In his 1977 analysis of the commodification of culture Davydd Greenwood relied on Geertz to establish a working definition of culture (Smith 1989:173). I have chosen to do the same.
In articulating his position Geertz wrote “Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but as an interpretive one in search of meaning” (Geertz 1973:5).
In relying on Geertz’s definition for his analysis of the commodification of culture, Greenwood observed that “For Geertz culture is an integrated system of meanings by means of which the nature of reality is established and maintained. His concept of culture emphasizes the authenticity and the moral tone it imparts to life experiences, as he calls attention to the fundamental importance of systems of meanings in human life. By implication, anything that falsifies, disorganizes, or challenges the participants’ belief in the authenticity of their culture threatens it with collapse” (Smith 1977:173).
According to Inglis “Geertz came to think culture is the ensemble of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves” (Inglis 2000:71) and Bruner, like Greenwood, appears to also rely on Geertz when he argues “the way local people tell stories about their traditions to foreigners influences how they talk about and express their own culture to themselves (Bruner 2005:22).
Lin Jackson’s essay Surviving Confederation (Jackson 1986) predates Bruner and does not cite Geertz, but the Memorial University philosophy professor’s comments on the commodification of Newfoundland culture anticipates Bruner and echoes Geertz. Jackson wrote, “the really tragic thing is how infectious such phony images of the local culture have been at home; how those whose heritage it is have themselves come to believe in the caricatures . . . presented as comic-book heritage, it actually encourages attitudes of indifference, scepticism and even ridicule” (ibid: 28)
Believing in the caricatures constructed for tourists is consistent with the phenomenon Urry describes as the “tourist gaze” (Urry 1990) and the way “tourists wield power through the way they look at locals and expect them to appear and behave” and “locals acquiesce to the gaze by mirroring back images they hope will please tourists” (Stronza 2001:271). Rothman similarly describes this acquiescence as a process where “Tourist workers quickly learn that one of the most essential traits of their service is to mirror onto the guest what that visitor wants from them and from their place’ (Rothman 1998:12).
Amanda Stronza described these encounters between local people and tourists “like windows that double as mirrors” (Gmelch 2010:279) and in Tahiti, Kahn compared this process to an endless hall of mirrors who “all reflect, refract, and recast images of one another” (Kahn 2011:125). What I am arguing is that this “mirroring” is also a process of accumulation like the amplification and re-amplification of the same audio signal which eventually leads to distortion.
Defining Tourists and Tourism
In any discussion of tourism two questions must be addressed. The first is, what definition of tourism does one’s research rely on? One choice could be the definition used by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. The UNWTO defines tourism as comprising “the activity of persons traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes” (Worbel and Long 2001:15).
There is an obvious weakness in the UNWTO definition for anthropologists. Defining tourists as persons traveling for “leisure, business, and other purposes” entails lumping together, in the case of Newfoundland for example, persons who are sightseers in search of icebergs, engineers for oil companies who have come to the province on business, and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force who are escorting inmates from mainland jails to appear as witnesses in trials in Newfoundland courtrooms. Clearly the motivations for visiting Newfoundland differ sharply for each visitor and to generalize about tourism based on the experiences of a sight-seer, an oil company engineer, and cops and criminals is problematic.
My research and analysis is guided by Smith’s definition of a tourist as “a temporarily leisured person who voluntarily visits a place away from home for the purpose of experiencing a change” (Smith 1989:1). Smith is joined in this view by Boissevain who takes the position that “all tourists, whatever their individual motives, seek some form of contrast with their everyday existence” (Boissevain 1996:3). My research and analysis is also guided by Van Den Berg who considers “tourism as traveling for pleasure” (Van Den Berg 1994:4) which is “engaged in by choice and for its own sake” (ibid:5).
The second question is what motivates a person to become a tourist or, as the writer Aldous Huxley framed the question in a 1925 collection of notes and essays about being a tourist, “Why Not Stay at Home?” (Huxley 1952:9).
As I noted, I am guided by Smith’s view that the tourist’s motivation is a desire to experience change. I accept Smith’s notion as a point of departure as much out of convenience as out of conviction for I am also drawn to Huxley who suggested we “read and travel not that we may broaden and enrich our minds, but that we may pleasantly forget they exist” (ibid:18). It is a view that is not entirely unlike Sonnabend’s contention that “A vacation is the time to pretend to be somebody that you are not” (Ohmann 1996:46).
