Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bee in my bonnet

I grew up in the small town of Cobourg. When I was a kid there were about 12,000 people living there. While it's pretty small, it's surrounded by lots of larger centers, and has, over the last years, become somewhat of a bedroom community for commuters.

I grew up knowing I had to be home by the time the street lights came on at night, and knowing everyone else's business.

Lately, though, there's been a clear flux of people who have moved to my small town, mostly from Toronto. It's been not only driving up the population, but driving up housing costs and changing the culture.

A few months ago, I stopped at this cutesy chic store on highway 28 just north of Port Hope. Herma's is occasionally staffed by a friend of my dad's (a very talented musician, actor, and also runs a B&B with his partner). They carry some amazing sauces, and beautiful pieces of glassware, that kind of stuff.

I was just picking up a couple of things, and ahead of me in line were this couple I couldn't help but overhearing. Mostly because they were putting on airs you could smell for miles.

They were asking my dad's friend about the area and the conversation went something like this:

Snotty People (read with appropriate snotty accent): So we were woonn-dering, if you could tell us about real estate in this aah-rea.
Friend of Dad's: Sure, what did you want to know?
SP: Weeelll. Well, we have friends who have just bought this dee-liightful centuree hooome on the Nine-th concession and we just thought it was so cu-uute out here that we ha-hd to get a place out here.
FoD: Well, what sort of features are you looking for in a place? Are you looking to live in town or out of town?
SP: We'd need at LEAST an acre, so of course it'd have to be out of town. (are you daft? we're too important for less than an acre of property. Pay attention!)
FoD: Actually my partner and I have a B&B in town with more than an acre plot; I can refer you to our real estate agent if you would like.
SP: Sure, but we're veh-ry precise in what we need. It must be a historic home, not just any house, and it must have a veh-rry large dining room because we're con-stantly entertaining large groups of important friends. So many of the houses of that era are just so substandard when it comes to the dining room. It's truly awful.
FoD: well here's the number of the agent we used, maybe she can help.

[Exit SP to their convertible BMW. I hope that farmers were spreading it and they had to breathe in country air the whole way home. Yes, they actually said "important friends."]

I mostly stood behind them slack-jawed for the whole conversation. I kinda hope they don't find an acre, in town, with a dining room fabulous enough for them and their very important entertaining.

I should take it as a compliment that my neck of the woods is suddenly burgeoning in popularity, but I'm finding the influx of newer people are largely made up of SPs above and it's really changing the feel of the town. There's an undercurrent of "Isn't it novel we've ditched city life and are now slumming it in this delightful small town where the locals are all backwoods hicks."

Reading the paper before work this morning, an article headline caught my eye. It read "Top chef leaves city for rural life." Lo and behold, the rural life is where I grew up.

It details how a chef from Toronto moves to live in the area, and grows heirloom tomatoes now for a living rather than being a top chef. Cool, right?

A single line in the article took me right back to being in line behind the SP. The article outlines the struggles they have starting up, and one of the problems is that "while locals buy red tomatoes, Torontontians prefer anything but."

You may say I have skin as thick as a tomato but it bothered me.

Have they really given "the locals" [read backwoods hicks] much of a shot? I didn't see them at the farmers' markets this summer selling their heirloom tomatoes. As a local, I like funky tomatoes. How can she generalize "ah these poor simple country folk like their men to be men, and their tomatoes to be round and red! Ha ha ha, these simpletons, they just don't get "different" like big city folk, ha ha ha," having lived there a short while.

Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not knocking the city folk, I like it there too. I'm convinced you could live there your entire life in TO, with the goal of doing something different every day, and could easily die without doing the same thing twice. If it weren't for my severe allergy to traffic of any kind, and our desire to live in a space bigger than a bachelor sized apartment, we might even live there.

I guess it seems like people are moving to Cobourg and part of the novelty is "aren't the the locals a hoot."

I have no idea why I'm protective of my small town, but I am. I don't really expect it to stay static, either, I just don't see how this change is for the better.


John said...

Spending most of my formative years in a pretentious bedroom community, I think you are being emminently reasonable. The expanses of suburban purgatory are large enough as is...

Rick said...

I must admit, Heather, that the attitude shown to Cobourg by the people in your story sounds similar to your disdain for blue-collar Oshawa. Just something I've noticed.

Heather said...

John: glad I'm not alone

Rick: Touche, if only I had any disdain for Oshawa. I grew up thinking it was THE big city, and am really enjoying living here. I don't think describing it as "white bread" really qualifies as disdain, especially since last time I checked it was something like 94% Caucasian here. I would say it has a reputation for being blue collar, but I think that's largely based in the past since blue collar jobs (at least the good paying ones) are few and far between.

ElaineMI said...

I have a cousin that lives on a farm in a very rural part of Michigan. The land around them had been sold off and people from the cities have been building their $450,000.00 (or more) houses there. Then they have a audacity to complain because my cousin raises pigs. Well, the pigs were there first. Or were they?

Henly said...

Shucks, my dining area is pretty small, so I can only play host for my friends of little consequence.

If I ever get rich and become pretentious like that, please shoot me. In the foot.

Teena said...

I was born in NS and lived in a small town (population of about 5000). I liked it there and enjoyed the way of life.

My husband's family lives outside Madoc, about a half hour drove north of Belleville. Cute quiet little town. It's so different from Toronto. When we were there a couple weeks ago, cows woke me up in the morning, rather than streetcars. Wolves woke me up in the middle of the night rather than police sirens.

roro said...

It's hard to see one's home town cheapened by shitheads with "large groups of important friends" (best line ever). I think you're well within your rights as a former resident to wish nothing but ill on the snotty rich who want to turn your town into a country theme park.

Katr and I stayed at a B&B in Cobourg last summer and it was gorgeous there and now Katr really wants to open a B&B somewhere. And I blame Cobourg.

Heather said...

elainemi: In the snots' defense pig farms are VERY smelly. Best to know your neighbours before you build.

Henly: My dining area is small too, clearly not big enough for important people. I'm not the least worried you'd ever become pretentious.

teena: I have distant second cousins in Madoc! In the summers I'd spend time at my grandparents' farm and be awakened by the cows.

Roro: I bet you and Katr would run a fabulous B&B! We'd totally go and be the annoyingest guests ever!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Pretentious snobs are encroaching everywhere. I would also resent being thought of as local luddites by people who don't even know me. (If they do, that's another story.)

Where are those smelly pig farms when you need them?