It’s a stereotype most New Brunswickers have heard and probably believe: people from New Brunswick are lazy, unmotivated and unwilling to take chances.
St. Thomas University English professor Tony Tremblay grew up with this negative dialogue.
Now, he’s studying why New Brunswickers hate their province.
“The national indices put New Brunswick at the bottom or the top of every category. Highest illiteracy in the country, highest examples of obesity and diabetes in the country, highest . . . incidents of STDs among high school students in the country, lowest mean income in the country, the only province in Canada in the census to actually have lost population,” he said.
“It goes on and on and people just conclude, ‘Well, they’re just a bunch of slobs down there.'”
Tremblay’s research project is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant. Two doctoral students from the University of New Brunswick and two undergraduate students from STU will be working on the project.
After the research is completed, Tremblay said he will probably publish a book on his findings.
Tremblay’s research hasn’t always focused on the largest Maritime province. He originally studied post-colonialism literature.
But in 2007, Tremblay realized his calling was something closer to home.
During his 10 years as the Canada Research Chair in New Brunswick Studies, Tremblay encountered the province’s lack of self-knowledge of its own culture and history. Over the next several years, he started filling the knowledge gap by establishing a provincial encyclopedia, a journal, a literary curriculum in English and some documentary films.
It was an opportunity to create resources for people of the province, he said.
With his background, Tremblay is already ahead of the game for his research project.
During his appointment as Research Chair, Tremblay said he worked on building up a repertoire of New Brunswick social, historical and economic knowledge. He said this lack of knowledge about a home province and its culture is directly linked to the negative dialogue.
He said two major factors have influenced an innate sense of hatred for the province with the shrinking population.
First, N.B.’s economic conditions were great before the confederation of Canada, but deteriorated once trade routes started favouring central Canada.
Second, when Canadians were contrasted to Americans they were criticized.
“[Canadians] believed in the power of this socialist system to slowly bring up the fortunes of people and that clashed against the power of individuals, to seek wealth, to seek a kind of social elevation, and Canadians were criticized,” he said.
“We are the result of the structural systems in our social economic networks.”
Tremblay said it doesn’t help that the population also reiterates these narratives.
Although he established new sources of N.B. knowledge, Tremblay said it’s difficult to reverse a narrative that has been in the public’s dialogue for so long.
He believes it’s not all doom and gloom for the province that’s home to some cool rocks and the longest covered bridge in the world. He hopes his two-year research project can help open the eyes of New Brunswickers.
“The whole point of this project is to expose something for what it is, so people can free themselves of [the negative narrative],” he said.
“There’s tremendous hope down here.”