I grew up in Chelmsford, Ontario, just outside of Sudbury. For anyone who’s not familiar with this area, it’s a small blue-collar town centered around the mining industry. It’s a unique place where about a third of the population speaks French. Back in the day, Sudbury was a union town full of hard working people, with more or less traditional values. A lot of that has changed, and now, Sudbury even has a small, but thriving arts scene.
In my 20’s, I moved to the downtown core. I had a full-time job in tech support, but I also enjoyed taking on side gigs. I took on a side job in advertising sales for a very brief time. In fact, it was so brief that I don’t even remember the name of the company! But, I do remember the owner. He was from Toronto and he was trying to setup a new advertising firm in Sudbury. This is what he told me on my first day on the job: “You’re gonna have a hard time, because people in Sudbury are the most skeptical people I’ve ever met.”
He was right. Selling featured advertising space to Sudburians was a goddamn nightmare. And it’s funny, because I know plenty of Sudburians who have been sold things that don’t work, things that don’t benefit them, and things that are useless. They’re not immune to being charmed by snake oil. So, how come I couldn’t get them to buy ad space for their businesses?
Well, as it turns out, Sudburians (and northerners in general) are quicker to distrust “the system”, especially when it has wronged them. There’s a long history of governments taking advantage of the resources in northern towns, but not paying it forward. The land is reaped, but the tax dollars go to the cities. Take healthcare for example. The healthcare system tends to be complete shit in rural Canada. Naturally, if someone outside the system proposes a solution (‘natural medicines’), that’s an easier thing to sell. But, anything ‘white collar’ is also perceived as being part of ‘the system’.
And it even goes further than that. The lack of competition in a town like Sudbury means that it’s really hard to be mediocre, and it’s hard to sell white collar services. You can’t have five shitty sushi restaurants, when there’s already one really great one in town. There’s just not enough population to support the mediocre establishments. So, featured advertising spots are useless in situations where there’s not even enough business. Sudburian business owners know this. That’s why they were so skeptical of any efforts to make money off their backs.
Since I moved to Ottawa, and then, Montreal, I’ve learned a lot about how this kind of skepticism is lacking in larger centres. I’ve seen start-ups go to hell because their leaders placed too much trust in people with letters after their names. I’ve seen people get heavily fucked over by their employers. And I’ve seen people steal other people’s ideas, and their work, in order to take credit for them. People trust other people way too easily around here. It’s a dog eat dog world, and a lot of the crap that happens here could be prevented by taking a step back and asking, “hey, is this being done right?”.
I remember, in Montreal, living in a building where the landlord had trusted a contractor to make repairs. He was a sweet talker, a really nice man. But, he was useless. He was tasked with creating a new doorframe for my unit, for a door that wouldn’t close. He brought in four pieces of wood, nailed them together, and called it a day. No measurements, no fitting. She paid him, and I still had a door that wouldn’t close, with an added unpainted frame that looked like it came from a kid’s treehouse. If that had happened back home, I’m pretty sure this dude would have been crucified, and would never work again.
The older I get, the longer I live in a big city, the more I’m surprised when someone is actually competent at their job. White collar, or blue collar, it doesn’t matter. The minute I meet someone who’s actually competent at their job, I’m shocked. And that’s just a frustrating way to live. You can’t even trust friend recommendations out here. I’m gearing up to move to the east coast now, a different rural part of Canada. My partner (who grew up on a farm) is also tired of big city incompetence. We’re both done, we’ve had it. We both know that we’ll run into swindlers no matter where we live. It’s a problem everywhere, but there’s that one ingredient – that skepticism, that distrust of strangers – is going to be refreshing. Because, in order to gain people’s trust in rural areas, you have to be known by them. Like, really known – and evaluated. People aren’t just gonna trust you to get something done. You’ll have to prove that you’re capable. I understand that I’m speaking in generalities, but it’s undeniable. Skepticism has a place, and it’s needed. And in the big cities, it’s undervalued as a way to vet people. Sudbury, there’s a lot of shit I don’t like about you, but on this one, you win.