We all have those unforgettable teachers that even years later, you remember what they said.
For me, it’s Mr. Wood. He taught social studies and physical education. I grew up in Jasper, Alberta and you’d usually have the same teachers year after year.
“I’ve been in Jasper for 16 years. I’m a teacher and I’ve had two kids here. But I’m still not considered a local,” said Mr. Wood during one of our lessons on the Russian Romanovs. How it was related to the monarchs, I can’t recall. We sometimes got a tad off topic.
Growing up in Jasper, usually the coveted term “local” was only referred to people born and raised in Jasper. Or perhaps they’d lived there so long and outlived everyone there was no one left to challenge the claim.
I’ve been in Revelstoke since the fall and I’ve noticed this similarity to my hometown.
People here are cautious when referring themselves as local. For example, I went skiing with a lady the other day and she’s lived in Revelstoke for 12 years.
“I’m almost a local!” She said.
Now, would you refer to a 12-year-old that’s always lived in Revelstoke as “almost” a local? Of course not. Don’t be absurd. Then how is this any different?
According to the Cambridge English dictionary, the term local means “a person who lives in a particular small area.” Nowhere does it mention a time constraint. You just have to live there. That’s it.
There’s no harm in celebrating how long a person has lived in a community. However, if not careful this discussion can create a divide between “us” and “them”.
Our school newsletter would warn us against seasonal workers, saying it was safer to avoid them.
Since leaving Jasper, I’ve realized it can’t be welcoming to move to a place where you’ll never be considered local. Doesn’t matter if you get a job, buy a house, raise a family and pay municipal taxes. You’ll always be from elsewhere.
Of course, Revelstoke and Jasper aren’t alone on this. I think it’s a similarity shared between many communities throughout Canada. Perhaps the smaller the town, the stronger it gets.
However, where does it stop? How long does it take an Albertan to become a British Columbian? Or a non-resident to become a Canadian?
Simply, what makes a Canadian Canadian?
My dad has lived in Canada since the 1970s. He’s had citizenship since the 1980s, but no one calls him Canadian. Not even himself.
We have a tendency of calling where we grew up as home, even if we haven’t lived there for decades. It isn’t surprising as our upbringing can have profound effects on who we become.
The band Arcade Fire released a video called The Wilderness Downtown. It’s interactive, where you write the address of your childhood home and then watch a customized music video that puts you right back there, running, searching, trying to find yourself in neighbourhoods that shaped you. It’s pretty neat.
Maybe we think there’s responsibility that comes with being called a local. An expectation that locals know best. But if you’re like me, who doesn’t usually know what’s going on and even if I think I do I usually don’t, perhaps it’s best being called an out-of-towner. When the bar is lower, it’s far easier to impress.