I just returned from a sudden family visit to St. Catharines. Pleasant enough couple of weeks, and i do enjoy southern Ontario’s summer heat (until the humidex tops 35 degrees). But as with previous visits, i noticed again that whenever i go, i almost instantly compromise almost all the principles i live by, back home in BC.
Life in St. Cath is not set up the same as life in Tofino, and suddenly it’s near impossible to eat organic. Given my family’s tastes and the local restaurant options, vegetarianism is untenable. I don’t go near a bicycle, and i spend way more time in a car than i ever do at home. I frequent big box stores (even Walmart), and everything i eat or buy is packaged and wrapped and carried in plastic. I throw out way more than usual, and because we’re in an apartment block there’s no composting. I spend way more time on the couch in front of the TV.
Even clean air is rare, from the brown layer of smog over the Torontopolis across the lake to the miasma of chain-smoker stink and cleaning product that makes me hold my breath in the building hallway.
The compromises are built in everywhere. My 86-year-old mom has no Internet, so my visit is a continual scrounge for connectivity. My sister does have wi-fi, but she’s a smoker so the choice is offline with breathable air, or online in a smoke-filled room. That dilemma has me hanging out for hours a day in a corporate coffee chain (no name need be mentioned), gorging free wi-fi and guzzling brew from disposable, single-use paper cups with hardly a twinge of conscience.
St. Cath is actually a pleasant little city, with lots of lovely trees and interesting old brick houses and good food from the surrounding farms. But as a former factory town, it’s suburban to the absolute max: house culture and impressive churches on every second corner and kilometres of strip mall and shopping plaza, where car is king. And nobody i meet seems to have an inkling about climate or democracy or any of the big-picture issues that, back in Tofino, are part of the air we breathe.
On the better days, it’s a weird immersion in mainstream consumer culture — enjoyable if i lower my expectations and switch off my environmental conscience.
On the grim days, the place is utterly toxic in attitude and politics and habits.
BC is geographically as far away from ON as possible, and i think there’s a reason for that. It’s similar to the reason i choose to live there. And why i’m glad to be back.