BOJAN'S BLOG

Photographs, words and sounds
Family and friends

Rural Routes episode on immigration in rural Canada

A new episode of Rural Routes is up!

A neglected podcast and a neglected blog. Ha! Much of my work time these days is taken up by proposal writing, negotiating, and administrative tasks. It feels a lot less productive than creating content and developing ideas on how to translate academic research into something that can be of use to people outside the university bubble. Rural Routes podcasts have certainly been one of those experiments that have exceeded any expectations I originally had. It feels good to be working on that project again.

This new episode features the work of Dr. Michael Haan from the Western University in London, Ontario on immigration in Canadian context, especially in rural Canada. Have a listen.

The photo is from a recent celebration at our friends place here in St. John’s. The amount of talent around that table is ridiculous.

What we taught a 14-year-old today

1608-bonavista031

I was going to rant, but honestly what follows just made me kind of sad.

Miss F., who is 14, wants to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program. The idea is that those kids who participate in the program will have an opportunity to learn about themselves and the world outside of the school environment, serve their communities, and hopefully become better citizens down the road. Part of the program requires them to spend one hour a week (ONE!) volunteering in their community. Miss F. loves books and spends a lot of time in the public library and she felt that it’s only right that she should volunteer with her library. She approached them on her own, which alone is a huge step for somebody who has always been cautious. She was told point blank that the library does not need or want volunteers. To say that she was disappointed, would be an understatement.

We heard several reasons why such response might have happen: the moral within the public library system is at an all time low (that I get, but still); taking volunteers is akin to admitting that volunteers can do the job of a unionized employee (I don’t get that one – why wouldn’t you want to work with a young person who is clearly your potential future member???); it’s difficult to find something for a 14-year-old to actually do… The point is that a 14-year-old was told by her favourite place in this city that she doesn’t have anything to offer that they would be interested in and that there is no place for her in the library other than as a patron. In the end, we helped her find a meaningful and a very exciting volunteer opportunity that she can start in January.

And then we tried to get her a swimming pass. Miss F. is an excellent swimmer. She has passed every swimming course available to her with flying colours. She has level one S.C.U.B.A. diving certificate. She has completed lifesaver program and now that she is 14 she is looking forward to her Bronze Cross certification training in January. She was approached several times by the local swimming club, but she has no interest in competitive swimming. She just wants to swim. Apparently, she is not allowed to do that for another year. At 14, she can only go to the pool during family swims when she cannot swim lanes, which is what she wants to do. She has no interest in splashing in the pool. So today, we had to tell her that there is no way for her to swim unless she joins a swimming club that does not offer anything but competitive program.

As I said, I don’t even have it in me to rant. It just makes me sad that a public library does not have a place for an eager 14-year-old bookworm and that she cannot swim for the joy of it – it’s either compete or don’t do it at all. I have no idea what is that she learned today, but I can’t imagine that it is a terribly useful lesson.

The seawall in the photo is in Bonavista.

A chemistry lesson for inept photo geeks like me…

1603-StJohns001

So apparently I’ve been an idiot for the past 20 years. Every time I develop film or make prints I also develop a rather nasty case of dermatitis. It’s not contagious, just uncomfortable and bad for me, and aesthetically – well, let’s just say I’d understand if you didn’t want to shake hands with me and were wondering why I am not in some sort of quarantine.

It turns out, broadly, that there are two kinds of photo developers. There are those developers that use metol as a developing agent and those developers that use phenidone as a developing agent. Well guess what… Most developers I use are metol-based and metol is a known cause of dermatitis. Phenidone-based developers, on the other hand, tend not to cause skin reaction. So all I have to do is switch to a phenidone-based developer and I am good to go. And it gets better: phenidone is a much more potent developer than metol so you can make more of a working solution with less chemicals. It’s significantly more environmentally friendly and some of phenidone-based developers, like Kodak Xtol, are practically hypoallergenic. Arghhh…

So why do I suddenly know all this? Because I was asked to work with a team of researchers here at Memorial University as their artist-in-residence-kind-of-person. I was researching developers to understand what could happen if we add certain unusual components to different developers and in the process learned something I wish I knew 20 years ago. I have no idea what is that this collaboration is going to look like or produce, but it should be fun.

The photo was made earlier this year when Little Miss F. and I went for a photo walk and yes, she is using film 😉

The doctor is in…

1506-Vis007

The doctor’s in the house! It’s been a long and rather treacherous road to the very end – to the very last minute – but my fabulously smart M has successfully defended her PhD. No idea what’s in store for her after this, but I bet it’s going to be interesting.