In his 1925 essay Huxley also speculated, somewhat uncharitably, that if tourists “go to the trouble and expense of traveling, it is not so much from curiosity, for fun, or because they like to see things beautiful and strange, as out of a kind of snobbery. People travel for the same reason they collect works of art; because the best people do it. To have been to certain spots on the earth’s surface is socially correct; and having been there, one is superior to those who have not” (Huxley 1952:10). Rothman, 73 years later, made a similar observation about the motivation of tourists in his analysis of 20th century tourism in the American south-west when he argued that the tourist’s “goal is not experience but fulfillment – making the chooser feel important, strong, powerful, a member of the right crowd . . .part of a rare breed, intellectually and morally above other tourists. “This conceit is common among elites” (Rothman 1998:14). Though he did not use the expression ‘conceit’ Urry also observed that “travel is a marker of status” (Urry 1997:5)
In the pursuit of a definition of tourism I agree with Wrobel and Long, that “constructing a definition that works for everyone is an impossibly tall order” (Worbel and Long 2001:18) and Nash who argues that “perhaps it will not be possible to consider all tourism in a single theoretical scheme” (Smith1989:38). Are contemporary tourists “modern pilgrims who carry guidebooks as devotional texts” (Coleman and Crang 2002:108)? Or, are the typologies of the tourist as a “capital predator” (Costa 2009:21) or the tourist as a “parasite” (ibid:22) or the tourist as a “pilgrim” (ibid: 23) or the tourist as an “ intellectual” (ibid 25) or the tourist as a “voyeur” (ibid:26) or the tourist as a “child” (Urry 1997:101) or the tourist as a “dope” (Clifford 1997:225) more useful?
I am drawn to Selwyn who argues that “one of the motives of tourists is, so to speak, to find a ‘culture’ in which nostalgically to become immersed in order to fill an emotional and intellectual void left by the glacial process of modernity” (Boissevain 1996:248). It is a view articulated by MacCannell who observed that “For moderns, reality and authenticity are thought to be elsewhere: in other historical periods and other cultures, in purer, simpler lifestyles” (MacCannell 1989:3). I am drawn to the notion that tourism is motivated by a search for authenticity because central to the Newfoundland tourism marketing strategy is the metaphor of escape, but I also share Kaul’s view that “authenticity is a clumsy, but powerful trope, and it is not always clear exactly what people mean when they use the term without looking carefully at the context” (Gmelch 2010:197).
Lindholm in defining authenticity argues, “That at a minimum, it is the leading member of a set of values that includes sincere, essential, natural, original, and real” (Lindholm 2008:1). Bruner identifies four meanings of authenticity. In the context of museums Bruner argues that a first meaning of authenticity is “credible and convincing” (Bruner 2005:149) or does something to give the appearance of the original. A second meaning is “genuineness” (ibid:149) or something that is not only convincing, but is historically accurate. A third meaning is “originality” (ibid:150) or something truly original. If one subscribes to this definition, then all reproductions whether credible, convincing, or genuine are inauthentic. Bruner argues a fourth meaning of authenticity is “authority” (ibid:151) or who has the authority to decide what version of history is correct.
Clumsy or not and regardless of the context in which the term authenticity is employed, Handler and Gable argue that “The dream of authenticity is a present-day myth” (Handler and Gable 1997:223). Based on their research at Colonial Williamsburg they concluded that “Colonial Williamsburg, like every other museum and historic site, is a present-day reality. It is not, nor can it be, the past brought back to life. It is not, nor can it be ‘authentic’” (ibid:223).
Clumsy or not, the notion that one of the motivations for tourism is a search for authenticity persists and, as noted earlier, is central to Newfoundland’s tourism marketing strategy. Graburn, in postulating a “General Theory of Tourism” (Gmelch 2001:25-36), argues that “tourism is best understood as a kind of ritual, one in which the special occasion of leisure and travel stand in opposition to everyday life at home and work” (emphasis in the original) (Gmelch 2001:25)). In a separate essay Graburn extends the notion of tourism being in opposition to work noting that it is “a special form of play” (Smith 1989:22). Fife makes a similar observation in his research into tourism on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland when he notes that “tourism, after all, is a form of play” (Fife 2004:164).
The fact that tourism is not work and can in some instances be play should not be taken to suggest, nor do Graburn or Fife suggest, that tourism is either frivolous or benign. For example, in a tourism planning document titled “Uncommon Potential” the Provincial government describes tourism as “the fastest growing economic sector in the world” (Government of NL:undated). Abbink describes the tourism industry as “the largest business in the world” (Gmelch 2010:115). Costa describes tourism as “the most powerful industry in the world” (Costa 2009:99). Yamashita describes tourism as “a massive economic phenomenon” (Yamashita 2003:3). Greenwood describes tourism as “the largest scale movement of goods, services, and people that humanity has perhaps ever seen” (Smith 1989:171). Lett describes tourism as “the single largest peaceful movement of people across cultural borders in the history of the world” (Smith 1989:276). Beckker does not cite Abbink, Costa, Yamishita, Greenwood, or Lett, but she does make a similar observation about the scale of tourism when she notes that “in 2005, frequent-flyer miles were worth more than all of the American dollars in circulation” (Becker 2013:17).
One can argue that the claims of tourism being the “largest business” or “most powerful industry” in the world are exaggerated as many things are in the realm of tourism, but for the purposes of my research it does not matter whether tourism is the largest business in the world or the second, third, or fourth largest business in the world. As well, for the purposes of my research it does not matter whether tourists are called visitors, guests, or customers. What is key for the purpose of my research is understanding that tourism is an industry where, as Nunez notes, “there is an asymmetry in host-guest relationships “ (Smith 1989:266) and “most tourists represent the ‘haves’ of the world and that many host communities and countries are relative ‘have-nots’” (ibid:274), and Boniface and Fowler’s view that the one thing tourism “is not, is neutral” (Boniface and Fowler 1993:88).
Tourism and Colonialism
Another reference point for my thesis is Rothman’s contention that tourism is “the most colonial of colonial economies, not because of the sheer physical difficulty or the pain or humiliation intrinsic in its labor but because of its psychic and social impact on people and their places” (Rothman 1998:11).
Boniface and Fowler, like Rothman, argue that tourism “feeds on the colonial impulse” (Boniface and Fowler 1993:19) and Bruner observes that in feeding the colonial impulse “tourism performances, throughout the world, regularly reproduce stereotypic images, discredited histories, and romantic fantasies” (Bruner 213). For example, Bruner reports that in Kenya “the Maasai say they are in it for the money and are willing to play into the stereotypic colonial image of themselves to please their clients, the foreign tourists” (Gmelch 2010:223).
My research demonstrates that feeding the colonial impulse on the island of Newfoundland also generates tourism performances which reproduce stereotypical images, discredited histories, and romantic fantasies, which is similar to what anthropologists, apart from Bruner, have observed in tourism research on other islands. For example, in Hawaii Desmond identified a tourism narrative which included, “an actively constructed image of native Hawaiians as primitives living in the past” (Desmond 1999:40) not unlike a theme that recurs on a regular basis in Newfoundland tourism marketing.
In selling primitivism in Tahiti the tourist industry, according to Kahn, marketed “fantasy escapes from the perceived drudgery of growing industrialization in Europe” (Kahn 2011:48). Similarly, in Newfoundland, the tourist industry is supported by advertising that promotes Newfoundland as escape from the “plastic composition of urban life” (2007 Cassies award application).
In a third island study, Cohen identified a tourism narrative in her research in the British Virgin Islands that “obscures a history of domination by romanticizing it” (Cohen 2010:78). Similarly, a sanitizing and romanticizing of history can be observed in the Newfoundland tourism marketplace where Overton argued what is being packaged and sold “is the heritage of centuries of underdevelopment” (Overton 1995:105).
Evolution of Cultural Policy
My examination of the evolution of cultural policy in Newfoundland relies on Shore and Wright who argue that “policy has become a major institution of Western and international governance, on a par with other key organizing concepts such as ‘family’ and ‘society’” (Shore and Wright 1997:6). Policies, according to Shore and Wright, give “institutional authority” (ibid:18) to competing and sometimes overlapping discourses and can be used as “a framework for analyzing” (ibid:166) rival discourses. Handler in his examination of nationalism and the politics of culture in Quebec similarly uses policy as a framework in his analysis of competing conceptualizations of “culture” (Handler 1988:118).
My research tracks the evolution of cultural policy in Newfoundland from 1967 to 2011 by means of interviews with every person who held the position of Director of Cultural Affairs in the Province during that period. Their recollections are augmented by archival research, for example, of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Council and studies prepared for government bodies. My analysis of the evolution of cultural policy in Newfoundland also draws on the accounts of two of Newfoundland’s Premiers and a senior advisor to the Province’s first Premier.
My research into the evolution of cultural policy also relies on my experience. I was a witness to what came to be called the ‘cultural revolution’ in Newfoundland in the 1970’s and I played a modest role in some of the events that marked that period. For example, I worked for a community organization which lobbied for a heritage designation for the east end of the downtown area of St. John’s and part of my job was organizing a neighborhood residents’ association. During the course of that organizing effort the Longshoreman’s Protective Union Hall was rented as an office and gathering place. As well, as part of the organizing effort an agitprop theatre company was hired to create a work of documentary theatre about the downtown community and the play that was produced was staged in the union hall. That organizing effort and play were the initial steps that led to the purchase of the LSPU Hall and its conversion into what has become the LSPU Hall theatre, a showcase for Newfoundland performing arts.
The people I worked with in the cultural community in the 1970’s and some of whom I later hired to produce programming when I was a program producer with CBC Radio in Newfoundland were at the forefront of what came to be called the ‘cultural revolution’ in the 1970’s. Today, some of those people execute government cultural policy in different official roles, for example as the Province’s Director of Cultural Affairs and as the Artistic Director of the Rising Tide Theatre Company in the town of Trinity.
The experiences I had working with people in the cultural community in the 1970’s provided me with a perspective anchored by experience. For example, when I interviewed the Province’s first Director of Cultural Affairs during the course of my research I did it from the point of view of an anthropologist, but I also did it from the point of view of knowing who paid the person in Toronto years ago to throw a cream pie into the face of the same, first Director of Cultural Affairs when he was receiving a national award for his contribution to cultural life in Newfoundland.
In tracking the evolution of cultural policy in Newfoundland I rely on Shore and Wright for a theoretical anchor, but I also find myself, in retrospect, drawing on occasion from having been a participant in some of the events I am describing.
Examining Tourism Advertising
Regardless of its size, why the tourism industry does matter in Newfoundland, a place that has been a ‘have-not’ community for most of its 60+ years as a province of Canada, is because as Anholt in his examination of identity, image, and reputation observes the tourism industry “contributes in a critical way to the formation and maintenance of the national image” (Anholt 2010: 91). Further, in the process of forming and maintaining this national image the impact of television advertising, according to Wright in his analysis of culture and the meaning of images, “plays a crucial role in determining how we construct our reality” (Wright 2008:88).
In her analysis of a 1993 Newfoundland tourism television advertising campaign called “Imagine That” Whalen found herself in agreement with Anholt when she noted that “clearly, tourism ads do more than encourage visitors to come to a particular place; they come out of and feed into those interpretative practices that make a region visible to itself and others” (Whalen 1998:111). Whalen also found herself in agreement with Wright when she noted that “advertisements are ideologically loaded: that they often propagate negative images, construct unattainable realities, reduce people to objects of desire, and contribute to a world defined in terms of consumer values” (ibid 111). Tourism in Newfoundland matters because in the propagation of negative images stereotypes are reinforced and stereotypes are as Whalen contends, “powerful: they inflict symbolic and real pain. They constitute one means of policing the borders of dominate and subordinate” (ibid:117) or as Pickering observes the “evaluative ordering which stereotyping produces “always occurs at a cost to those who are stereotyped, for they are then fixed into a marginal position or subordinate status and judged accordingly” (Pickering 2001:5).
Whalen described the tools she used in her examination of the 1993 Newfoundland “Imagine That” television ads as discourse analysis and social semiotics. Mindful of Shore and Wrights’ caution that “Discourse is notoriously difficult to define” (Shore and Wright 1997:18) my approach to examining the 2006 tourism television advertising campaign is more interpretive (Krippendorff 2004:17). I agree with Krippendorff that “Ultimately, all reading of texts is qualitative” (ibid:16) and with Weber who argues that “there is no single right way to do content analysis” (Weber 1990:69) and content analysis is still, in part, an “art” (ibid:69). I have employed some simple measurements, for example counting the relatively large number of children who appear in the television ads featuring rural Newfoundland versus the relatively small number of children who live in rural Newfoundland, but my edit by edit reading of the Province’s tourism television advertising flows more from my decades of experience as a producer of radio and television programming.
My approach to examining the “Find Yourself Here” television ads is not unlike Thomas Belmonte’s approach to ethnographic field work in Naples which D’Acierno describes as “driftwork” (Belmonte 2005:204). According to D’Acierno, Belmote “held some of most incisive dialogues on the subway” and “regardless of how much he was at home in academia, he was at his best out in the metropolitan open” (ibid:204). Belmonte’s “personal essay in the guise of an enthnographic text” (ibid:207), I suggest, legitimized hanging-out as a research technique. As I spent hours and hours watching and re-watching the Province’s 60 second tourism ads, stop/starting them edit by edit, looking at the frozen images, seeing where power lines had been erased from the images, and listening to how the audio track synchronized with the narration, I sometimes felt like I was inside the edit suite with the producers of the ad listening as the producer instructed the editor to fade the music and cue the narration at the moment the little girl pulling the wagon starts to turn her head away from the camera. I don’t know the cumulative amount of time I have spent in edit suites over the course of my almost 40 years in radio and television journalism (I started when quarter-inch audio tape was spliced manually with an adhesive tape), but as I watched the Find Yourself Here television ads I thought I wasn’t just hanging out, but rather I was engaged in what Renato Rosaldo calls “deep hanging out” (Clifford 1997:56).
Public Rituals and Inventing Traditions
In his analysis of the commodification of culture Greenwood focuses on a specific example of a public ritual, the Alarde in the Basque town of Fuenterrabia (Smith1989:174). The Alarde commemorates the town’s resistance of a 17th century French siege and eventual rout of the French army which had besieged the town. Greenwood argues, however, that this “ritual recreation” (ibid:174) of Fuenterrabia’s victory over the French is more than a mere commemoration of an historic event. He contends that the parading through the streets, the music and drumming, the gathering of people in the town’s plaza, and the firing of shotgun salvos “is a statement of collective valor and of the quality of all the people in Fuenterrabia” (ibid:175), but it also “reproduces” (ibid:175) the solidarity between different and sometimes competing groups of inhabitants that allowed Fuenterrabia to survive.
Greenwood argues that the distinguishing characteristic of the Alarde is that “It is a performance for the participants, not a show” (emphasis in original) (ibid:176). However, when the Spanish Ministry of Tourism listed the Alarde on its national festival calendar and local tourism businesses began promoting it as a tourist attraction the Alarde changed. The “turning point” (ibid:177) according to Greenwood was when the Fuenterrabia municipal government decided that the Alarde should be mounted twice a day and defined it as a “public show to be performed for outsiders who, because of their economic importance in the town had the right to see it” (emphasis in the original) (ibid:178).
The impact, according to Greenwood, was that two years later participation in the Alarde had declined, the municipal government was contemplating paying people to participate, and Greenwood speculated that like gypsies who were paid to dance and symphony orchestras who were paid to make music, participants in the Alarde would be paid to perform. The result he speculated was that once the Alarde became a performance for money, then “The meaning is gone” (ibid:178).
Greenwood’s conclusion is that “The commoditization process does not stop with land, labor, and capital but ultimately includes history, ethnic identity, and culture of the peoples of the world. Tourism simply packages the cultural realities of a people for sale along with their other resources” (ibid:180). This commoditization process, according to Scranton, is “a core capitalist process, translating that which once was free and outside the cash nexus into something that depends upon and explicitly focuses on a cash exchange” (Scranton and Davidson 2007:viii). Kaul describes commodification similarly, as a process where “more and more aspects of social life have come to be defined in terms of their monetary exchange-value instead of their use-value (Sheperd 2002). In other words, things that were never before commodities have now become commodities: objects of economic value to be sold and consumed” (Gmelch 2010:187).
I do not take issue with Greenwood’s analysis. On the contrary, I am guided by it. However, the public ritual my research focuses on differs in one significant way from the Alarde ritual Greenwood analyzed. Tourists discovered the Alarde ritual and the ritual changed as a result of that discovery. At some point the ritual became a product to be marketed to tourists and performed for them. In contrast, the Newfoundland welcoming and initiation ritual, the Screech-In ceremony, was created specifically for tourists. Consequently my theoretical point of departure for its analysis goes beyond Greenwood’s, and engages with Hobsbawm and Ranger’s analysis of the invention of traditions.
Hobsbawm argues that “invented tradition is taken to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behavior by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past” (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983:1). Pat Byrne (1997) argues that the Screech-In welcoming and initiation ritual meets these criteria of an invented tradition and I share this view.
