Saint John used to be a grubby port city with a stinking pulp mill. Today, it's a relatively pretty city with a pulp mill that gets scrubbed regularly. You must remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and my prescription has changed greatly over the years. As a child of the whitewashed Fredericton suburbs, a trip to Saint John felt like a visit to see poor cousins. You know the ones, they smelled and had tatty clothes. There was dirt under their nails which was probably mined from their nose. They had candles of wax in their ears. For all the manifold shortcomings of Saint John, I was the blind child.
Saint John, in fact, held many riches that the residents of Pleasantville, I mean Fredericton, could only imagine. Like what? Well, Saint John had a K-Mart before Fredericton, so mom would load the kids in the car and off we'd go to do some shopping. I can't think of anything else that Saint John had, that Fredericton didn't. Reversing Falls, I suppose, but we didn't often go there. It was too close to the stinky mill.
As a small child sitting in the back seat of my parents' massive Chevrolet Impala, I remember the drive to Saint John as being endless. The scenery was pretty boring, of course it didn't help that I was barely big enough to see out the windows. There were two highlights from the drive:
1) seeing Mount Douglas, a ski hill near Welsford,
2) spotting the Irving pulp mill at Reversing Falls.
Spotting the pulp mill was the bigger of the two thrills, because my parents offered twenty-five cents to the first child to catch a glimpse of the bellowing smoke stacks. It would come into view long before we reached the city limits. One of the rolling hills in the approach to Saint John would reveal old faithful; the key was to remember which hill was the money maker. I was motivated by the money, there's no doubt. Going to Saint John was strictly business for me. I was a child entrepreneur.
Things certainly have changed. When I drive my son to Fredericton, or when he drives me (now that he has his license), we aren't motivated by a trip to Wal-Mart (K-Mart being a faded memory, except for the donut-making machine which is indelibly inked into my brain canvas). I don't entice him with cash prizes for smelling the Fredericton dump. The dump is every bit our pulp mill. It's got bad breath so catastrophically chewy that you could hang off it and do chin-ups.
I'm driving my wife to Saint John today. She's one of the adjudicators at the New Brunswick Competitive Festival of Music. She's following in my footsteps, traveling to Saint John to earn a living. Unlike me, it won't be off the backs of the industrious Irvings. As I drive her over the Reversing Falls bridge to the city's west side, I'll no longer have to plug my nose as I did as a sulfur sensitive child.
The Saint John of today is quite different from that of my youth. It's quite lovely. It even plays host to dozens of cruise ships each summer and fall. I can easily imagine how the scene would have played out in the late 1960s, had cruise ships ventured into the port of Saint John. Passengers would have been bewildered, wondering from where the awful smell was emanating. They'd wander the docks, plugging their noses. A crowd would gather around a little six- year-old as he'd be making dirty money.
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