A conversation about local knowledge

FogoISland

With the last episode of Rural Routes we waded into the territory of knowledge. Local knowledge. You can hear an artist and a scholar Pam Hall talking about her project Towards the Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge.

The photo was made on Fogo Island two years ago. It’s been a while since we were there.

Treating your children right…

151107-MiddleCove008

We had a What-do-you-want-for-Christmas? conversation:
Me (pompously): “For Christmas, I want a book that will challenge me, introduce me to new ideas, and make me a better person.”
Little Miss F.: “So you want a book on how to treat your children properly?”

The photo was made during a recent walk in Middle Cove.

Thirteen

1506-Vis080

Miss F. turned thirteen today. So ridiculously proud of the young woman she is becoming.

Saying random things is not a good idea

1506-Vis002

Poor Little Miss F had a rough night with a stomach bug. The worst and the messiest of it was over by 3:30 am and she fell asleep on the couch in the living room. By the time noon came about she was almost herself. M asked her if she wanted to go to school after lunch. Thinking about it for a moment, Little Miss F calmly explained that if she goes, she feels like she’ll be tired and if she is asked a question she won’t remember what it was and she’ll just say something random so it’s not a good idea. She stayed home for the day.

Silently cool

1506-Vis016

We passed this skateboarder on Vis island in Croatia whose board had lit wheels and we all commented on how cool that was. In fact, Ms. M. said she wished she had a cool husband like that. Little Miss F., without missing a beat, looked at her and said with absolute conviction: “Dad is cool in a silent way.”

Take that world.

Photo: Vis island, Croatia.

Eight

1505-Elise001

Little bug is turning eight today.

Contemplating ocean

1505-Family011

This is Miss F. at the Signal Hill National Historic Site in St. John’s.

I look at this photograph as I read, in complete disbelief, this story on the privately proposed monument to… well… I don’t know what in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. How is this even remotely possible is beyond me. I cannot imagine anything more un-Canadian than this monstrosity.

The end of a journey

0808-WoodIsland015

And so it is official now: Bojan Fürst, MA.

This is a photograph from a story on Wood Island, New Brunswick, reunion I did for CBC’s Maritime Noon many years ago and it kind of started this whole islands adventure. It’s been a great ride. If you are interested in seeing what my thesis ended up looking like scoot over to Islands of Sun and Ice page.

Tito in a St. John’s cab

1501-TitoinTaxi002

When I looked at the driver and even before we said a word to each other, there was a jolt of recognition, a sense of familiarity every immigrant sometimes feels – a genetic alarm telling you that the person in front of you hails from the more or less same ancestral pool. It is not necessarily a joyous feeling, rather a mix of caution and a hope that you might be able to exchange a greeting in a tongue that feels familiar and mysterious this far from its homeland. This cab driver, a Bosnian, and I got along alright. At some point, he pulled the card hanging on an elastic band from his rearview mirror and turned it towards me. And there was Marshal Tito, in all his uniformed glory, in a St. John’s cab. We laughed and he looked out at the snow buried streets and said: “And here we are.”

That was a few months ago. To tell you the truth, I forgot about that photograph. I just developed some film this past weekend and this photograph suddenly became more significant than if I looked at it a couple of months ago. In two weeks, we will be leaving for a much needed family vacation to Croatia. It’s a cause of great excitement. My older daughter has fond memories of a couple of visits she can remember. How could she not? When she is there, she is surrounded by people who genuinely love her and care about her and what is more, they get to see her so rarely that they are willing to fulfill her every wish. That is certainly not how her parents treat her. For the younger one, this is the adventure of her life so far – she is looking forward to almost two months of firsts: a first plane ride, a first train ride, a first trip abroad, and the first visit to grandparents who last saw her when she was a gurgling bundle of diapers and blankets. Above all else, for my daughters, Croatia is a place of madcap stories, odd relatives, happy childhoods and magical beauty. It is that because of me. I am the one who over the years created that narrative and now, as I read yet another surreal article about the rise of nationalism, poisonous catholicism, and glorification of the country’s fascist past I feel guilty about it. I feel I lied to them. I never told them about this other Croatia rapidly unfolding over the last few months on the screen of my laptop.

