Cape Breton's Magazine

> Issue 62 > Page 72 - Cape Breton Voices from Away: Two Selections from Gary Burrill's new book: AWAY - Maritimers in Massachusetts, Ontario and Alberta

Page 72 - Cape Breton Voices from Away: Two Selections from Gary Burrill's new book: AWAY - Maritimers in Massachusetts, Ontario and Alberta

Published by Ronald Caplan on 1993/1/1 (198 reads)

Mary Johnston Sydney, Nova Scotia She works with a personnel-management firm In down? town Toronto. In her mid-thirties, she left Sydney in 1965. She, her husband, and their daughter live in the Beaches area of the city and they like Toronto very much. "I want to grow old here," she says. "I don't want to leave." She is the daughter of John Johnston, a member of the founding executive of the steelworkers' union in Sydney. I went to school at the convent. What could you do? I always had a lot of difficulty living within the mores of that society. I could talk to my father and mother, and I could discuss what I wanted to dis? cuss, and my opinion was important. All of a sudden, locked into the sexual roles, you weren't allowed to do that anymore. It's very difficult. For a teenage girl at the convent, at that particular point in time, it was terribly restricting. I used to pass the train station every day and say, "By God, I'm getting on that train and leaving." The possibilities, tiie choices, weren't there for me. There was nothing Sydney was offering any? body like me, and that's all there was to it. My father wasn't a law? yer, my family didn't have money. There was no employment. I went to the employment centte.... I couldn't even get a summer job there, but yet people who had contacts managed to get jn to work at Zeller's (laughs) • or wherever, you know. I wasn't given those jobs. I mean, why not? I had the capability. So it was just a one? way street, right out of Sydney. I left when I was seventeen. Toronto presented possibilities to me, and I knew that the world was made up of something, and possibly in Toronto I could find it. There weren't any choices as far as I was concerned. Could I return to Sydney? To do what? What would I do tiiere? At least with Toronto, as big and as scary as it was, there could be something here. I got an apartment and lived on my own, and found a job and got on with it. I had numerous friends who would say, "Oh, I've had enough of this, I'm going back to the Maritimes." Or, "I'm going to go home to Mom and Dad." I know that it's very difficult for a lot of people to assimilate into other kinds of sociEd situations. It really is difficult.... Actually, I think it was as hard for me as it was for them, only they felt they had a choice and I didn't, and that was the difference. That was my perception of my situation at that par? ticular time. Even now in refrospect • there's no turning back. What could I do at home? Was there any work? My parents, could they give me what I needed? The only answer I could come up with was no. Emotionally, I needed...I was still very young.... But that was only a tentative thing, and I knew that if I went home to set emotional nourishment, that would onlv be • what • ?two. three Ltd. Island Crafts Old-Fashioned Charm Is Our Trademark Handknit Fishermen's Sweaters • Kitchen Accessories Ruffled Cushions • Baby Items • Hand Appliqued Quilts Intricate Designs in Pottery • Hats & Scarves for Every Age Group Designer Mohair Sweaters • Mad Potters Collection • Boats in Bottles Cookbooks • A Good Selection of Local Literature • Excellent Selection of Cape Breton Literature and Music 329 Charlotte St. ~ DOWNTOWN SYDNEY ~ 539-4424 OPEN YEAR ROUND: Monday-Saturday: 9-5 weeks? So I sacrificed the emotional for the practical in Toronto, and for six months, my emotional life was fairly poor. I cried my? self to sleep every night, or whatever.... But I was surviving, and I knew it had to get better, it just had to get better. And it did. Once in a while I get a call from someone much younger, kids I used to babysit or whatever. I get a call and they say,"This is so and so." (She mimes the mad panic of non-recognition.) And of course I have to string my way.... (Laughs.) "I'm on my way to Calgary." Or Edmonton. And there's a part of me that just dies, and I think, here we go again. Poor, scared, frightened littie kids, running off to noth? ing. It's not as though they're actually going to work, you know. We come back to choice. Is there a choice? If you're a Torontonian there's a choice as to whetiier or not • well, I mean possibly, de? pending upon what your skills are, or what your background is • as to whether you stay here or you decide to go to Calgary and live out west, or if you decide to leave the country. But for Maritimers there isn't a choice. That's how I felt • 'there wasn't any choice. And that's really sad. From Away • Maritimers in Massachusetts, Ontario, and Alber? ta: An Oral History of Leaving Home by Gary Burrill. This book is available in bookstores, or directly from McGill-Queen's University Press, 3430 McTavish St., Montreal, Quebec H3A 1X9.249 pages, $29.95 cloth. 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