Hobsbawn argues that the term ‘invented tradition’ “includes both ‘traditions’ actually invented, constructed and formally instituted and those emerging in a less easily traceable manner with a brief and dateable period – a matter of a few years perhaps – and establishing themselves with great rapidity” (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983:1). Pat Byrne argues that the rapidity with which the Screech-In ceremony emerged is an example of the second type of invented tradition described by Hobsbawm and Ranger though he concludes that “the origin of the practice is obscure” (P. Byrne 1997:239). I agree with Byrne that the Screech-In ceremony shares some of the characteristics of the second of Hobsbawm’s types of invented traditions, but my research clarifies the Screech-In ceremony’s origin.
In addition to Hobsbawm and Ranger my analysis of the Screech-In welcoming and initiation ritual relies on Myerhoff’s notion that “Rituals and ceremonies are cultural mirrors” (Myerhoff 1978:33), Sider and Sider’s contention that ceremonies represent “a site of struggle” (Sider and Sider:2001:29), and Handleman’s argument that for the ethnographer “public events are privileged points of penetration into other social worlds and cultural universes” (Handleman 1998:9).
Encounters With Tourists
My research methods, which were approved by Memorial University’s Interdisciplinary Committee on Ethics in Human Research, include 1) library and archival data collection using historical sources including an examination of the provincial government’s 2006-2011 tourism television advertising campaign, 2) interviews with key figures in the evolution of cultural policy from 1967 to 2011, 3) interviews with key figures in the development and promotion of tourism in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, 4) interviews with initiators of and participants in the Screech-In ceremony, and 5) encounters with tourists.
I interviewed 126 tourists in three separate Newfoundland settings. Some of the conversations were brief, for example, as people were gathering before the departure of a walking tour. Some conversations were more lengthy, for example, during the course of a three-hour boat tour. I will leave it to others to argue about what constitutes an “interview,” but for those who hold the view that an “interview” is something lengthy and elaborately structured, then my technique may be more appropriately described as “talking with people.” Over the course of three days I talked with tourists in the community of Trinity. In St. John’s I talked with tourists on six occasions in the summer of 2011 when Screech-In ceremonies were being staged. In some circumstances conversations were video recorded and like Cohen I found that “walking around with a video camera felt more honest than observing and then writing up my observations in field notes” (Cohen 2010:124).
In addition to those encounters my partner and I operate a tourism business in the community of Pouch Cove, NL., coastal community located 20 km north of St. John’s. My partner and I own a seasonal residence which we rent to visitors who we often talk with repeatedly and at length. As well, I also attended the 2011 annual convention of the tourism industry association in Newfoundland, Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador. During the convention I conducted sit-down, video recorded interviews with local tourism operators and industry personnel from the mainland of Canada.
My research methods, as noted in Chapter One, have also been augmented by the acquired knowledge that is the result of living on the island of Newfoundland for most of my adult life. To cite one example of that perspective’s contribution to my research, in Chapter Five I examine in detail some of the provincial government’s sixty-second television advertisements promoting tourism. In some instances my analysis is of images I encounter on an everyday basis. For example, as noted in Chapter One, in one television ad the opening sequence are three images of fishing boats on a slipway in Pouch Cove. The reality that is being constructed in the ad is one of sunny days, colourful boats, a rugged coastline, and people making their living from the sea.
In contrast to the image that is being projected in the television ad there is only one family in Pouch Cove, the Vaters family, who are full-time commercial fishermen making their living from the sea. The Vaters own two crab boats. Their two boats are not moored in Pouch Cove. They operate out of the small boat basin in St. John’s harbour. When I moved to Pouch Cove in 1974 my next door neighbor was Harris Vaters and I occasionally fished with his cod trap crew. The two slipways in Pouch Cove were busy places then. Boats were being launched at dawn. Fish were being landed throughout the morning. Trucks were coming and going. Men were busy at cutting tables filleting fish which would later be salted and sun dried on traditional flakes. Today, the slipways are silent except for two brief periods during the summer when Newfoundlanders are allowed to catch five fish per person per day for their own consumption. In waters that used to yield tens of thousands of pounds of fish per day the “food fishery” is a pale and painful imitation of the fishery that supported community life in Pouch Cove for generations.
I mention these observations to illustrate that while doing research in one’s own community can be problematic it also allows for insights that might not be obvious to a visitor or a researcher whose experience in the community may be measured in terms of weeks or months rather than years.