Out and About in Saint John

Our hosts Jim and Carl were among the first same-sex couples legally married in New Brunswick, back in 2005. They are both quite active in the gay community in Saint John, and we had a long conversation with Jim after breakfast, hearing more about the Saint John community. We have a number of friends involved with PFLAG and Egale (formerly Canadians for Equal Marriage) in Ottawa, and it was interesting to find out more about things here.

Before Jim and Carl bought the Mahogany Manor B&B, they ran Bogart’s, a very popular gay bar and dance club here. This was in the early ‘90s when there were few support structures like PFLAG, so many people would come to Bogart’s for support if they had been kicked out of the house or disowned after coming out, which apparently happened with dismaying frequency. Jim is a retired United Church minister, and it sounds like he had lots of opportunities to use his counseling expertise. On weekends it was a popular dance bar for straight folks as well, and apparently 30-40% of the customers were straight. This is a higher ratio than we’ve seen elsewhere, and seems like it would be an excellent outreach and education to the straight community. There must have been a number of “Aha” moments for folks – “Wow, these queer folks aren’t so different from me after all!”

They were also among the first same-sex couples in New Brunswick to have their partnership blessed in the United Church of Canada. This was back in 1996, when the idea of same-sex marriage seemed impossibly far away to most, and the idea of the United Church solemnizing marriages was a topic of considerable conflict. (The Unitarian Universalists were on the forefront of this as well, but we’re a much smaller denomination in Canada, so our decisions resulted in much less publicity). The media got hold of the story, were going to publicize the ceremony (which to that point had been small and quiet), so Jim and Carl decided if their ceremony was going to be a public event, they’d reach out to the media and make sure their story got told. We found these stories very inspiring – it’s great to hear how one or two people can make such a difference to a larger community.

After this, we went on to more prosaic activities. Scott contacted several bike shops about his shock failure, but no-one locally stocks replacement shocks, and shock geometry apparently varies quite a bit depending on the bike. All sorts of interesting things we’re learning! The mechanics we talked to did recommend replacement rather than attempting repair though, so we got some useful information. We’ll follow up with a warranty claim, and Scott will deal with a somewhat bouncy ride until then.

We took the city bus in Saint John, which was surprisingly challenging. We managed to figure out what routes to take from the web, but beyond that we ran into problem after problem. We reached King’s Square, the Uptown terminus for the buses, and found a number of bus shelters, around the edge of the square, but none had any indication of what buses stopped at them, when they stopped, or any other useful information. We asked a few passersby, but they didn’t seem to know either. Finally a bus appeared for Scott on the West side, but Becky was waiting on the North side. After a few questions from Scott, and curt answers from the driver, it turned out that this was the correct bus. He was told to run to the East side of the square and pick Becky up on the way. This was great, except that Scott was barely half-way across the square when the bus went roaring up East side and continued on his route. We initially put this up to an unfortunate coincidence, but we witnessed two other drivers providing unhelpful answers or snarky responses to simple, polite questions, both from us and other passengers. Three for three indicates a pattern, at least to us. Sad to see, especially in a tourist town like Saint John.

The destination for our bus journey was the Parkway Mall, home of the Elections Canada Returning Office for Saint John. It was there that we were to get a special ballot and vote. We had to know the name of the candidate we were voting for because not all candidates have registered with Elections Canada yet, and a special ballot is a write-in ballot anyway. When we looked on the Elections Canada website, the only candidate for our riding that has registered officially is the NDP candidate. This is rather amusing as Ottawa-West-Nepean has an interesting race between Conservative incumbent and Environment Minister John Baird and Liberal ex-Defense Minister David Pratt; however, neither of them has officially registered. (Not to discount Marlene Rivier (NDP) or Frances Coates (Green) but I’d put my money on a Conservative or Liberal MP, at least in this election). In any case, we successfully completed our ballots, and sealed them inside their three envelopes. Interestingly, we had to mail them back to Elections Canada HQ ourselves, even though we had completed them at an Elections Canada office. I guess the intent is that delivering them to Canada Post is almost like dropping them in a ballot box? Perhaps we just don’t trust Canada Post as much as Elections Canada, but it felt a bit like dropping them into a black hole. At any rate, we’ve done our best to vote.

Becky is starting to recover from her stomach upset, which is good. She is limiting her food intake to mostly liquids today, hoping that tomorrow she will be in reasonable enough shape to bike. We don’t have to go very far tomorrow (either 10 km or 45 km depending on what accommodation and food options we find in Digby). Her comfort food of choice is Pho – Vietnamese beef and noodle soup (with very little beef and noodle, and lots of broth), so it was fortunate that the only Vietnamese restaurant in town was nearby.

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