Reflections on a Green Door II Early Days

"But Why Would You Leave the Boston States?"

This was a question I came to expect in the early 1970’s when I met new people in communities around St. Margaret’s Bay where I have lived for most of my life. In our tours of the Pier 21 section of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 we talk about the "pushes and pulls" of immigration—those factors that have drawn people toward a different place, and those factors that might be pushing them away from their present home. In my case, I had immigrated to Canada in January 1971 for a number of reasons—education, dissatisfaction with many of the social and political trends in the USA at the time, but most of all because I had never felt that I really belonged in that part of the world. Watching and listening to the oral histories in the BMO Oral History Gallery, I’ve come across several people who said that they didn’t feel at home until they came to Canada, and I count myself as one of them—I have a very clear recollection of my first footstep in Nova Scotia after crossing from the USA to Yarmouth on the ferry and how I immediately felt "at home".

The “Boston States”, for those who don’t know, was a term used to loosely refer to that part of USA from southern Maine to Western Massachusetts, but focused mainly on Boston, as the name implies. As far as I could figure out, it arose from the long history of fishing communities in Atlantic Canada and the north-eastern USA that were connected by business and family ties, as well as a shared history of fishing the same territories. In the early 1970’s the reliance on fishing in Nova Scotia and New England was beginning to fade, but for a while, an aura of romance seemed to cling to the USA in the minds of my new neighbours.

As I said above, I had come to Halifax primarily to study, having been accepted into the PhD programme at Dalhousie as part of a new group of natural and social scientists and engineers who were hoping to look at environmental problems using an interdisciplinary approach — quite novel and heady stuff for the group of new grad students from around the world who had been brought together to work with researchers from federal and provincial agencies, other universities, and the private sector. The prospect of a new academic challenge, with financial support was a definite "pull". After my undergraduate work, I had spent some time taking courses and working at Indiana University, where I met several Canadians who had academic careers in the USA and in Canada, spending several months each year in each country. From them I had learned about some of the positives and negatives of the Canadian experience at that time — the two solitudes, the beginnings of multiculturalism, recent changes to provision of health care, etc. Prime Minister Pearson had helped give Canada a reputation as a peacekeeper in many parts of the world, while then Justice Minister and later Prime Minister Elliot Trudeau had made his famous (at least to those of us in the LGBT community) "the government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation" speech which endeared him to me as a young, closeted gay man. So, in many ways, Canada was attractive from the perspective of environmental responsibility, social justice, approaches to health care, and acceptance of people from other parts of the world — all very strong "pulls". On the negative side of course, was the FLQ crisis and the imposition of the War Measures Act —factors that made one think carefully about becoming part of a different culture and history that were possibly on the brink of imploding.

However, I made the decision to come to a new country, province, city and educational institution and have never had a moment of regret. In the almost fifty years since I came to Canada, I've had professional opportunities to work as a consultant to all levels of government, operated two small businesses and been a university professor and administrator. On the personal-social side, I've had the opportunity to help lobby for changes to the human rights code, establish the first AIDS support group in the province, made and worked with many, many wonderful friends, been able to volunteer in a variety of organisations and, probably most important, been able to become a single parent of a wonderful young person. Like so many immigrants who I've met both inside of and outside of Pier 21, Canada has provided me with wonderful chances to grow and, hopefully, to be of service to my adopted home.