Cathy and I have enjoyed CBC-TV’s comedy-in-a-small-town series Still Standing for quite awhile now, but we’ve never looked forward to an episode quite as much as the late-November edition saluting the community of Canso.
That’s partly because each of us has a history with Canso, as individuals and as a married couple, and partly because we just like the basic premise of Still Standing: Newfoundland-born actor-comedian Jonny Harris pops into a Canadian community that has retained its unique spirit despite falling on hard times. After a few days of filming interviews and activities with the locals, he takes the stage and regales the community with a completely original, full-blown stand-up comedy routine.
Since Still Standing debuted as a CBC summer replacement series in 2015, Johnny and his crew have visited a few spots that resonate with Strait area viewers. These include Mabou – where he went snowmobiling with Heather Rankin, popped into The Red Shoe and got a Gaelic lesson at Dalbrae Academy – and even Fort McMurray, which is considerably bigger than most towns profiled on the show but redefined the phrase “still standing” after the wildfires of mid-2016.
Not surprisingly, the never-say-die spirit of Canso seemed like a perfect fit for the series, and indeed it was.
I was tickled to hear the stories of former town councillor Susan O’Handley, who has served several roles in the community since our paths first crossed in 1993 during my early radio days. I enjoyed seeing Johnny explore the revolutionary shellfish-trapping technology of Alan Newell, who I interviewed during my full-time years at The Reporter. I also received a great refresher on the region’s role in trans-Atlantic wireless communication from another familiar face, veteran historian Bill MacMillan.
Much of the focus during Still Standing’s visit to Canso was placed on a proposal by Maritime Launch Services (MLS) to develop a spaceport that would turn in the community into a rocket-launching site. The episode’s climax even saw Jonny, surrounded by enthusiastic community members, setting off a small model rocket on one of Canso’s wharf facilities.
I would have been a little more comfortable with that theme if it wasn’t for the early-September news that Nova Scotia’s Environment Minister, Margaret Miller, had confirmed that she was delaying a decision on the MLS project because the company hadn’t provided sufficient analysis, information and evidence in the environmental assessment it submitted to the province. After MLS receives updated terms of reference from Miller’s department, the company has a one-year deadline to submit a complete environmental assessment.
Still, I can’t blame the Still Standing producers for making the choice to stay with the rocket-launching theme, especially since the footage was shot before Miller issued her decision on August 23. The project may still happen, and there’s no doubt that it’s given hope and a potential new identity to a community that has indeed struggled since the Atlantic ground fishery took a significant downturn nearly three decades ago.
There’s one aspect of the Canso episode, however, that completely mystified me: Given Still Standing’s mandate to showcase the successes of its profiled communities, why wasn’t there a single word about the Stan Rogers Folk Festival?
Take that in for a second: This is one of the biggest success stories in the Atlantic Canadian cultural scene since its 1997 debut, an event that draws thousands of musicians and music lovers from across North America, and a summer gathering that inspires hundreds of Canso residents to put on a volunteer T-shirt and show the world their unique hospitality.
It didn’t rate a single mention on Still Standing. The closest we got was the Stanfest logo on a vest that Bill MacMillan wore for his interview in Hazel Hill.
Now, in fairness, I learned a lot about Canso and its various issues, landmarks and personalities – and I suspect non-Maritimers not familiar with the community learned even more – from the Still Standing profile, and it’s conceivable that even the smallest amount of Stanfest discussion could have squeezed that out.
I’m also aware that a lot happens in Canso on the other 51 weekends of the year, and I’m sure there is more than one resident that doesn’t appreciate the disproportionate attention given to this single event.
I just hope that, if there’s any way for Still Standing or a similar show to return to Canso in the future, they’ll find a better means of balancing the community’s people, character, successes, failures and dreams. It’s one thing to hope for a big launch, and quite another to recognize a deeply-rooted success that is itself “still standing” after over two decades of shooting for the stars – and, for that matter, putting actual stars and stars-to-be on its many stages.