I have been blessed with many things in my life. A loving family who have always supported me (once you got through the ever present layer sarcasm of course), some of the best friends a person could ever have, an intellect and the good fortune to have been born in Atlantic Canada. To those of you who have not yet had a chance or found time to visit my small corner of the world, you are missing out. Canada’s East Coast is a marvelous, unique place whose maritime roots and cultural heritage have forged a society which is a charming mixture of old world and new. Now in the last few years us East Coasters have become something of novelty in the eyes of our fellow countrymen. A boisterous band of fun loving sociable rowdies who are fond of quick song, a tall drink and good company. A reputation fostered not only by the cultural products of our region (Great Big Sea and Alexander Keith’s for example) but by the wayfaring hordes of Bluenosers, Newfies, Herring Chokers and Spud Islanders. However these same qualities which have now reduced us to beloved stereotype and tarred everyone from the East Coast with the same brush, once made us one of the most openly despised segments of the population. It didn’t help that the constantly fluctuating but usually declining fortunes of our region used to drive scores of us westward looking for work. It still does. From Fort McMurray, Alberta (the third largest city in Newfoundland as the old joke goes) to downtown Toronto, packs of roving East Coasters, both those with and without formal educations or tradable skills, ply their trade throughout this vast and wonderful country of ours in the desperate search for comfort, stability and the opportunity to return to our beloved home as a big shot who’ll never have to worry about competing with ten people over one poorly paying job. In times when the economies of the four Atlantic provinces or the country as a whole have floundered in a particularly spectacular fashion, this stream of financial migrants can become a torrent. And while nowadays we can often expect a warmer welcome, a deep seated resentment of our sudden en masse arrival lingers beneath the surface.
Back in the 1960s, 1970s and even the 1980s this resentment was often anything but hidden. What the Irish were to pre and post war Britain, East Coasters were to the rest of Canada. A burden, a national shame, a heavily accented blight. Ralph Klein, then only a mayor, famously called the scores of Easterner labourers arriving in Alberta looking for work "bums and creeps" and blamed most of the Calgary’s ills on them. And to be fair, not all of the attention was entirely undeserved. Many of the Easterners went westward with few usable skills and unreasonable expectations. Believing they would be handed opportunity on a silver platter, they quickly discovered that the reality was very different from what they had imagined it to be. Many managed to cope with the initial shock of the situation and get a solid footing. Some even found exactly what they were looking for, opportunity unavailable to them back home. But there were also many whose grasp out stretched their reach. For them the evaporation of their golden dreams left them with only bitterness and desperation. The seminal 1970 Canadian film Goin’ Down The Road is a story two such unfortunate souls. Filmed in a gritty, social realist style director Donald Shebib weaves a tale about two uneducated young Nova Scotians, eager to escape the soul crushing unemployment of an Atlantic Canada in the tail end of its catastrophic Post-War decline. Able to scrape by thanks to a handful of odd jobs and welfare the two quickly become dissatisfied with this meager lot in life. So Pete, an overconfident ne’re-do-well with big dreams, convinces his buddy the good hearted but easily led Joey to gas up his old 1960 Impala (which has the Hank Snow lyric "My Nova Scotia Home" prominently painted on its side) and hit the road. Their destination, the bright lights of Toronto’s Yonge Street. Believing wholeheartedly in the tall tales depicting Ontario as some kind of land of milk and honey, they are in for a rude awakening. Pete’s relatives, who were supposedly going to put the two up, are appalled by their "uncouth" appearance and refuse to even talk to them. Their friend, who had promised to find them work, has himself fallen on hard times and cannot help. Pete’s dreams of a cushy job are also quickly shattered when he is told point blank that his lack of education or any meaningful work experience immediately disqualifies him for all but the most menial of careers. Both Joey and Pete are reduced to working in a bottling plant and though Joey finds love, they quickly get in over their heads. Already stretched thin by extravagant spending, the boys are laid off. Quickly sinking deep into debt and poverty they are forced to take desperate and illegal action to support themselves which of course goes horribly wrong and leads to one of the bleakest endings in Canadian cinema. Goin’ Down The Road was a multiple award winner as was rightly hailed as masterpiece. It’s stark realism, topical themes which disturbingly hold true even today (only replace Alberta for Ontario), excellent performances, gritty cinematography and its brilliant, but maddeningly unreleased soundtrack by a young Bruce Cockburn, all weave together to create one of the most powerful Canadian stories ever brought the silver screen.
CAN-CONTENT SCORE: 4/4 (Story, Setting, Characters, Production)