Charlottetown, PEI—Maritime Canada is the most impoverished area of the country. Most of the people here have seasonal work—fishing, agriculture, tourism—and spent the rest of the year figuring out how to scrape by. I only knew Prince Edward Island from oysters and Anne of Green Gables (which, admittedly, I never finished). It is rolling red farmland dotted with Irving gas stations. The handmade sweaters at Northern Watters Knitwear run about $200—or, a quarter of the average monthly salary. The locals, many of whom work in the nearby French fry factory, worry about the possible closure of the government dialysis center and cutbacks in unemployment insurance.
These are the people who gave ten dollars to aid organizations after the Haiti earthquake, and they grumbled and shifted in their seats in St. Pauls’ Church as they watched the film. They wore windbreakers and shorts. Their idea of “cold” was clearly different than mine. I shivered in a wool sweater that a former nun made. I was staying at her small apartment, and she took pity on a first-timer’s visit and gave it to me. She also gave me a small jar of wine jelly (“I don’t drink wine,” she said, “I eat it”) and introduced me to a hermit—a real hermit—who broke his solitude to come to the screening.
I was talking to the hermit when a man persistently tugged at my sleeve. He talked very fast. His name was Leo, he was 60, and he was a “people-first person,” he said. He had spent his life in foster homes. Now he was an old man, in the poorest area of the country, suspicious of dogs (“some dogs aren’t very nice”) but less so of people. He asked the most questions after the film.
The former nun poured me a giant wine glassful of Bailey’s Irish Cream later that night. I began wondering a lot about former nuns. And the next day, when I left at five in the morning to head out to New Brunswick, I would find out that Leo, living alone in a boarding house, had bought a copy of the film. It would take him two months on his limited income to buy it, but once he did, he told the organizers, he wanted to donate it to the local library. “So as many people as possible can see it,” he said.