Over the past few days I’ve seen a lot of coverage on Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s re-election in Calgary. Over the summer, I saw a lot of coverage on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s crack scandal. Before Ford, it was Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum’s resignation over corruption charges. Following this, I remember a few proud Vancouverites making noise about their mayor, Gregor Robertson, riding his bicycle to work, which I guess is important to a few proud Vancouverites.
Nanaimo’s mayor doesn’t ride his bike to work. In fact, he had a tongue-in-cheek competition with VIU president Ralph Nilson in 2012 in which he stated that he would be able to commute more quickly in his car than Nilson could on his bike. He also told the Nanaimo News Bulletin that “the rumours of me using a Lamborghini are simply untrue. But I do know a guy with a red convertible Ferrari. Maybe I’ll ask if I can use it.” Nilson responded with “I doubt [the mayor] even knows how to drive a Ferrari.”
I came across this article while searching “Who is Nanaimo’s mayor” on Google. Despite being born in Nanaimo and living here for most my life, I didn’t know who our mayor is, let alone that he has a sense of humour (although to my knowledge he doesn’t attend local events dressed as a pirate). I could blame this on the fact that I was still in high school and cared little about municipal politics when John Ruttan won the 2008 election, but nowadays I’m surrounded by politically active university students five days a week, and I’m still clueless as to what goes on in city hall.
As a city of only 89,000 citizens, Nanaimo tends to fall under the radar of most national publications. As an increasing number of people, including myself, turn to the internet to keep up to date on news, we’re missing out on local coverage. As the 35th largest city in Canada, it also lacks the tight-knit feel of a small town. For example, try going to a Nanaimo Clippers game when they face off against a team like the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. The roar of Port Alberni fans can often overpower that of Nanaimo’s fans, and while Clippers fans are just as enthusiastic as any other team’s fan base, the problem lies in attendance.
The apathy doesn’t end on the rink; it carries over to many aspects of city life. Smaller towns have less citizens, which in a way unifies them—they don’t have the luxury of subcultures to identify with—at least not to the extent that we do. Someone living in the towns of Summerland or Agassiz has an easier time identifying with their neighbours, out of necessity, which creates a sort of melting pot culture. Living in a city, no matter what the size, means that there are enough people around you to have a choice in how you choose to identify yourself and what sort of groups you belong to. The connection you have with your place of residence is replaced by the connection you have with your hobbies and interests.
If you’re a sports fan, you’ll spend your time with sports fans. If you’re a writer, you’ll spend your time with writers. If you’re a gamer, you’ll spend your time with gamers. Clippers games are attended mostly by serious hockey fans, whereas the crowd at a Bulldogs game will also include a lot of people with only a mild appreciation of hockey who are Bulldogs fans because hockey games are one of the few things to do on a Friday night in Port Alberni.
The “subculturation” that happens in cities is a big appeal of big city life. Living in Vancouver or Toronto, you’re bound to find a large group of people with the same niche interests as you. Board game clubs, foreign film screenings, and bike polo leagues all have a healthy attendance. In Nanaimo, similar groups can be found, only the numbers are much smaller. Despite the problems, Nanaimo has a lot to offer, and sometimes that includes growing pains.