This Croatia is a country whose nationalists seemingly read Orwell’s essays on nationalism and totalitarianism not as a warning, but a how-to manual for achieving a supreme state of paranoia, xenophobia and the hatred of everybody and everything that is not Croatian. “Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered,” wrote Orwell and Croatian nationalists took it to heart. From nazi salutes at football games to wilful blindness when it comes to the horrendous record of the Croatian nazi collaborators, to fascist movements, to Marshall Tito and five decades of socialism, Croatian nationalists are re-imagining history busily following Orwell’s advice that for nationalists: “…history is something to be created rather than learned.”

And it’s not just history. As the economic recession drags on and the number of the unemployed stays stubbornly high, as those who can leave the country in search of a better life somewhere else, leave, the range of issues that sends nationalists frothing at the mouth is growing: homosexual and reproductive rights are out, misogyny is in, asylum seekers are not welcome, anything to do with science and technology – from vaccines to large hadron collider – is suspicious, Catholic Church is trustworthy, and every crackpot conspiracy theory makes perfect sense to them. After all, Orwell said that “totalitarianism […] in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth.”

And so what am I to say to my daughters about this place we are going to? That their worth will be measured by how they look because the opportunities for women in a society overrun by rabid nationalism glorifying violence and subscribing to a bizarre version of fundamental catholicism are non-existent? That nobody will say a word of encouragement to a 12-year-old who is writing her first novel? That the 8-year-old’s ambition to become a chef will be laughed at? That just by virtue of having this cocktail of Austro-Hungarian, Scottish, French and Cree genes running through their veins they are less then perfect? And, maybe worst of all, that their parents are antifascists and humanists who find the crassness and futility of cheap nationalism as scary as it is repugnant?

“And here we are,” as the cab driver would say.

We will go first to an island. Small islanders everywhere still know how to live. After that, we’ll thread carefully. We are going to see a Rodin exhibit and we’ll spend a lot of time with grandma and grandpa discovering some old recipes that have been in the family for generations. We’ll build some memories and strengthen family ties. We’ll hike in the countryside and visit some rural places. We’ll sunbathe and swim in crystal clear waters. We’ll read lots of books. Hopefully, all of it will serve as a bit of an inspiration to a budding novelist and a beginner chef. And I am sure we will have conversations about poverty and unemployment, and what it does to people. And we’ll talk about nationalism and fascism.

And most of all I hope that we will also make some new stories – the family kind we can all share with friends and hopefully they will be just as crazy as those I told to my kids already.

Miss F. is 12

1405-ChangeIslandsFamily001

Miss F. is 12 today. Time flies. The sisters are here on Change Islands last summer.

 

Tantrum deterrence failure

walkers

We love Bannerman park. It’s a little green oasis in the middle of the city and on hot summer days it’s full of people just lounging around, having picnics, practising circus tricks or rehearsing Shakespeare’s plays.

For the past couple of years, the park has been going through a much needed revitalization and if the work that’s been completed is any indication, it will be great. Today, all around the park they are pouring concrete foundations about the size of a garden box. It’s not quite clear what they are for, but I suspect we’ll eventually see some benches there.

Little Miss F, who today threw a tantrum right in the middle of the park, was curious about those concrete foundations. I told her that they are for the cages where parents will be able to lock up children who throw tantrums in the park over nothing. You would think the child would resolve to never throw a tantrum in public again, but not Little Miss F. Without missing a beat, she told her sister: “I have to remember to always have a hairpin with me.”

Sigh…

Seven!

13-family009

Little Miss F. is seven today. Seven! When her big sister turned seven some years back, as a practical joke, I told her that it is an ancient Croatian tradition that a child for her seventh birthday gets a list of chores she is expected to do. Today, almost five years later, she reminded me of that and told me she will always consider that list as one of her birthday presents…

Family photo albums are oral histories…

1403-familyrocket004

A family photo in honour of Day 2 of single parenthood. We miss our fabulously smart researcher currently exploring rural Newfoundland.

Some time ago, during a very short conversation with Dr. Robert Finley, he made a remark I have been thinking about ever since. He said that every family photo album is, in fact, an oral history. I like that – a lot.

MUN Botanical Garden

131020-MUNBotanical001

We really wanted to go for a walk this weekend and we asked Little Miss F. to pick a destination. She picked, to our surprise and delight, MUN Botanical Garden. The colours were spectacular. I suspect we missed the full glory of the autumn in the garden, but it was still pretty special.

131020-MUNBotanical008

Feeding the ducks was, of course, the highlight of the walk, although the pumpkin patch was close with its appropriately freaky Halloween display.

