What is culture?

May 19, 2013

What is culture? It is not just something that happens in art galleries, concerts halls and opera houses. Culture is, among other things, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary: “…the customs, civilization, and achievements of a particular time or people.” It is your life, your past, your present and, perhaps, your future. It is about history. We all have a history and everybody’s history is interesting.

Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada has a culture and those of us who live here are part of it. Some of us were born here and others, like myself, chose Sackville as our home. Of course, this being small town rural Maritime Canada even though I have lived here for thirty-eight years I am regarded as a ‘come from away’ or a CFA. All of us bring something special to our town’s culture. Recently there have been articles in the local newspaper that were about curling, farming and local theatre groups. The articles could have been on any number of subjects such as ice skating, square dancing, local history and, yes, fine art—all are aspects of culture.


Sackville has been settled by successive waves of peoples—the Aboriginals, the French and finally the English. All have left their mark. We too will leave our mark on Sackville. A hundred years from now someone may write an article such as this and try to say something about Sackville at the beginning of a new century. Then we, like those who came before us, will be a part of history.

As for the arts, what other town of our size can boast of a highly rated university, a professional theatre company and three art galleries. We have a thriving and growing, population of artists and artisans. This all adds to the culture of Sackville. Some people speak to me about what we lack in this community rather than what we have. These are often the same people who are always looking at a half empty glass rather than one that is half full and begging to be filled to the brim. We do have a history that we can learn from, a present that we can be proud of, and a future that is ours to make.

Our culture holds us together with a common glue. There is no room here for the separation of town and gown or religious or racial intolerance. Each person in our community enriches Sackville. Believe me, living here is unique and quite unlike any other place in the world. I have been pretty much everywhere—Europe, South America, Asia and the Caribbean, but I am always glad to return home to Sackville. I do like to see the rest of the world if for no other reason than to realise how lucky I am to live here. I don’t want to paint a too rosy picture because like anywhere we have our problems. There is too much unemployment which really means that there are too few jobs, but culture has a role here as well because a rich culture creates jobs. Culture creates a strong local economy. Culture is why people visit and why people stay and live here. A key to our future is tourism. We need to draw people to our community as a place to visit and a place to live.

If I want to look at the face of culture in Sackville all I have to do is step into the post office any week day about ten in the morning. There I can find farmers talking to university professors, mothers with their children and seniors meeting one another. If I have forgotten my keys all I have to do is step up to counter and ask for my mail. They don’t ask my name, they know it and my box number as well. In a bigger town mail would be delivered to our door, but it wouldn’t be same thing as going to the box each day. I know some of the unfortunates who have been reduced to the so-called Super Boxes dearly miss the daily post office visit.

Do you want more culture? How about Mel’s Tea Room? Here is a business that should be listed as an historic site. In the years I have been here it has been remodelled several times and always comes out looking as it did before and I am happy it does. Here I can actually get a real milkshake and the waitresses call me dear even if they are years younger than me. Now if I have the sudden urge to buy a cowbell I need go no further than the Harness Shop. That would be a hard thing to do on the main street of most towns including Toronto. It is places such as these that add to our culture.

hamburger at mels

Our churches, central in many of our lives, are a big part of our culture. Our schools are part of our culture. The local paper, the Tribune-Post, is part of our culture. These organisations help form the patterns of our lives. Culture is the pride we take in all the things that we do. Culture in Sackville is simply the sum-total of our shared lives. This is my town, my place in the universe and I am happy to be part of this community.

Why did I choose to live in Sackville? I had lived before in large cities and taught at large universities. I wanted to live in a smaller place where I could find out who I was. Sackville gave me this option. I have been here thirty-eight years and each day brings something different to my life. Much of this is due to the rich culture of our town. Think about it. In our town we have a fine university and ten farms within our borders. We have a wonderful water fowl park right in our downtown and, wait for it, we have two sets of full traffic lights.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Sunday, 19 May, 2013.

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