Confessions of a proud herring choker

My mother tells me her uncle used to make fun of New Brunswickers.  He was from Nova Scotia and was a ‘bluenoser’ while New Brunswickers were ‘herring chokers’ (pronounced ‘heron chokers’).  I googled this term and sure enough, my great uncle was not alone.  There is an entry for herring choker as a term for New Brunswickers here )

Aside from the fact that herring is actually quite good if you fry it up in butter with some flour, it is a little funny that Nova Scotians would be named after the majestic tall ships and New Brunswickers’ “Herring chokers”.

I read a lot of New Brunswick history.  I am fascinated by how we got here.  There is no monocausal explanation.  It has a lot to do with core economy, out-migration, government, urban/rural development, etc. but this idea of a cultural chip on our shoulder is one that shouldn’t be ignored.

Don Mills kind of raised this – for Atlantic Canada – in his speech at the Economic Summit which became the focus of CBC’s story.  I know the reaction to Mills by many New Brunswickers will be negative -“how dare he” kinds of responses but I think we need to think long and hard about his views.  He has 30 years of studying the attitudes of Atlantic Canadians through his polling – that alone gives him credibility to speak to the general culture of the region.

I’m an adherent to NB culture.  I love the maple syrup, rolling hills, friendliness, etc.  I have been recruited out of the province on several occasions by interesting jobs over the past decade but have resisted the move because my family likes it here.

But even as a proud herring choker, I am prepared to have a conversation about the cultural influences that hold back economic progress, risk taking, entrepreneurship, natural resource development, etc.   Like so many others at the Summit and across New Brunswick, I want New Brunswick to be a place where our young people have the choice to stay and be a herring choker and that requires an economy creating enough opportunities.


3 thoughts on “Confessions of a proud herring choker

  1. My father used to use that term and he was a heron choker himself. It helps to ridicule yourself … as soon as your tormentors see you wince, you’ve lost.

    Thanks for mentioning the Don Mills speech. I hadn’t heard about it. I was having lunch this summer with a fellow engineer who now works for (gasp) Irving. He mentioned that (in his opinion) many of the MLAs/mayors, etc are strictly third rate. But I think the mentality of the chokers somehow needs to change. Perhaps the problem is that mediocrity in all levels of the NB society has become acceptable. Perhaps people have given up hope.

    On another note, UNB again approached me for a donation because they need $150 million to keep UNB viable and make it a world destination for students. It’s the old dilemma of getting bigger in order to compete. Leaving aside the questionable policy of building new and glamourous facilities and neglecting the old ones, it strikes me that UNB’s approach might have some merit.

    The fact that UNB can confidently ask for such a sum of money indicates that there is a large pool of heron choker donors who can afford to fork over large amounts of cash in exchange for a warm fuzzy feeling and a brick with their name on it. Perhaps the cash-strapped provincial government can do the same thing.

  2. The only place I’d ever heard that was by Stompin Tom, I can’t remember which song it was.
    Anyway, two things to put in perspective-lots of places have rolling hills and maple syrup.
    Second, the CBC article was a bit misleading-and its interesting how fast they closed the comments for it (and I might add the story about how Canada’s health care system ranks last of OECD countries, but the story about immigration…lots of racist comments allowed).

    Anyway, he said the place was the ‘least attractive’, which is sort of misleading. It may be the worst place to find a job or start a company, but that doesn’t make it unattractive. I’m in Waterloo, and man what an ‘unattractive’ place it is. We have pretty much as lousy a medical system, and I was fortunate enough to get a contract, thankfully, working in a rural area, which is ten times better than working in the city, even though its a pretty small city.

    And my next door neighbour works at RIM, where they will soon have their staffing levels down to about half what it was just four years ago. Two of their buildings they just sold to the University of Waterloo. So ‘attractive’ is definitely relative.

    But back to the CBC article, one comment was interesting, about how a guy wanted to rezone some agricultural land to commercial, and couldn’t do so. Once he left, a ‘local’ from the area had no trouble getting through the red tape. And that seems especially symptomatic of the maritimes. There was a movie at TIFF this year based on a true story of an elderly man who wanted to build a new house for his wife, and the movie chronicles the horrific experience it was dealing with the government. Its not an action movie, but does have some pretty famous leads, so isn’t likely to paint a positive picture of the province. Its also interesting that the media in NB are pretty much ignoring it, but when that movie was made about the boys basketball team, it was all over the news all the time.

    And that is pretty telling. Its pretty standard in New Brunswick, a friend of mine saying how his truck won’t pass inspection, so there’s this one guy everybody takes their vehicle to. Its all ‘who you know’. That’s how small towns generally work, so it makes it tougher to build an entrepreneurial base when, as one guy said “everybody in our town dresses alike, talks alike, and thinks alike…and thats how we like it”.

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