A Walk Around Town – Walk L – Poverty: Judgement to Compassion

Excerpts from “Walk L” in “St. Catharines A-Z” by Junius, originally published in the St. Catharines Journal on July 24th, 1856.

This week Junius pulls readers through a dizzying rant about multiple different topics from poverty to banks and brokers to “Moonlight Excursions”. I am choosing to focus on his commentary related to unemployment and poverty. I think Junius’ tirade on the subject is a prime example of unproductive, judgemental, old-world thought:

“You are discouraged! You? With strong limbs, good health, the green earth beneath your feet, and the broad blue sky above? