In 1967 John Perlin, the 32-year-old son of an upper class St. John’s family, was hired to manage the newly-built Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s. He would later manage five other Arts and Culture Centres which were eventually built in the province. As the province’s first Director of Cultural Affairs John Perlin would become one of the most powerful cultural bureaucrats in the provincial government over the next two decades. At the time he was appointed the provincial government did not have an explicit cultural policy. Perlin recalls, “We really didn’t have a cultural policy. Whatever policies were in place … were more by accident than by design” (Bill 2009:1719).
John Perlin initially reported to the Minister of Provincial Affairs who had responsibility for municipal affairs. The rationale was that because the Arts and Culture Centres were located in several municipalities their Director would report to the Minister responsible for municipal affairs. The rationale may also have been that nobody had a better idea where culture fit in the provincial bureaucracy’s organizational chart. However, by design or not, with the exception of the earliest days as an employee of the province’s Department of Provincial Affairs John Perlin either worked in a department that included the province’s tourism division or he overlapped bureaucratically with the tourism division.
The overlap can be observed in Perlin’s role as the head the province’s Special Celebrations Committee which organized events marking the 25th anniversary of Confederation in 1974, the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Sir Humphery Gilbert in 1983, and the 500th anniversary of the arrival of John Cabot in 1997. These special celebrations were tourism marketing devices modeled on the 1966 Come Home Year celebration.
The Come Home Year campaign was an attempt to attract expatriate Newfoundlanders to return as tourists. Rompkey notes that the success of the Come Home Year campaign, which included arts events, accomplished two things: “it created a link between public funding and the arts, and it entrenched the idea that traditional outport life could be commodified and marketed” (Rompkey 1998:271).
The link between public funding and the arts was more explicitly established during the administration of Brian Peckford who served as Premier from 1979 – 1989. In 1981 Brian Peckford’s government passed Bill 56 creating the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (NLAC). The move followed years of criticism of John Perlin by members of the local arts community. Perlin, who would book the touring London Theatre Company in to the province’s Arts and Culture Centres for twenty weeks a year, was accused by his critics with being overly interested in what Handler calls ‘high culture” (Handler 1988:98).
Newfoundland writer and actor Andy Jones was one of Perlin’s critics. On the occasion of Perlin’s retirement in 1989 Andy Jones was quoted by the Sunday Express newspaper in St. John’s as saying of Perlin, “I never felt he was sympathetic to the emerging local arts scene, and (he) was more interested in culture with a capital C” (Meeker 2007). Edythe Goodridge, the person in charge of the visual arts program for Memorial University’s Extension Service during part of Perlin’s tenure as Director of Cultural Affairs, was blunter in her assessment of Perlin. According to Goodridge, Perlin’s approach “perpetuated the worst of colonialization” (Bill 2009:95). Eleanor Dawson, the current Provincial Director of Arts in the Department of Tourism, Culture, and Recreation, recalls that the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre “was built as a showcase. . .a venue for presenting other people’s culture” (Dawson interview: June 9, 2010).
The creation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council in 1981 represented a partial transfer of power from the Director of Cultural Affairs, specifically the ability to make monetary grants to individual artists, to an organization that would be at least artist-influenced if not artist run. The creation of the provincial Arts Council also set the stage for the emergence of a coalition of artists who began to redefine arts as a cultural industry. That redefinition was eventually articulated in a 1991 report prepared for the Provincial government called “The Business of Culture: An Economic Analysis of Newfoundland Cultural Industries” (Barry 1991), 24 years after John Perlin’s tenure as the province’s first Director of Cultural Affairs began by chance.
The 32-year-old John Perlin was active in amateur theatre in St. John’s when he encountered then-Premier Joe Smallwood at an invitation-only reception in the old Memorial Stadium in St. John’s. Smallwood was shaking hands and greeting people in a receiving line at a lead-up event to Canada’s centennial year celebrations in 1967. Perlin took the opportunity to tell the Premier what he thought about plans to have Memorial University operate the new Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s. Later, recalling the conversation for a journalist, Perlin said he told the Premier “There were a number of us who thought that would be a disaster. If the arts centre was for public use, then it should certainly not be operated by the university, which might have its own considerations, rather than the publics” (Meeker: 2007).
According to John Perlin the conversation in the receiving line at the reception led to an invitation to have lunch with the Premier, which led to another conversation in another receiving line where Perlin recalls the Premier telling the aspiring amateur actor to go run the Arts and Culture Centre for him. There was no Help Wanted ad in the local newspaper. The hiring process did not include a selection committee. Smallwood decided he wanted Perlin to run the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s, told him to do it, and that was the way things were done in the 1960’s in Newfoundland.
Perlin did go run the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s which included a 1,000+ seat performance space, a library, an art gallery, and one of the most expensive restaurants in the city. Four years later he became the head of the Province’s newly created Division of Cultural Affairs.
The early years of Perlin’s tenure were marked by the Provincial government’s efforts to modernize Newfoundland by resettlement and industrialization. If outport life and folk culture were threatened during those years, the founding of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Council (NLFAC) in 1966 could be viewed as resistance to that threat. While the founding of the NFLAC occurred in 1966 during Smallwood’s term in office, like the building of the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s and like funding the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Cultural Industries three decades later, the initiative and funds came from the Federal government.
In 1964 the Federal government created the Canadian Folk Arts Council. The Council’s mandate was to organize provincial councils who in turn would stage folk art festivals in various 1967 Centennial Year exhibitions and celebrations. Newfoundland was the last province to establish a folk arts council.
The NLFAC was headed by a committee of 14 people. The committee included a lawyer, a dentist, an Anglican minister, a university historian, a university folklorist, three business people, a provincial government employee with an interest in heritage preservation, the British born spouse of the Council’s first president, two members of St. John’s merchant families, and the daughter of a St. John’s merchant who traveled rural Newfoundland teaching craft skills to women.
What is obvious about the composition of the Council is that members of the St. John’s middle and upper classes dominated its leadership. Not only were no Newfoundland folk artists members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Council, but the President described the Council’s task in terms of creating a Canadian culture. The President of the Folk Arts Council not only characterized Newfoundland culture as a “thing” (Handler 1988:14), but as a Canadian thing; “I believe out of this folk art program, out of the songs and dances and the traditions of all of our forebears will come this truly Canadian culture that we’ve all been talking about” (Bill 2009:94).
Though government culture policy, as poorly articulated as it was, concentrated on the arts it should be noted that Smallwood did create a Division of Historic Resources that operated in a parallel fashion to the Division of Cultural Affairs. The government’s cultural agenda, however, was pursued by John Perlin through the programming of the Arts and Culture centres, a fact noted by a Provincial Arts Policy Committee in 1990 who concluded that the “provincial government arts policy is in fact now largely an ‘Arts and Culture Centre policy” (O’Flaherty 1990:1). The Arts Policy Committee also noted “There is considerable disenchantment in the artistic community with the Division of Cultural Affairs” (ibid:7) and cited as an example a submission to the committee from the Resource Centre for the Arts, the operator of an artist-run Longshoreman’s Protective Union (LSPU) Hall theatre in St. John’s. The LSPU submission criticized John Perlin saying, “It is our firm belief, based on ten years of experience, that the Division of Cultural Affairs is no great friend to the creators of art in this province. We are unsure whether this has been a sin of omission or commission. But sin it most assuredly has been” (ibid).
The Newfoundland Renaissance
Some of the criticism of John Perlin’s tenure as the province’s Director of Cultural Affairs emerged during the midst of what was described as a “cultural revival” (Overton 1996:48) during the 1970’s and 1980’s in Newfoundland. Rompkey cites a 1976 Saturday Night magazine article by Sandra Gwyn for naming the phenomenon “The Newfoundland Renaissance” (Rompkey 1998:272). At that time Memorial University sociologist James Overton wrote, “Culture is on the march in Newfoundland. In the last decade or two it has become one of the most widely used words in the province, particularly, but not exclusively, among what may be called the new middle class. Many lament the loss of a distinctive way of life rooted in the outports. Others complain about the destructive effects of mass culture and North American values on “traditional culture” and attempt to preserve and revive this unique culture” (Overton 1996:46).
Rompkey acknowledges that “something extraordinary was in the making” (Rompkey 1998:273), and while Newfoundland philosophy professor Lin Jackson may have agreed with Rompkey that something extraordinary was happening, he was not enamored with some of the neo-nationalist rhetoric that accompanied it. To quote Jackson at length, he wrote,
“The frank reality is that whatever dignity and nobility of life Newfoundlanders have been able to achieve, they have achieved it against a background of persistent political and social vulgarities and general impoverishment of circumstance. The cultural freedom and vigor that self-sufficiency and prosperity permits have eluded or been denied us . . . Newfoundland culture has grown out of this reality that too often is denied in the latter day defensive rhetoric of romantics and idealists. What that over-sensitive pride typically puts in its place is an artificial account of traditional life; a caricature in fact. It dispenses with the record of actual terror, war, want and wantonness and conjures up aery visions of a life of peaceful simplicity, primitive heroism, rugged independence and childlike domestic bliss. It gives rise to a cultic nationalism that feeds dreams of wooden ships, iron men and cozy kitchens, idolizing the sparse peasant-like yesterday’s outports as if it were heaven without its nasty side. It not only presents this as true history, but recommends it as a paradigm for future policy, and it does so often nowadays from a technology-padded, comfortably-salaried vantage-point that knows little of the coarse side – the pain, poverty, pestilence and restrictiveness that also forms an integral part of the true picture of Newfoundland life in the past” (Jackson 1984:93).
One of the shifts that is illustrative of that “extraordinary something” that was not driven from a “comfortably-salaried vantage-point” occurred in the take-over of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Council in 1977. According to an undated internal history of the NLFAC prepared by a member of the Council, the take-over was engineered by a “revolutionary faction” of the Council (Rayment undated:2). According to Rayment’s internal history, opposition arose within the NLFAC to the council’s emphasis on multiculturalism which included multicultural festivals coinciding with the annual St. John’s Regatta and “formal presentations and polished performances, and contests and adjudications” (ibid). During the Council’s 1977 Annual General Meeting “a younger generation caught up in the idealism of pure folk art, particularly as applied to Newfoundland culture” (ibid) took control of the NLFAC. This “revolutionary faction” according to Rayment “led council activities away from formal presentations to large outdoor festivals and ‘times’” (ibid).
The first festival staged by the “revolutionary faction” of the NLFAC occurred in 1977, the same year as the take-over. Strachan argues that folk festivals are “often sites of grass roots cultural resistance” (Strachan 2002:2) and the Newfoundland and Labrador Folks Arts Festival certainly fit that mould. The festival employed nationalist symbols like the Newfoundland national anthem, the Ode to Newfoundland, and the pink, white, and green colours of the nationalist flag. The pink, white, and green flag did not fly in 1977. Instead, the colours on the cover of the 1977 festival program were pink, white, and green. In an example of how the revolutionary one day becomes the establishment, one of the “revolutionary faction” of NLFAC in 1977 was a traditional singer, Eleanor Dawson. As I write this, Eleanor Dawson is the Director of Arts for the provincial government.
Bannerman Park in St. John’s became the home of the annual Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, but it was not the only place where Newfoundland’s folk arts were on display in the 1970’s. From 1967 to 1979 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s television service in the province produced a Newfoundland music and entertainment program called All Around The Circle which further legitimized Newfoundland folk music. The CBC in the province also produced television adaptations of Newfoundland dramas like As Loved Our Fathers (a title borrowed from a line in the Ode To Newfoundland) by Tom Cahill (Cahill 1979) and a year after Brian Peckford was elected the CBC hired a younger generation of Newfoundland actors and musicians calling themselves The Wonderful Grand Band and produced the first of what would become 40 half-hour long television programs of the same name over the next three years. According to the Museum of Canadian Music, The Wonderful Grand Band was “the most popular show in Newfoundland television history” (www.mocm.ca). To the extent that television is a mirror to a community, beginning in the late 1960’s and expanding in the 1980s Newfoundlanders saw their artistic creations and distinct accents not just reflected, but celebrated on television screens throughout the province.
The Peckford Years
Rompkey characterizes Brian Peckford as the first Newfoundland Premier “to openly embrace the arts as an expression of the provincial culture” (Rompkey 1998:272) and whether Peckford politically capitalized on the emerging nationalist sentiment or provided leadership for it, he took power with a mandate to rearrange government priorities. Part of Peckford’s rearrangement of government departments was the elevation of the status of culture in the hierarchy of the provincial bureaucracy. In 1982, for the first time, the word ‘culture’ appeared in the name of a government department, the Department of Tourism, Recreation, and Culture. Seven years later, in 1989, culture is briefly disconnected bureaucratically from tourism and placed in a department called Culture, Recreation, and Youth and then in the same calendar year paired again with tourism in the a department called Cultural Affairs, Tourism, and Historic Resources. Three years later, in 1992, culture is paired alone with tourism in a department of Tourism and Culture (1992). Beginning in 2008 culture was housed in a provincial department called Tourism, Culture, and Recreation until a new department called Business, Tourism, Culture, and Rual Development was created in 2015.
In addition to reorganizing government departments and elevating culture’s status in the bureaucracy, Brian Peckford’s government passed Bill 56 creating the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (NLAC). The purpose of the NLAC was “to promote the study, enjoyment of and production of works in the arts of the province and to encourage the preservation and public awareness of cultural heritage” (RSNL 1990 Chapter A-178:2) and, as note previously, the distribution of financial aid to individual artists was taken out of the hands of John Perlin, the controversial Director of Cultural Affairs.
The first Chairman of the provincial arts council’s Board of Directors was Dr. George Story, an English professor at Memorial University and Lead Editor of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English (Story, Kirwin, and Widdowson:1982). Story’s words continue to be displayed on the Arts Council internet site as a statement about the importance of arts in the province. Story wrote, “It is our creative ability that ensures our survival as a recognizable people and culture and enables us also to contribute to the enrichment of the establishment of the nation of which we form a distinct part” (www.nlac.nf.ca/index). Story’s words are not unlike the words of Georges-Emile Lapalme, a nationalist Minister des Affaires Culturelles in Quebec who wrote, “It is not by money that we will win against the Americans or the English. It will be by culture” (Handler 1988:101).
In its initial year of operation the NLAC distributed $100,000 in direct grants to artists, but tension between the Director of Cultural Affairs and the NLAC led to frustrations. In 1985 the Chair of the NLAC Board of Directors, Pat Byrne, resigned along with Board member Anita Best to protest the failure of the provincial government to increase the NLAC’s budget allocation. A year later a group of artists, including Anita Best, met in Gander and took the first steps in the formation of the Artists’ Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador. At the time Anita Best thought the NLAC was more an agency of government than a representative of artists. She called the NLAC, “a handmaiden of government” (Bill 2009:100).
Among the issues confronting artists at the Gander meeting were the questions of who would be eligible for membership in the Artists’ Coalition and how the Board of Directors would be elected. Anita Best, who was critical of the Provincial government’s power to appoint members to the Arts Council Board of Directors, seemed to anticipate the eventual identification of artists as members of an industry when she argued that “Artists are primary producers. If we were a group of farmers looking for a Board to represent us, who would be on the Board? Farmers” (ibid:100).
The Emergence Cultural Industries and the Collapse of the Cod Fishery
Eleanor Dawson, one of the “revolutionary faction’ that took over the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Council in 1977, attended the 1986 Gander meeting where the Artists Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador was founded. Two years later the coalition was eclipsed by the Association of Cultural Industries in Newfoundland and Labrador (ACINL) who’s first Executive Director was Eleanor Dawson. (ACINL). What intervened between the meeting in Gander in 1986, the hiring of Dawson by the ACINL in 1998, and her appointment in 2008 as the Province’s Director of Arts was a shift in the provincial government’s cultural policy during the administration of Premier Clyde Wells, the collapse of the northern cod fishery and the moratorium announced in 1992, and resulting pressure to develop replacement industries for rural Newfoundland.
Clyde Wells, who succeeded Brian Peckford as Premier in 1989, responded to lobbying by the Artists’ Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador by appointing an Arts Policy Committee chaired by a Memorial University English professor, Patrick O’Flaherty. Hearings were held and a report was published in 1990 that recommended a fundamental shift in the way the government addressed cultural issues.
Drawing Conclusions, also known as the O’Flaherty Report, concluded that funding of artists was, “so low as to constitute an embarrassment to the province” (O’Flaherty 1990:27) and that “the arts are not a frill, but an industry worth investing in” (ibid:3).
The release of the O’Flaherty Report coincided with the resignation of John Perlin as the Province’s Director of Cultural Affairs. The person who succeeded him and inherited the O’Flaherty Report was Elizabeth Batstone. She would occupy the position for the next eight years.
Elizabeth Batstone says what she inherited by way of cultural policy in 1990 was “very little” (Batstone interview June 2, 2010).
“There were regulations. There were programs and there were specific ways in which these programs were administered. There were goals around these programs, but in terms of overarching policies, what the government intends to accomplish or the vision by which decisions of government in terms of culture and heritage will be driven, there was none of that. So, I inherited programs and the six arts and culture centres’ (ibid).
The new Director of Cultural Affairs also inherited a lot of acrimony from the arts community. The O’Flaherty Report represented one turning point, but two years later the downturn in the fishery and the moratorium on the northern cod fishery represented another and more grave turning point. The cod fishery, the industry that was the foundation for rural Newfoundland’s economy, was shut down. Liz Batstone recalls the question confronting her and other senior provincial bureaucrats was, ‘now what?’
“What is it that Newfoundland and Labrador has now? We don’t have the fishery, at least we don’t have the fishery in the way and on a level that we had before. What else do we have? And, there was from a variety of points of view that we have our culture. We have our heritage and it is unique.
Now, interestingly enough the issue of what culture really is and what heritage really is and the value it has was not one of the most difficult things that I faced, because if you have a strong, inbred sense of who you are as a society, you don’t even think about it. It’s like growing up in a family, you know . . . it’s so intrinsic to who you are and what you are and you don’t sit around naval-gazing and asking ‘What is my family?’ And I think it was the same way with culture, because when I talked to government about cultural policy, because that, indeed, was a major recommendation of the O’Flaherty Report it was really hard to explain what that would be because every policy in government has threads attached to it and these threads are spending threads usually.
If you say over here my policy states this is what our policies are, then over on this side where we make our budget and our decisions, these decisions need to support these policies. And whatever way we went at it, it was very difficult to pin down what the culture was . . . it was easier then to move from the loftier discussion of what culture is and what our politics should be and zero in on the more concrete which was, you know, so can we use the arts and our culture to boost our economy and if so how is that done?” (ibid).
One guide to how it could be done was contained in a second report the Wells government received in 1991 called The Business of Culture: An Economic Analysis of Newfoundland’s Cultural Industries (Barrry:1991). The author of the report, John Barry, was a business consultant and husband of a Newfoundland visual artist Ann Meredith Barry. He concluded that the province’s cultural industries were, “clearly a growth opportunity sector” (Barry 1991: Executive Summary 2). Susan Sherk, who had worked with Edythe Goodridge at Memorial University’s Extension Service and was a Commissioner with the Province’s Economic Recovery Commission (ERC), recommended that the ERC engage Barry to conduct the study. Susan Sherk told me her motive was “to try and make an economic case for the arts . . .to legitimize the arts” (Bill 2009:101). Sherk, whose business background included managing corporate communications for the Canadian divisions of two large international companies, believed that in the 1980’s Newfoundland artists did not recognize themselves as business people and “undervalued their work. I wanted them and the government to understand this was business” (ibid).
In an analysis of Canadian cultural industries Dorland argues that the discourses of culture have undergone a “slow and difficult transition” to the discourses of economy (Dorland 1996:xi), but in Newfoundland the transition was quite rapid. The concept of cultural industries appears in the O’Flaherty Report in 1990, Barry’s Business of Culture report in 1991, and a year later as the moratorium was imposed on the cod fishery the Wells government enters into a $5 million Canada Newfoundland Co-operation Agreement on Cultural Industries (my emphasis). Four years later, in an evaluation of the agreement, the author concluded that “The agreement was credited with providing a sense of legitimacy to professionals within the cultural industries” (Rowe 1995:4).
Eleanor Dawson, the first Executive Director of the Association of Cultural Industries of Newfoundland and Labrador (ACINL) recalls that the cooperation agreement money caused artists to alter the way they identified themselves.
“After the cod moratorium there was an infusion of federal money to the province and a directive to find new sectors to invest in or to look for potential new industries and at that time or shortly thereafter one of the areas that was identified, coincidentally after the O’Flaherty Report and perhaps it may have been a factor, but one of the areas that was identified or looked-at at that time was the cultural industries. Prior to that culture was certainly never considered an industry. Prior to that even with the establishment of the Arts and Culture Centres it would have been a venue for presenting arts as an enhancement to the community, but it certainly never would have been considered an industry” (Dawson interview June 9, 2010).
Artists who had previously applied to the provincial Arts Council for funding began to frame their proposals as economic development projects and it wasn’t long before an organization emerged to represent them. Eleanor Dawson recalls “The association of cultural industries was established really to kind of unite the cultural sector. It was growing. There were no policies in place. Stuff was just happening in an ad hoc manner even with those federal/provincial programs which were investing considerably, relatively speaking, into the arts and culture sectors . . . it was done without any policy or plan” (ibid).
In 1998 the newly formed ACINL held a meeting to consult with artists. Eleanor Dawson recalls that “the meeting was called to discuss a manpower project, to discuss issues like professional development, but it became immediately apparent that what artists thought was needed was a cultural policy” (ibid). In 2000, after Brian Tobin replaced Clyde Wells as Premier and dismantled the Economic Recovery Commission, the ACINL published a Proposal for a Cultural Policy for Newfoundland and Labrador (2000).
Two years later, in November 2002, the administration of Brian Tobin and Roger Grimes published A Cultural Policy for Newfoundland and Labrador. The opening statement of the policy document begins, “Newfoundland and Labrador has a culture that goes to the heart of our identity and the quality of life we hold dear” (A Cultural Policy 2002:1). The opening statement also notes that this culture has value as an economic commodity. “The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has committed to nurture and preserve this province’s culture for its intrinsic value, as well as for its social and economic benefits” (ibid).
Four years later during the administration of Premier Danny Williams the government published another policy document. It is called The Blueprint for Development and Investment in Culture. Immediately following the document’s title page is a statement attributed to Danny Williams where the Premier declares that the province’s cultural industries are already a success. Premier Williams writes, “Our arts and heritage in all of their forms are one of our province’s success stories and we recognize that if we invest wisely the benefits will be tremendous” (Blueprint 2006:5).
When John Perlin became the province’s first Director of Cultural Affairs in 1967 artists did not identify themselves as members of a cultural industry nor did provincial government policies or programs recognize them as such. Forty years later the identification of artists as members of a cultural industry has been cemented into government policy. As well, culture has been explicitly recognized as an economic asset and this recognition has under-pinned investments in arts and heritage in rural Newfoundland, or what Overton calls the “Real Newfoundland” (Overton 1996:101) even as rural Newfoundland is in a serious and perhaps irreversible decline.
The push back against this decline can be observed in the Trinity Bay community of Trinity. One cultural bureaucrat describes Trinity as the “crown jewel” in the province’s array of cultural tourism products. The question that has to be asked, I suggest, was posed by Overton and that is whether tourism is “the salvation for rural areas or is it their fate?” (ibid:40).
Cultural Showcasing: Trinity
Mike Clair succeeded Elizabeth Batstone who had previously succeeded John Perlin as the province’s Director of Cultural Affairs, though by the time Mike Clair occupied the position the title had changed. His title was Director of Culture and Heritage and he held that position in the provincial government from 1996 to 2008. Unlike his predecessors, however, he did not come to government from the cultural community. Mike Clair’s academic background was in business and prior to being appointed to the position of Director of Culture and Heritage he was working for the provincial government in the areas of tourism and development and dealing with the crisis of the times.
“The fishery was on the downturn. In 1992 we had the moratorium on the fishery. Government became very active in trying to find economic diversification to the fishery and tourism was quickly identified as being one of those things. When we started looking at tourism we realized that cultural tourism would be a very strong asset in this province. So, because of economic diversification government started investing into the heritage side of things. So, it invested in community museums, re-invested in its historic sites. So, there was that kind of thing.
The intent was generally commercial in those days. Build up the attractions so the tourists will come and spend money in this province. What that did at the same time is it encouraged all those people throughout the province who had been toiling in obscurity for years, for decades trying to preserve the material and intangible culture of this province, all of a sudden these people had a few dollars. So, that generated a lot of activity in the heritage field in the province as well as in the arts field.
So all of that kind of came together and when I became the Director of Culture and Heritage I kind of harnessed, because of my business background, I kind of harnessed the economic issues, the economic imperative and started framing heritage and arts projects in a commercial kind of wording and so we managed to do a number of things using that framework” (Clair interview June 3, 2010).
One of the projects Mike Clair’s department framed in a ‘commercial kind of wording’ and invested in was in the town of Trinity in Trinity Bay. Beginning around 1700 and continuing for almost a century and a half the merchants of Trinity dominated trade in Trinity Bay. According to an undated history of Trinity published by the Trinity Historical Society “merchants at Trinity exported upwards of 30-40 percent of the cod, train oil and seals produced in Newfoundland” (Hancock-undated:2) and “in the late 18th century two Poole firms (Lesters, and Jeffery and Street) were together operating 35 ocean-going ships, exporting some 100,000 quintals of dried cod, and supplying about 6,000 inhabitants” (ibid:2). According to Major “at the height of the fishery 80 percent of the residents of Poole drew their income from the fish trade in Newfoundland and Labrador” (Major 2001:183).
With the death of Benjamin Lester, the patriarch of the Lester family, his estate was acquired by his son-in-law George Garland. According to Hancock, “George’s sons, John Bingley and George Jr, came into Trinity to work for their father and in 1824 the business became theirs. John Bingley Garland was the first member elected for the Trinity district and became the Speaker of the first House of Assembly in Newfoundland” (Hancock – undated:43).
Some may find it ironic that Garland was the Speaker of the first House of Assembly in Newfoundland given, according to Prowse, that merchants from the West Country of England like Garland, were “the bitterest antagonists” to the idea of Newfoundland having its own legislature which “was to their minds simply outrageous” (Prowse 2002: 428).
Fifteen merchant premises dating from 1740 originally stood on the waterfront in Trinity. Today, five have been reconstructed and stand in what has become a protected Provincial Historic Site. The most prominent building, the Lester Garland House, houses the 2,500 artifacts in the Trinity Historical Society’s museum.
The museum’s collection of 200 artifacts was housed in the courthouse which the Trinity Historic Site claims to be the oldest courthouse in North America. The growth of the museum’s collection from 200 to 2500 artifacts mirrors the growth in tourism infrastructure, like the rebuilt Lester Garland House, in Trinity.
Jim Miller is a Memorial University history department graduate, the Mayor of the town of Trinity, and Project Coordinator for the Trinity Historical Society. He is responsible for the 2500 artifacts in the museum and the 40 seasonal employees who work for the Trinity Historical Society. Following the closure of the town’s two ship yards in 2005 and the loss of 100 full-time, year-round jobs the Historical Society became the town’s second largest employer. The largest employer is Trinity’s major tourist attraction, the Rising Tide Theatre Company with 50 employees.
Jim Miller recalls that between 1993 and 1996, in the years immediately following the closure of the cod fishery, the Trinity Historical Society and a similar organization in Poole, England mounted a fund raising campaign to finance the reconstruction of the Lester Garland House. According to Miller approximately $400,000 was raised privately and during the tenure of Elizabeth Batstone as the Province’s Director of Culture another $1,000,000+ was raised from the Federal and Provincial governments for the reconstruction of the merchant premises. Simultaneously, a summer theatre festival was launched by Rising Tide. The festival was anchored 1) by an outdoor pageant which celebrated the history of Trinity as actors lead groups of tourists on a walking tour through the streets of the village and 2) by the production of original Newfoundland plays staged in various premises on the community and eventually in a new theatre.
Rising Tide’s product resembles what Desmond characterizes as “song and dance tourism” (Desmond XV), though the theatre company’s Artistic Director, Donna Butt, disagrees with the characterization.
“I don’t see myself as a tourism operation. I see myself as a theatre company and if you do the work and it’s good I believe you will attract the tourists. But, I don’t think you can be driven by tourists. I really don’t believe that. Having said that, do I think that economic development is an important development, is an important component of what we do or our place in rural Newfoundland is an important part of what we are as a company? Yeah, I do. I actually do and I know there are differences of opinion about that, you know, whether art should ever be judged at all on its economic role or the part it plays economically. I don’t think all art should, but I don’t have any problem, I’m not at all ashamed of the fact that we have an economic role in the place where we live. I’m not ashamed of that. I think that’s wonderful. I think if we can do good work and thousands and thousands and thousands of people can come to see it in a town the size of Trinity and there can be benefits from that by the people who work with us and also by the economic impact and spin-offs, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all because we’re doing theatre about the very place where we live. We’re doing it about the people who lived and worked and struggled and survived in this very place where we are. So, I’m proud of that. I’m really proud of that as long as one never crosses the line to say, ‘we’re going to do it just to get the people.’ We’re not tourist driven. We’re artist driven” (Butt interview July 24, 2011).
Whether the Rising Tide Theatre Company is artist driven or tourist driven it has become the largest employer in Trinity, a village whose population is shrinking. For example, the local K-12 school, Bishop White, serves Trinity and 11 neighboring communities. Jim Miller recalls that when he graduated from Bishop White in 1996 the student population was 350 students. Miller says the student population in 2011 was 100 students.
Today the population of Trinity peaks in the summer months with the arrival of seasonal residents from St. John’s, the mainland of Canada, and the eastern seaboard of the United States. The rhythm of seasonal residents arriving in the spring and leaving in the fall is not unlike the settlement pattern in the 18th and 19th centuries when merchants, artisans, and tradespeople arrived from England in the spring and departed at the end of the fishing season in the fall. What is different in the 21st century is that one group of seasonal residents are actors and another group of summer visitors come by the busload and stay only a day or two.
In spite of the provincial and federal governments’ investment in Trinity, Jim Miller notes that the population of the town Trinity is in decline, down from 191 in 2006 to 137 in 2011.
“It’s amazing to watch. Once Labour Day comes the market changes a lot though. Your early spring market and your fall market are mostly seniors and conference people that are in St. John’s pre- and post- conference people and stuff. So you can see the change in the market and then September month rolls along and come to a close it’s almost like what one older gentleman in town referred to it as you either shut the gate or turn off the tap and then the town basically shuts down and starts to close. I mean in the middle of winter here you can walk around town and you won’t meet one creature. There’s not a restaurant to eat in in Trinity. There’s not a bed to sleep in in Trinity. It all closes basically and it becomes the sleeping hollow basically for six to seven months” (Miller interview July, 2011)
Anita Best, one of the authors of the province’s current cultural policy, describes Trinity as “a dead community” (Best interview 2010). Best does not mean “dead” in a literal sense, but “dead” in the sense that the houses that used to be the homes of people who lived and worked in Trinity for generations are now the homes of professionals from St. John’s who make Trinity their summer residence. Best means “dead” in the sense that in the 2011 census no children between 0-4 years of age and only five children between 5-9 years of age were recorded as living in Trinity, but in the summer months you can see children walking through the community every day with their parents as actors guide visitors through the streets during The New Founde Lande Trinity Pageant.
On their website the Rising Tide Threatre Company describes the Pageant as “a magical journey through the lanes and roads of Trinity” where visitors “will meet an array of colourful characters as our past unfolds in story and song” (Rising Tide website).
Donna Butt acknowledges that the Pageant is “celebrating a past that no longer exists” (Butt interview), but as I follow the actors through the streets of the village I find myself thinking about Overton’s question, is tourism rural Newfoundland’s salvation or its fate? It is a question Mike Clair confronted during his tenure as the province’s Director of Culture and Heritage.
“There was a very strong antipathy to living historic villages when I was the Director of Culture because our feeling was, why would you recreate, oh, there was a proposal that came in to build an historic fishing village outside of Twillingate and my reaction was, isn’t Twillingate itself an historic fishing village? Why would you want to build something down the road for which you would charge admission and which you would have all the operating costs for and the town exists there for itself?
Jim Overton raises an interesting point and I don’t think the answer has yet come out in it. What I do know is that there are a number of communities in this province that would be faring very poorly were it not for heritage. I think of Trinity for example. Trinity is the crown jewel for being a heritage attraction in this province. It’s a community where the heritage was preserved using government funding. The buildings then became a backdrop for an artistic endeavour, the Trinity Pageant and theatre festival which now attracts, I think, tens of thousands of visitors every year. The season is expanding more and more, now from May to the end of September. So, here is a community that has definitely benefited from tourism without having sold its soul or really changed its character. So, it worked out without having gone the rubber boot professional Newfoundland approach just yet” (Clair interview).
Trinity may not be a heritage fishing village where tourists buy a ticket and then browse around old buildings where interpreters in period costumes describe what life was like in
the 19th century. Trinity is a village, however, where tourists buy tickets and then are escorted on a tour of old buildings by actors in period costumes and encounter other actors in period costumes playing the roles of fishermen and merchant in the old buildings. Trinity is also a village where summer visitors can be entertained at a dinner theatre performance by actors dressed as a Newfoundland Christmas Mummer.
One can argue about what is and is not a living heritage village, but what Eleanor Dawson, the province’s current Director of Arts, does not argue about is that the muscle that pumps the economic blood through Trinity is tourism.
“Cultural tourism has allowed that community to survive and prosper. Now it has changed and it’s not all good. There’s side effects, but I suspect that community would be pretty, it might have still been there, but there was no industry left in that community. So, cultural tourism has allowed that community to stay alive and it has grown in a different direction, but it has been bit of a savior I suppose you could say.
Roger Bill: What are some of those side effects?
Eleanor Dawson: Now the community has changed. I think communities always change so I don’t necessarily see that as a negative thing, but what I mean by that is, the indigenous population is probably still not there. Some of those people have been able to stay and get work, but you have a different population. So the way of life has changed, again I think change is always inevitable, but you have things now, like property values have gone through the roof. So, that’s not necessarily a good thing. A local person couldn’t possibly buy a house in Trinity now”
Roger Bill: Reading Overton, between the lines, I think what he was suggesting is, is having tourist activity bringing money into an outport community worth it if the outport community becomes just a replica, a caricature of a real fishing community?
Eleanor Dawson: There is always a worry that that is going to happen. . . but, if you look at the Trinity area . . . I don’t think it is a replica of itself. There are things out there that didn’t exist before, so instead of having schooners or whatever at the fish plant you now have a company that has kayaks, so the boats in the water are now pleasure craft, but I don’t see that as a problem, personally I don’t see any negative side to that other than the fish plant is no longer operating and the people who worked in the fishing industry don’t get a livelihood from the sea” (Dawson interview).
Even though the permanent, indigenous population in the area is in decline Donna Butt agrees with Mike Clair and Eleanor Dawson that cultural tourism has helped keep Trinity alive.
“It decimated the coast what happened to the northern cod. So, you’re not going to replace people who worked in a plant that worked for nine, ten, twelve months of the year by a tourism industry. It’s impossible. It’s crazy. It’s silly to suggest that you are. I mean a lot of the people who worked in those places are no longer living in Port Union or Catalina or Bonavista. They’re gone. They’ve left.
Now, has there been a lot of tourism activity that has grown up in those places? In Trinity? Clearly. Bonavista? Absolutely. Has that been a part of what has enabled some people to live there . . . do the people who work for Rising Tide from this area in the Summer, and when we can spread it into the Fall would they be here if we weren’t? Perhaps not. That’s their job. That’s what they do. So, in that sense it’s helped to keep some people here. It certainly brought some people into the area so there’s a lot of people working in the summer that would not be working without the tourism industry.
But, you know, the tourism industry remains seasonal. It definitely has that challenge about it . . . I mean most people working in the tourism industry then collect EI (note: Federal government Employment Insurance benefits) for the rest of the winter. So, in that sense I don’t think it’s an economic alternative, but having said that I think it would be really, really unfair and a bit precious for anybody to sit back in St. John’s as an academic or anybody else and say the tourism industry is not a good thing in Newfoundland and Labrador because it’s easy, that’s fine to say if you’ve got a job in there, but if you’re out here and you’re trying to survive and you’re trying to live and you want to stay in the place where you grew up, you don’t want to be the next one to go to Alberta, then I think the industry is important” (Butt interview).
As noted earlier, before the collapse of the cod fishery and Elizabeth Batstone’s and Mike Clair’s and Eleanor Dawson’s search for replacement industries for communities in rural Newfoundland, John Perlin occupied the office of the Director of Cultural Affairs. He held the position at a time when the goal of the Trinity Heritage Society was to raise money to rebuild a heritage building and the term ‘cultural industries’ had not become part of the economic development vocabulary in the province. John Perlin recalls Donna Butt mounting plays on fishing stages in Trinity and on the back porch of an inn in the neighboring community of Port Rexton and then as a member of the Board of Directors of the Rising Tide Theatre Company John Perlin was a witness to the impact of the Trinity theatre festival. John Perlin contends the theatre festival changed the whole economy of the Bonavista Peninsula.
“I think, today, well over 10,000 people go to the pageant if not more every summer and they pay a price to do it . . . there’s a series that runs from mid-June till Labour Day and then there’s an extended shorter variety season. ACOA (an acyronym for a Federal government economic development agency) gave them a million dollars to build a facsimile fishing premises to operate as a theatre. They’ve just popped another pile of money into allowing Rising Tide to build, again in a facsimile building, a place for them to construct sets and storage for costumes and things like that.
I think that was one of the strongest things that affected the present government’s views on economic culture and I’ve been all over that peninsula and there’s no question that Trinity has become a destination . . . and I am convinced that is one of the things that has driven the present government’s desire to support economic culture” (Perlin interview June 11, 2011).
Mike Clair, one of John Perlin’s successors, uses the expression ‘cultural tourism’ rather than ‘economic culture’, but he and John Perlin are talking about the same thing.
Only their vantage points are different. Perlin watched government’s cultural policy evolve as the notion of cultural industries emerged and Mike Clair arrived and helped solidify it as a feature of government policy. Mike Clair spent years in the Provincial government working to persuade others that cultural tourism was important and channeling money into Trinity to prove the point. But, what about Overton’s question? Is tourism rural Newfoundland’s salvation or its fate? Mike Clair said it’s too early to tell, but he acknowledged the obvious.
“Cultural tourism is not going to replace the shutdown of fish plants that employed 40,000 people. I think what cultural tourism does is, it’s a very complex kind of process which does a number of wonderful things. One is it employs people. One is it raises a mirror to the people who live in the community so if you have a community museum where you highlight the history of the community the people who still live there benefit from that.
It gives hope also. It gives pride and hope to a community, but it is seasonal in nature. In most places it would be very seasonal in nature, maybe three months of the year. It certainly doesn’t employ a whole bunch of people. Of the people it does employ many of them are in a volunteer kind of situation so, in terms of is it going to replace the fishery I don’t think so. But, I think heritage makes people proud of their place and may make them want to stay there which may make them create other kinds of economic opportunities” (Clair interview).
Jim Miller, speaking more in the role of Mayor of Trinity rather than Project Coordinator of the Trinity Historical Society, says tourism is neither Trinity’s salvation or its fate, but something in between.
“If it wasn’t for tourism here in Trinity now I don’t know what would be the main economic activity. Unfortunately, it is a seasonal activity, it takes place basically from May to October, but it is the largest employer within this area in terms of the theatre company, the historic society, and then all the spinoff that has happened, the accommodations sector, the craft stores, the restaurants . . . The shipyard was year round activity until 2005 employing about 100 people. There were two shipyards here and both started to decline after the fishery in 1992 and 1993 because the demand for boats had started to decline and then the focus became more offshore so that there was demand for larger boats which the shipyards here did meet to a certain extent, but that started to dwindle off and both closing in 2005 and that’s when there was an exodus from this area in terms of young families moving primarily to Alberta” (Miller interview).
Whether tourism is rural Newfoundland’s salvation or fate or whether Trinity is a crown jewel or a dead community are debates that continue in Newfoundland’s cultural community and tourist industry. What is not debatable, however, is that the investment in cultural tourism in Trinity and other areas on the Bonavista Peninsula has fallen well short of replacing the jobs lost when the northern cod fishery was shut down.
“The fishery was such a huge industry in our region” explains Marilyn Coles-Haley, the Administrator of the College of the North Atlantic’s Bonavista campus. “We had several plants” she told me when we met at a tourism industry conference, “The plant in Port Union alone, for example, prior to the moratorium, in its heyday when it was operating 24 hours a day almost all year it had 1,100 to 1,200 employees on payroll. That’s one plant. So to replace that I don’t think, you know, we have to grow still to replace that level of employment. But, the tourism industry has certainly grown. It has, I think, kept our region alive” (Coles Hayley interview).
On the morning I recorded an interview with Donna Butt the company members who mount the walking tour through the village of Trinity and the evening theatre stage shows were just beginning to straggle into work. The box office was not open and the theatre was quiet. The tourists who had stayed overnight in Trinity were having breakfast at the inns in the village. The buses bringing tourists from St. John’s were still on the highway an hour or two away. The shipyards in Trinity were shuttered and quiet. A tour boat was taking some tourists to visit a nearby island, but other than a few visitors launching kayaks the wharf in Trinity was empty. A gift shop would open soon and there would be a swirl of activity when the tour buses arrive and the actors don their costumes and Trinity would come to life.
When I first met Donna Butt in the 1970’s she was working as a journalist for an alternative newspaper in St. John’s and when the newspaper dissolved she joined a St. John’s theater company that specialized in documentary or agitprop theater. Ever since I’ve known Donna Butt her craft has been telling and selling stories and today the product she is marketing is the story of Trinity and rural Newfoundland. “I am happy to be a part of trying to keep alive both the place and the stories because I think they matter,” she says as she reaches for her morning coffee with one hand and points a finger at me with the other.
Cultural Showcasing: Random Passage
Trinity is not the only community on the Bonavista Peninsula where stories have become a commodity. Fifteen kilometers from Trinity is Random Passage, a place according to Anita Best, that “should not even be there” (Best interview). But, just beyond the end of a lane in New Bonaventure, a village of less than 100 people, is a place that exists, literally, because of a story.
The cluster of houses and a school and a church and fish stages and flakes just beyond the end of a lane in New Bonaventure was the production site of a television program called Random Passage.
The Random Passage site was built in 2000 for a television mini-series that was broadcast on the national network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The television series, which was launched in 2002, was based on a novel, also called Random Passage (1992) and its sequel Waiting For Time (1994), written by Newfoundland author Bernice Morgan.
Morgan’s 1992 novel and its sequel tracks the lives of a family of settlers who arrived in a place Morgan called Cape Random in the 19th century. I visited the Random Passage site on a Sunday when Bernice Morgan was scheduled to read from her novels at a building that was a school up until the mid-1960s. The refurbished school serves as the reception centre, box office, and dining room/performance area for the Random Passage site. The website www.randompassagesite.com notes that the 100,000th visitor to the site was Aisha Farooqi from Detroit, Michigan in May, 2013. The website also promises visitors “a compelling, immersive, and experiential journey into the past.”
Jim Miller, the Mayor of Trinity and the Project Coordinator of the Trinity Historical Society is also the Chair of the community board that owns the buildings on the Random Passage television site and leases the Crown land on which they have been constructed. Jim Miller recalls that when the television production company was finished with the site community meetings were held to discuss the option of taking over the site and using it as a tourist attraction.
“Out of those community meetings it was determined that ‘yes’ we would like to see these buildings kept. When they (the TV production company) first started my impression is that they knew people would want to come and see the set based, I guess, on other Hollywood productions. People have a fascination once they see something they want to visit it or whatever. So, that was true. Random Passage the first number of years when it was on television 13,000, 14,000 people were coming a summer to visit the site and see the attraction. Those numbers have dwindled now to similar numbers to what we see in Trinity through the historic sites which is around 7,000 or so, half of what they were seeing. So, people coming now aren’t coming to see Random Passage the film set anymore, it’s Random Passage the experience, I guess, or the association that the Board has taken is that while it’s not heritage buildings and stuff it’s a possibility that this is what early settlement may have looked like and people may have lived in homes that looked like that and the early fishing history is really what the focus has become. The big thing is the Department of Tourism didn’t, and a lot of government people, not only tourism, but provincial government people didn’t think that is was going to last. They figured there would be the fascination with seeing the set would last a few years first and then it would dwindle off and the buildings would come down and ‘thank you very much’ and close the doors. But, I mean, it has become a big success, a big attraction on the peninsula” (Miller interview).
When I visited the site in July, 2011 I had lunch in the former, wooden school building that had been converted into a reception centre and dining room. Video of the Random Passage television series played continuously on a television monitor in the corner of the room.
The buildings constructed for the television series are a ten minute walk from the reception centre. There are some one story structures which represented the first dwellings built by the fictional settlers in the 18th century and there is a more modern two story dwelling which was the 19th century home to the fictional offspring of the fictional original settlers.
At the edge of the shore a fisherman’s stage and wooden flakes have been constructed. The flakes were built using local wood and covered with dried spruce boughs and appear to be historically accurate, except the fish drying on them are made out of plaster. Like everything else in Random Passage they are fake, but tourists have not come to see a restored heritage village. They have come to see the fictional home of a fictional family they came to know on television.
Some tour guides at the Random Passage site are dressed in costume and some are not. I accompanied a tour led by a young man who wore a baseball cap and except for his distinct Newfoundland accent he could have passed for any North American college-aged kid on a skateboard. As a group of mainland tourists walked from one building to another the young man pointed out where the characters Ned and Mary in the television program slept. At the end of the tour I asked a visitor from Ontario if she thought the Random Passage village was real or fake. She replied cheerfully, “It’s as real as it gets.” The exchange reminded me of two things. One was Zarkia’s observation that “since tourists are not really interested in authenticity, and the hosts are aware of this, a game is played by both parties, thereby creating a new kind of ‘tourist traditional‘ that has little in common with the authentic one” (Boissevain 1996:160). The second thing the tourist’s remark “It’s as real as it gets” reminded me of is that when anthropologists debate the concept of authenticity we should be mindful of an observation made by William Goldman, a veteran film industry screenwriter who noted that “Truth is terrific, reality is even better, but believability is best of all” (Goldman 1983:145).
Fife describes the issue of authenticity as “contentious” (Fife 2004: 62/63) and there is ample evidence that it is. Bruner, for example, describes authenticity as “a struggle” (Bruner 2005:155) and questions whether authenticity means “accurate, genuine, and true to a postulated origin?” (ibid:96). Brown argues that “authenticity has come to stand as shorthand for some sort of lost Eden, a pre-modern, untechnologized rural society, which is contrasted with the inauthentic, industrialized, urbanized world (Brown 1998:77). Others like Jewesbury argue that the “terms fake and original are simply meaningless” (Jewesbury 2003:234) leading some like Wilson argue that “we need to move beyond the authenticity-artificiality paradigm in studying tourists” (Wilson 21).
The province’s current Director of Heritage, Jerry Dick, is aware of the multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings of authenticity and shares Wilson’s desire to move beyond the authenticity-artificiality paradigm. Jerry Dick inherited the heritage part of Mike Clair’s job at the same time Eleanor Dawson inherited the culture part of Mike Clair’s job when Clair left the Provincial government. Jerry Dick acknowledges that authenticity is a word that is still used in evaluating projects, but he is searching for a better concept.
“Interestingly, in this whole discussion around cultural tourism we have batted it back and forth a lot. We still do actually include the word ‘authenticity’ and that that’s one of our principles. But, I think in discussions what is probably most significant is integrity. That whatever we present from a cultural point of view we do so with integrity in terms of, well what’s integrity? I suppose the quality of what we do is very high. We have a consciousness of and a respect for the traditions and roots that we may be reflecting there. But to speak of authentic culture, I mean there is no such thing as an authentic culture because culture is continually influenced by outside peoples and groups. So, what’s Newfoundland culture or traditional culture? It’s an amalgam of English, Irish, Scottish, Aboriginal and you couldn’t even talk about, I mean we have Newfoundland and Labrador cultures, you know, for one and then all the influences that come from outside and, of course, the contemporary influences of mass media and mass culture. So, I don’t know if you can really speak of authentic culture, but I think you can talk about the integrity of what you do and what you present and how you seek to preserve or safeguard culture” (Jerry Dick interview June 7, 2010).
Thirteen to fourteen thousand tourists visited the Random Passage site when it was opened in 2001. In the summer of 2011 when I visited the number of tourists visiting the site had, according to Jim Miller, leveled off at about 7,000. In 2001 the Random Passage site opened with no financial support from the provincial government. In 2011 it received $20,000 from the provincial government as an operating grant. There may have been a time when the Director of Culture and Heritage refused to finance “storybook village” proposals, but as one walks through the Random Passage site it is obvious that somewhere in the provincial government bureaucracy someone has come to see things differently.
The Serving Class
The Random Passage site may give tourists a reason to stay an additional day in the Trinity area, but the inescapable reality is that the Random Passage tourist attraction, as the essayist Edward Abbey noted about tourism in the American southwest, provides “only seasonal work and this on a marginal scale – ask any chambermaid” (Abbey 1968 107).
For a few weeks in the summer months a few young people will get jobs guiding tourists around the former television program site. A fellow with a boat will get paid to take tourists out fishing. A few people, mostly women, will get jobs working in the kitchen or serving guests and selling souvenirs in the reception centre. These jobs like many in the tourist industry are as Brown noted, “low skilled, low paid, and seasonal” (Brown 1998:57). The people doing the jobs comprise what Nash calls the “serving class” (Smith 1989:47). Others have made similar observations. In the American southwest Abbey reported that tourism brought money to a Navajo Indian reservation “in the form of wages paid to those who change the sheets, do the laundry, pump the gas, serve the meals, wash the dishes, clean the washrooms and pump out the septic tanks – simple tasks for which the Navajo are available and qualified” (Abbey 1968:107).
In Newfoundland it is not the Navajo who perform the low-wage tourism tasks, it is largely Newfoundland women. The pattern is not unusual. Ghodsee argues that “tourism sectors in many countries are feminized because tourism is often viewed as unstable, low paid, and menial employment that women accept because they have no other opportunities available to them” (Ghodsee 2005: 57). Brown makes a similar observation noting “women fill the majority of unskilled positions . . . housekeeping, catering, and serving to reinforce an existing and unjust division of labour” (Brown 1998:55). Employment statistics in Trinity tend to support these conclusions.
According to the provincial Community Accounts Unit data base in 1995 the total number of people employed in Trinity and its surrounding area, including New Bonaventure, totaled 640. Twenty percent, or 130, of those people worked in the area of Sales and Service which include the bulk of jobs in the tourist industry and 90 of those jobs, or 69%, were held by females.
Ten years later, in 2005, the number of people employed in the same area increased by 40 for a total of 680 and 29% or 200 of those people worked in the area of Sales and Service and of those jobs 77.5% were held by females.
In addition, in 1995 33% of all employed females in the area worked in the Sales and Service. Ten years later the number of females working in Sales and Service increased to 45% of all employed females in the area.
So, over a ten year period the percentage of all jobs in the Trinity area that were in the area of Sales and Service increased from 20% to 29%, the percentage of those Sales and Service jobs held by females increased from 69% to 77%, and of the total number of females working in the Trinity area in Sales and Service jobs increased from 33% to 45%.
In addition, jobs in the Sales and Service area tended to be seasonal. For example, females employed in the area of Sales and Service in the Trinity area only worked an average of 26.2 weeks per year. In the absence of any precise statistical data regarding incomes in the Sales and Service area one can only make observations based on anecdotal information and some larger income statistics. For example, restaurant staff at one of the oldest bed and breakfast businesses in Trinity make, according to one owner I interviewed, $11 and $12 per hour, or marginally more than minimum wage of $10 per hour in the province. In terms of larger measures, the median per capita income in the Trinity area in 2009 was $19,500, an amount that was 74% of the provincial median per capita income. Based on those indices one could conclude that jobs in the tourism industry in the Trinity area tend to be largely performed by females, are seasonal, low-paying, and notwithstanding employment and income statistics Trinity is promoted as a successful example of the marriage of the province’s tourism and culture policies.
The provincial tourism industry association’s 2010 convention provided an opportunity for the Provincial Minister of Tourism to boast about the success of marrying culture and tourism. In the ballroom of a downtown St. John’s hotel Tourism Minister Terry French enthusiastically described 2009 as an “incredible year” in the tourism industry. As the audience applauded the Minister told them “we’ve broken the 500,000 mark for the first time . . .non-resident expenditure topped $410 million, the first time ever we topped the $400 million mark” and he reminded the delegates “this kind of success doesn’t happen by accident . . .our government has more than doubled the tourism advertising marketing budget in the past seven years from $6 million to $13 million” and looking to the future the Minister said “we are knocking on the door of a $900 million industry.” Four years later the same government would cut the tourism advertising marketing budget, but in the hotel ballroom in 2010 the delegates stood and applauded the Minister’s remarks.
Setting aside for the moment that the figure 500,000 visitations includes tourists from Ontario who come to hike the province’s hiking trails, business travelers like engineers from Calgary who are working in the province’s offshore oil industry, or police officers escorting out of province prisoners appearing in Newfoundland courts, the number of recorded visitors has been increasing. If in the hands of a politician or an industry advocacy group the number of visitors is transformed into the number of tourists, perhaps it is no more than a bit of fudging of the facts that one expects in such circumstances.
Is tourism a replacement industry for the fishery? An industry veteran, Stan Cook, says ‘Yes’ and ‘No.” Stan Cook, who operates a kayaking business in rural Newfoundland and has sat on the Board of Directors of the provincial tourism industry association, notes that $400 million is more than the estimated value of the fishing industry in 2010. He also acknowledges that tourism has fallen far short of replacing 40,000 jobs in the fishery. Stan Cook argues, “It is hard to say whether tourism can replace the fishery,” but “it installs a sense of pride in ourselves.” (Cook interview Feb 2010).
The notion that tourism has benefits other than monetary ones was acknowledged by Yamashita who argues that culture can be seen as “a form of ‘heritage’ to be protected” but as “a form of ‘capital’ which yields a profit” (Yamashita 2003:85). Jerry Dick the current Director of Heritage for the province finds himself searching for the balance between culture as capital and culture as a form of heritage to be protected as he weighs proposals on a daily basis.
“It’s not that we expect everybody to make necessarily an economic argument although the funding that we have is called The Cultural Economic Development Program so implicit in there is that it will have an economic impact. We try to look very, very broadly on the heritage side of things that we’re supporting projects that are about conservation and about caring for collections and all that sort of stuff. We take it as broadly as we can . . .We try to find that balance between the economic lens, but the culture for culture sake lens” (Dick interview).
Neither Stan Cook nor Jerry Dick argue that tourism will replace the fishery as an industry in Newfoundland, but they both see value other than economic return. Cook identifies pride as a benefit and Dick, looking at things very, very broadly, identifies other benefits.
“One of the things that I find really interesting is that since the moratorium there has been just an explosion in the number of community museums and wanting to do interpretive panels and trail development and all this sort of stuff and I think a lot of it was justified in terms of tourism development. I don’t think that’s all that it was about. I really think there was a recognition in communities that some stuff is about to be lost here. That a traditional way of life, this knowledge that we had, it’s being lost. So, that was another reason for these efforts to create museums and various kinds of heritage initiatives. But, that’s also a challenge.” (ibid)
Following her graduation from Memorial University’s Folklore Department Penny Holden, the Chief Curator of the Provincial Museum, worked as the Executive Director of the provincial museum association for ten years. When I interviewed Holden in the Boardroom of The Rooms in 2010 she told me there were 181 community museums in the province, more than twice as many as existed 25 years ago. She recalls that community museums were aware of their tourism potential and that the cod moratorium spurred interest in community museums as money became available, but the interest is not new.
“What you would see is community museums being formed by groups like the Women’s Institutes or church groups or maybe a group involving teachers. People who came at it with the goal of preserving their community’s history, but not seeing it as a profession. Seeing it as an avocation, as a critically important thing to do to maintain a sense of identity for their communities, but not seeing the opportunity to earn a living from that means. Those people tended to create employment for others. They would have been the nucleus that created the originating committees that formed museums. They would gradually begin to apply for student grants, make-work projects, whatever was required to help the museum operate on a day to day basis. So, they came at it from a different trajectory . . . It’s been a gradual evolution. There’s always been a consciousness, people have always been conscious of the importance of preserving our history. As people feel like they are about to lose that history that sense becomes even more urgent and more work has been done. You know as people have seen pickers come and take our furniture we’ve realized that treasury needs to be protected” (Holden interview Nov 18, 2010).
What Mike Clair, Jerry Dick, and Penny Holden are all arguing is that the success of the tourism development strategy should not be measured only by direct economic benefit. They are arguing that there are other indirect economic benefits or benefits that are outside the sphere of economic measures like pride or recalling the past. Jane Nadel-Klein was less enthusiastic about non-monetary benefits in her research in fishing communities in decline in Scotland. For example, in the community of Ferryden, Nadel-Klein noted that “a museum is a strange thing to have representing a living community” (Nadel-Klein 2003:193). She could also, I suggest, be writing about rural Newfoundland communities who subscribe to the notion that ‘our future lies in our past’ when she observed that “they may go from being on the margin to being pushed right over the edge” (ibid:169). The Northern Peninsula communities of Rocky Harbour and Norris Point may be unfortunate examples of Newfoundland communities being pushed right over the edge.
On The Margin: Norris Point and Rocky Harbour
The communities of Norris Point and Rocky Harbour are located on the Northern Peninsula within the boundaries of the Gros Morne National Park (GMNP). The park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a magnet for tourists. It is described in a 2009 analysis of the park’s economic impact as an “anchor attraction” (Parsons, P. ACOA 2010) in the province. According to the analysis, “8% of non-resident visitors indicate it was a ‘primary’ reason for their trip to Newfoundland and Labrador” (ibid). It is fortunate that GMNP is an attraction for non-residents, but unfortunately, the resident population in the area is in serious decline.
Reg Williams, a former school principal in the area told me that in 1966 Norris Point, Rocky Harbour, and the nearby village of Sally’s Cove supported three schools with a total student population of about 1,000. According to Reg Williams by 2011, the area’s three separate schools had been condensed into one K-12 school and the student population had declined to 167.
Reg Williams operates the I’se da B’ye boat tour company in Norris Point. Twice a day, every day in the summer he takes tourists on a cruise in Bonne Bay where he points out sites of interest. I accompanied Reg Williams on three tours of Bonne Bay and listened to he and his crew describe everyday life in the bay the way it used to be.
I first visited Bonne Bay in the 1970s and I remember when houses used to stand along the shoreline that tourists see from the deck of the Reg Williams’ tour boat. What I see from his boat is what is missing from the landscape. What the tourist sees are spectacular landscapes and seascapes, but the people are gone and the only boat on the water is Reg Williams’. The out-migration that started with Premier Joe Smallwood’s resettlement program in the 1960’s and continued with the imposition of the moratorium on the cod fishery in 1992 has reached a point where only a handful of fishermen are left in Norris Point and another handful in Rocky Harbour.
In 1997 Palmer and Sinclair suggested that in the aftermath of the closure of the cod fishery “the continued habitation of the northwest coast is itself in question” (Palmer and Sinclair 1997:8). Based on my observations in 2011 the continued habitation of the northwest coast is most definitely in question.
Oddly, it doesn’t seem to strike tourists on the I’se da B’ye boat tour of Bonne Bay that what they are visiting are communities that are precariously perched on the edge of survival. A woman from Thunder Bay, Ontario told me she thought the “fishing villages” were “unique.” I wondered if she meant “antique.” She didn’t. A woman from New England said the communities felt “exotic” and “remote in a very good way. The people, she said “Couldn’t have been warmer . . . They were “charming and sweet.” “Beautiful” she said, and “so nice.” A man from Toronto described the Newfoundlanders he met as “down to earth . . .common everyday people.”
Nobody asked where the children were. Nobody asked what the aging people did for a living in these exotic communities. The tourists I met were like the 20th century intellectuals who McKay argues, in fashioning the image of the Nova Scotia ‘Folk,’ “looked upon a fishing family’s humble abode, they saw not rural poverty but the simple life. They rarely distinguished between a voluntarily chosen simplicity, and that which the rural poor were compelled to adopt because they lacked the money to live any other way” (McKay 1994:226).
The people on the I’se da B’ye boat tour came to see whales and icebergs and the awesome scenery in Gros Morne and like tourists in Trinity they say they met Newfoundlanders who were “warm and friendly.” For some it is expected. For example, a retired nurse from Ottawa, Ontario told me she had “heard a lot about the people” who are unlike the people where she lives who are “too busy” she says. I asked a Nova Scotia couple motorcycling on the Northern Peninsula what they mean when they describe Newfoundlanders as warm and friendly and they tell me “we like the peaceful serenity” and the “simplicity of the life style.” A man from British Columbia holds a child on his shoulders as he describes the Newfoundlanders he has met as “extremely friendly and hospitable … love to make you laugh.”
The findings of an ACOA visitor survey in 2009 are consistent with the responses I encountered in talking with tourists in 2011. The ACOA survey reports that when tourists were presented with the open ended questions “Most enjoyable of the visit overall” they found “the scenery resonates most with visitors and is significantly higher than other items mentioned” but adds the further observation that “of note is also the number of mentions of either Park Staff or the “People of Newfoundland” in making the trip memorable and enjoyable” (Horne ACOA, Feb 2010:7).
The 2009 ACOA visitor survey was also the basis of a companion analysis of the economic impact of GMNP on the area (Parsons ACOA, June, 2010). Total visitation to the park in 2009 was reported as 174,000 resulting in an estimated expenditure of $107.5 million or 11% of the total estimated tourist expenditure in the province as a whole in 2009 (ibid:i).
Tourism related expenditure in the GMNP area was estimated to be $37.6 million and generated an estimated in $10.7 million in wages and salaries (ibid:i) supporting 1400 seasonal jobs in the tourism industry (ibid:5) in the area. As a measure of how low earnings are in the tourism industry, based on an estimated $10.7 million in wages and salaries supporting 1400 seasonal jobs in the GMNP area the average earnings flowing to workers from the GMNP tourism related expenditures would be $7,642.
The analysis also notes that “employment from tourism-related spending accounts for approximately 28% of total employment in the region”, but “the total labour income attributable to the tourism-related expenditures represents 9.2% of total labour income in the region. This percentage is lower than the proportion of employment from tourism expenditures due to the low wage rates of tourism-related service occupations” (ibid:5)
The economic impact of GMNP is not limited to tourism related spending. In 2009 GMNP spent $11.8 million in the area on the purchase of goods and services (ibid:iii) and in a 2014 personal correspondence an official at GMNP advised me that 72 people are currently employed at the GMNP not including term and student workers (Graham:2014).
Like the impact of tourism on the Bonavista peninsula tourism on the Northern peninsula is important, but it falls far short of replacing jobs in the fishery.
Perhaps anticipating that guiding tourists on hikes in Gros Morne and renting kayaks might have more of a future than being a school teacher on the Northern peninsula Sue Rendell and her partner left their teaching jobs and started an adventure tourism enterprise in 1990. Like her colleagues in the Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador organization Rendell is familiar with the tourist’s refrain that Newfoundlanders are a warm and friendly people. Rendell, however, doesn’t necessarily attribute this to some indigenous feature of in the character of Newfoundlanders. Sue Rendell told me the reception Newfoundlanders give visitors may be because there are not too many tourists. “Tourists are a novelty . . . a curiosity . . . and Newfoundlanders are proud people are coming to their place.” (Rendell interview: July 9, 2011). She laughed when she suggested that if tourists came in greater numbers, then Newfoundlanders may not be as friendly and she laughed again when I told her I met a woman at the tourism industry association annual meeting who argued that Newfoundlanders were not really friendly, but instead they were “nosey.”
What about Overton’s question I ask Rendell. “Is tourism rural Newfoundland’s salvation or its fate?” In spite of the decline in the number of children in school and the vanishing jobs in the fishery Rendell’s response is immediate. It is “a real salvation” she says. The few jobs may be seasonal and low-paying, but the tourist industry helps “maintain the integrity of the communities in the park” and at least in the summer months those communities seem positively buoyant compared to communities to the north, beyond the boundary of the park. Sue Rendell says the communities north of the park boundary have experienced a “mass exodus” since 1992 and today are “really desolate.” (ibid).
What constitutes desolate and what constitutes peaceful serenity is obviously a matter of perspective. Similarly, when does simplicity become simple? Or down to earth mean unsophisticated?
These questions are particularly relevant for policy makers who share Can-Seng OOI’s view that “In tourism, culture is capital’ (OOI, 2002:91) and advocate investing that capital in a tourist industry in rural Newfoundland as a way to replace jobs that have been lost in the fishery. Clearly, the evolution of cultural policy in Newfoundland has been accompanied by a commodification of culture. Whether it has been a successful economic development strategy or not is an unavoidable question. Whether the amplification and re-amplification of this commodified version of Newfoundland culture introduces distortion, however, is a question for my thesis and it is addressed in an examination of the province’s television advertising campaign promoting Newfoundland tourism in Chapter Five and in an examination one of the most popular tourist products, the Screech-In ceremony, in the province in Chapter Six.