Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Come From Away Is Neither Here Nor There

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, August 3, 2016, by Sara Jewell.

A store sign in Pugwash, NS.

A friend introduced me to a woman selling beautiful handmade mittens at the Pugwash Farmers Market because she thought I’d be interested in this woman’s work with animals.
When Gail Simmons and I sat down for a conversation the following afternoon in the sunroom of her Gulf Shore cottage, my first question evolved from the Ontario address on her business card: “So, what brought you to Nova Scotia?”
“I’m not from away, I’m from Amherst,” Gail told me. “My family has been in the Maritimes since the 1700s.”
In fact, her family connections are found in all four Atlantic provinces but it is her aunt and uncle, Jeanne Simmons and Randolph Lusby, who provide the connection to the Gulf Shore.
“This property belonged to them and when they passed with no children, they left it to my cousin, Beth, who offered me some of it,” explained Gail, a retired high school English teacher. She and her husband James built their cottage in 1995 and now spend several months on the shore. Besides her table at the weekly market, Gail also rides her horse daily in Linden.

Gail Simmons with her beloved horse, Earl, at Galloway Stables.
“My father was in the Air Force and we moved every two years. Nova Scotia was the only constant in my growing up years, Christmases and summers. Maritimers go away but they come home again and again. There’s some draw about this magical place.”

At this point, our conversation took a detour turn from the original topic. Gail mentioned a radio interview she’d heard recently with Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison who is calling on Maritimers to stop using the phrase “come from away”, which refers to someone who wasn’t born here.
“This politician was trying to say ‘come from away’ is insulting and horrible for immigrants. And I thought, ‘You couldn’t have more welcoming people than people in Nova Scotia. What are you talking about?’ The ‘come from away’ expression is part of our culture.”
What angered Gail is that the phrase is being turned into a political issue about immigration.
“It’s two different things,” she said. “Immigration is separate from the ‘from away’ expression; he’s using it out of context. Don’t hinge the conversation about immigration on something that is part of the colloquial fibre of this region.”
Gail considers ‘come from away’ a unique cultural parlance, like ‘How’s she goin’?’ or ‘Where’s she at?’
“No one in my family has ever used ‘come from away’ with any derogatory intention,” she said. “It’s used as an invitation to exchange information. It’s the Maritime way of asking someone where they are from and it’s an invitation for the person to tell their story.”

She laughed because she has the same experience in Ontario. She and her family have lived in the same house in Seeley’s Bay for over thirty years but people still refer to it as the Leadbeater house.
“I don’t take offense to that. I’m not from there and I’ll never be from there; I’m from here,” she said. “Everybody belongs somewhere and everyone is from away depending on where they’re standing.”


  1. We've been having an ongoing discussion of this term, and folks who come here from elsewhere, in Saltscapes for the past few issues. Come from away is one of those terms where some are proud and some are offended. I'm not sure what I am--born in Newfoundland of two Nova Scotian parents, conceived in Wolfville (honeymoon) and have lived in NS most of my life. I call myself Atlantic Canadian, mostly. :-) Very good column as always.

  2. Thanks, Jodi. Limited by my word count, I wasn't able to work in that the use of "come from away" often reflects the attitude of a few, not the cultural fabric of a community. Someone (from Nfld, now living in NS) used the term "from away" in conversation with me today exactly the way Gail believes it is used. So I vote it stays.