131020-MUNBotanical017

If you haven’t been there in a while it’s really worth a visit. Seriously folks. I think we may have run into maybe six other people. This is one of those St. John’s hidden gems. We try to go at least once in every season and every time we have such great time walking the trails that we always promise ourselves to do it again soon and then it’s spring, or winter or whatever and we are back to once-a-season schedule.

131020-MUNBotanical003

131020-MUNBotanical010

There is still time left to enjoy the autumn colours in the garden even if all the time you have is a half hour lunchtime walk.

131020-MUNBotanical009

On immigration…

1309-misc005

I am about to write something I promised myself I will never write.

A friend in Saint John, New Brunswick, who runs an interesting little media company called WickedIdeas, posted on her Facebook account a story about the provincial government urging everybody who has something to say about what New Brunswick can do to attract and retain immigrants to do so. I had this post in me for a long time, but I always thought that maybe I am holding too much of a grudge and that the time is not right to air all of it. But, since they asked, I’ll oblige.

We lived in New Brunswick for eight years. We moved there as starry-eyed newlyweds after driving across the country in a 1973 volkswagen SuperBeetle. It was older than either of us, rusty and packed to the roof with everything we owned including a bicycle. We drove for over 4,000 kilometres from Calgary all the way to Bathurst and we did not even have a shoe string budget. Probably the craziest thing we ever did.

Bathurst was an eyeopener in many ways and not good ones. I worked for an insane editor who did not dare to bully me, but he did bully everybody else. That is not what made us move. What made us move was the fact that my wife had rocks thrown at her as she walked down a path because she was an “English bitch” as one of the charming young men called after her. We moved because after we went to Youghall Beach on a Sunday with a pressman and his fiancé, I was summoned into my darkroom by his foreman who warned me not to socialize with those people because their class status is below mine. We moved because people called daily to ask my editor why he hired a foreigner and not a local person.

We lasted six months and than we moved to Saint John. It was better. We both had jobs and we made some friends – come-from-aways like us mostly, but not all. Those of our New Brusnwick friends, and you know who you are, you have no idea what your friendship meant to us because it was such an exception.

Our first daughter was born two years after we moved to Saint John. I came to work a couple of days later and the person working in the office next to mine walked in. She did not offer her congratulations. She did not ask about my wife and the baby. What she said was: “You know it takes three generations to become a Maritimer?”

Every once in a while I would get a call at work from somebody ranting against immigrants. My favourite was a lady from St. Martins who called me at the charity I worked for because she thought we helped a little boy from Afghanistan get a heart surgery in Canada that saved his life. Unfortunately, that good deed had nothing to do with us, but it did not stop her from telling me that all those dirty immigrants are just coming to take local jobs, if not outright steal from honest New Brunswickers.

My wife was an investigative reporter at a daily who had her work belittled and stolen by those who hired her. When she broke a major story implicating local businessmen and politicians in an immigration scam, she was told that she does not understand local business culture, being from away and all that. She was told not to write anything longer than 500 words without a special permission.

Our second daughter was born. Then the government canceled Early French Immersion program effectively denying educational opportunities to our children. That was in many ways the last straw.

On top of that, my wife’s workplace became downright abusive. At that point, I freelanced full time. I could get work for  Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian in the UK as well as on national and regional CBC programs, but not locally.

Our friends were experiencing the same brick walls of nepotism and cliquishness we faced. They started moving away. And so did we.

Let me tell you about our very first day in Newfoundland. We’ve never been to St. John’s or to Newfoundland and we did not know a soul here. That first day we went for a walk downtown to find the French immersion school our daughter was going to attend. We found it and liked it. We walked down King’s Road towards Duckworth Street when this grizzled old man ran out of his house and yelled: “Wait, wait, wait…” We were rooted to the spot not quite sure what the heck is going on – our five-year old standing beside us and the one-year old in a stroller. The old man came back carrying a giant polar teddy bear and he said: “I won this in a raffle once. I’ve been waiting for a little girl to pass by so I could give it to her. So, here you go.” My older daughter, hugging this teddy bear almost as big as she was, was speechless and so were we. I would stop and chat with this man sometimes after we moved into that neighbourhood – he did not remember I was the dad of the girl he gave that polar bear to a year ago. I am not sure he even remembered the incident. It was just something he did. I know his name. I know he would have preferred if Newfoundland became a US state rather than a Canadian province. I even made a photograph of him once.

There were many such incidents.

My wife wrote a story for Toronto Star on storytelling tradition in Newfoundland and for that story she interviewed actor Andy Jones – the same way she interviewed hundreds of people in New Brunswick. A month or two later, it was a Sunday and we were walking to Sobeys to pick something up around 2 p.m. when Andy came out of his house and said: “Come in, come in. I have a new puppy. The girls would love to see him.” We left close to midnight that evening after a dinner and an afternoon and evening filled with stories and laughter.

Of course, there have been terrible moments here. We had professional disappointments. We had a nasty landlord. We had a leaky roof and a wasp nest under the clapboards. We had a drug dealer on our street, but we worked with our neighbours and we made the neighbourhood safe again. Childcare has been hard to organize, and housing and food are expensive and there are days in March when you wish to be anywhere else but on this rock in the middle of the North Atlantic. And then a friend comes over and you have a cup of tea or mulled wine and you forget that the wind is blowing at 130km/h and the uncanny mix of rain, snow and ice is falling sideways as usual.

We’ve been here five years. People ask me every day where I am from. They don’t ask because they are angry I have a job, but because they want to fit me into the master narrative of this place or, if I am on Change Islands or Fogo Island, they simply want to know what is that my people fish. That’s what they are like, these Newfoundlanders. They somehow learned how to take what they like and share what they have with those who come from just about anywhere. They will teach you how to make fishcakes in exchange for a Mediterranean fish soup recipe or simply for a good story. They are comfortable with who they are, so they let you be who you are.

If New Brunswick wants to attract immigrants, New Brunswickers will have to make peace with who they are. They have to stop being paranoid about everybody and everything. The world is not out to get you, although there are some very rich folks among you you should keep a better eye on.

Immigrants are not some exotic species of a bird that you can attract by planting the right kind of a tree. You have to accept that we are no different than you. We are not less human than you or more entrepreneurial or smarter or dumber or better or worse educated. We want the same things you do: good neighbours, safe streets, jobs, decent housing, good schools that give our children an opportunity to be the best they can be. We may not speak perfect English or prefect French, but we might speak Croatian, or Urdu, or Farsi, or German, or Dutch, or Mandarin or any other of the hundreds of languages out there in the world. Make us feel like there is a place for us and we will share everything we have with you and be just as passionate about your province and your communities as you are even if we are not third generation Maritimers and even if our family did not come to New Brunswick shores on the first Loyalist ship or during the terrible tragedy that was the expulsion of Acadians. We will volunteer and contribute to our new communities if you give us a chance to build some stability in our lives without feeling like permanent outsiders because we have accents, darker skin, or sometimes wear funny clothes. Don’t expect all of us to be entrepreneurs – most of you are not. Some of us will be entrepreneurs, others will be teachers, and potters, and photographers, and chefs, and some of us will sell delicious samosas at the City Market.

What you do need to understand, though, is that treating us like outsiders even when we spend years trying to make New Brunswick home will make us leave and we will never come back.

My family, we miss our New Brunswick friends. We miss the City Market and the skywalk and the library and the museum and the Buskers’ Festival and every June our older daughter talks about the fair and the rides at the Harbour Station. We miss Canada Day and New Year’s fireworks over the harbour – they don’t do fireworks quite as well here. We miss our landlady terribly. She was like a grandmother to our kids. She was an immigrant, too and her kids are only first generation Maritimers so not yet a real deal, I guess. What we don’t miss are petty snubs, blatant nepotism and constant reminder that we are not part of the place we chose to call home.

If you want immigrants from abroad and from other parts of Canada, you will first and foremost need to be kind. It will make an enormous difference.

 

Let’s go fly a kite…

130827-KiteFlying003

And this glorious summer is over. The nights and mornings are cold. We turned on the heater in our living room yesterday for a couple of hours in the morning. The photographs here are from a few days ago. We were flying kites on Signal Hill with some friends and eating apple strudel. It was a lovely way to spend the last of this summer.

130827-KiteFlying012

At an exhibit

130713-Street012

Ah… a neglected blog. No particular reason why it’s neglected. I have been photographing a lot, experimenting with different films and developers and have several projects on the go.

The photograph above was made a week or so ago at The Rooms, provincial art gallery and archives. There are two large new museum exhibits about Newfoundland and Labrador that I would highly recommend. There is also a huge retrospective of the work of Mary Pratt, a realist painter originally from New Brunswick, but making most of her work in Newfoundland. Little Miss F loves the Pratt exhibit. I posted the above photograph on my flickr account and a lot of people seem to like it so I thought I’d share it here too.

A bad afternoon…

1304-MBDay003

We are not having a good week. Miss F and M have strep throat. Miss F is on antibiotics, but the doctor told M he prefers not to treat strep throat in adults since it goes away on its own and the chance of complications is small. So she just suffers. Little Miss F has a wicked ear infection and is not terribly graceful about it. Today, she spend most of the afternoon crying and trying to make up her mind about one thing or another, but she is just too tired, too sick and too upset for anything else but crying.

Sometimes it is easier for me than for M to calm down Little Miss F. We have this way with each other that somehow works. I came home today from work to find her in the middle of the hallway crying because she couldn’t decide whether to put on socks, sandals, shoes or flip-flops to go out with her sister for a few minutes of sunshine. She was just desolate. She sat in my lap in the kitchen and sobbed into my chest. I said: “Hey, you are not having a good afternoon.” She, her head still buried in my chest, said: “Remember that afternoon when we went to Coffee Matters* and we all ordered something and then nobody liked it. That’s how bad is my afternoon.” And then she sobbed again.

*a local coffee and cake shop

Books to read out loud with girls – 3rd edition…

1304-MBDay008

Waiting on a face painter at a birthday party…

Once in a while you come across a really great book. And I am especially glad that Moon over Manifest is not just a really great book, but a really great book for youth as well. It has a compelling story, a great set of characters, male and female, who grow, change and deal with real, difficult and meaningful issues. If there is a downside to the book, it is more a downside of our education system than anything else. This is a historical novel that deals with two difficult periods in Western and North American history: The First World War and the Great Depression. If your kids are not self-taught history buffs, than, as a parent, you may want to create a bit of a context around the narrative. So, with that, here is the updated list of “books to read out loud with girls….” And, as always, the only criteria for the list (and, for example,  J.R.R. Tolkien obviously does not meet it, but that does not mean you should not read it to girls) is that the books should feature well-rounded female characters. Feel free to add to the list in the comments 🙂

 I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw
Airborne by Kenneth Opal
Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Ronia the Robbers Daughter by Astrid Lindgren
Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel
Sunwing by Kenneth Oppel
Firewing by Kenneth Oppel
Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel
Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street  by Jeanne Birdsale
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsale
Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke
Matilda by Roald Dahl
BFG by Roald Dahl
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean by Alexander McCall Smith and Laura Rankin
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
After Hamelin by Bill Richardson
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Neighbourhood troubles…

1303-TessierPlace027

It was almost a relief. The murder that took place two weeks ago in a house on our previously quiet cul-de-sac was a logical outcome of nearly two years of what one of our neighbours called “terrorizing” presence of a drug house on the street. Two years of constant night traffic, fights, screaming, discarded needles and, lately, prostitution, countless calls to the city, to the landlord and to the police at the end did not accomplish much of anything. It took a vicious beating that eventually became a murder for the residents to be taken seriously.

1303-TessierPlace006

It was about two years ago that the drug dealers moved in and, with them, very slowly, fear moved in as well. The kids stopped playing outside, the neighbours stopped talking on the street, calls were made anonymously, everybody closed blinds in the evening and the lights were turned off because nobody wanted to be mistaken for “that” house. I would sometime work late at night on my thesis with the light on in the living room only to have somebody knock on the door looking for his or her next hit. Then car wrecks appeared around the drug house and eventually garbage was strewn up and down the street and the little park at the end of the street became a depository of used condoms and needles.

1303-TessierPlace041

Immediately after the murder and a fire that followed it, the media descended on the street in the least helpful way. The house where the crime took place became a backdrop. You could almost feel the glee in the reporters’ voices. 

1303-TessierPlace009

Police interviewed all of us and there was suddenly a whole new vocabulary and a whole new world that came with it. We learned that what was in our neighbourhood was a “flop house.” We learned about complex drug distribution chains and that the little blue plastic vials we were finding everywhere were actually water ampules used to quickly prepare drugs for intravenous use. We also learned about police procedures and about city officials more concerned with liability than the fact that somebody might step on a used needle. Most of all, we learned about each other. I now know most of the names of the people who live on our street. We actually like each other. And we all like our neighbourhood. It’s up to us now to keep those connections alive and we hopefully will do just that in the coming months.

1303-TessierPlace023