Go West

FTLComm - Tisdale - Thursday, August 8, 2002

It is definitely fascinating that the allure of the West has been with Northern Europeans for at least six centuries. Across the vast ocean there must be untold treasure and indeed that may have been true as Giovani Cabotto set sail toward Newfoundland or when Jacque Cartier slipped into the St. Lawrence River.

The old saying about "
Go West young man, go West." Must have been part of the American manifest destiny but long before the phrase was coined the adventurers of Quebec were repeatedly heading out into the unknown following river highways and seeking their fortune.

But the allure of the West did not stop in the days of exploration or even with the massive European migration to North America and then out to the Western edge of the continent by wagon train, ox cart and train.

Buried in the culture of North America both Canadian and American is this sense of unbounding freedom of open spaces and endless sky. The East no matter where it is brings forth images of constriction, prescribed behaviour, over crowding and poverty. Stereotypical concepts yet they are part of the fabric of everyone's baseline concepts of reality.

What is even more fascinating is the gradation of the concept. It is a given that we who are "Westerners" believe just as our "Easterner" counterparts that the further you go West the more expanding is the concept of freedom and distance from authority. Certainly movies, television and literature picks up on this concept as California and British Columbia rank as the "weird" zones of North America. From personal experience I discovered that people put into practice these beliefs as the Yukon and Alaska both seem to attack people who consider Vancouver and Los Angeles as Eastern stuffy cities.

The concept of the West is indeed a mind set but if it is widely accepted it becomes a way of life. There is absolutely no doubt whatever that folks in Montana view the rest of their fellow Americans with a certain rye humour just as Texans have mastered the concept of being bold and overbearing. But the arch-stereotype of all are the Western politicians be they congressmen from San Jose or premiers in Victoria, a West coast politician is by definitions (self or otherwise) over the top.

It was particularly chilling to work a year in Manitoba and discover that people in that province rarely include the province in mail addresses. This insularism, self engrandisement is one of the reasons Toronto is described as the place that "
Canadians love to hate." CBC employees commonly refer to Toronto in sarcasm as "the centre of the universe." While this concept of increased restrictiveness plays itself out even further when we discover the arrogance of Quebec City people over those in Montreal. The further you go the worse it gets, well at least until you reach Newfoundland where the stereotype simply falls off the scale.

Last night as we walked the CN track West of Tisdale, each step taking us further toward the promised land of more Westness, everything seems to change with perspective. Notice the top picture on the page with the camera sitting on the rail while the second picture shows the same scene with the camera held at eye level.

We all see and perceive our environment from our own perspective but it is remarkable how much that perspective is not our own but is in fact our adaptation to playing a part, gaining a sense of where we are and then acting as though we have taken on the local spirit of awareness. How much free spirit is there really in the West, are all Albertans really stupid sheep that can not think for themselves and vote enmass for who ever seems to out Americanise his or her opponents? The most important skill ingrained in every teenager is the skill of fitting in.

When you realise that you are a very well trained seal, miming the appropriate conduct of your stereotypical location there is a certain shock that sets in and amazingly a quick dismissal as we reaffirm our allegiance to what we think is the way people around us expect us to think and to behave. Speech cadence, syntax, what we laugh at, what we think we see, is all very much shaped by where we are and those around us. "
When in Rome, do as the Romans do," that is not saying, it is the creed of humans nine years and older.

But not through Eastern windows comes in the light but Westward look the land is bright." In a reversal of that, below is a view looking backward from the West as the sun closing on the horizon light's up Tisdale from a mile away uniformly. This is a 90º QuickTime Virtual Reality image requiring QuickTime to be seen on your computer. Microsoft Media Player can not display this image and it is a modest download to enhance your computer's capability and allow you to put your cursor on the image and move around, zoom in and out and enjoy the scene.

Timothy W. Shire