforgiven,” you’ve seen the area, because that’s where Clint Eastwood filmed it. Rolling green foothills and ranchland are backed by the Rocky Mountains in the distance. The sky was blue, the sun hot and the scenery spectacular. I says to Younger Boy, “There aren’t many places in the world as beautiful as the view from our house, but this is definitely one of them.” He thought a moment, and said, “I like our bay better.”
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached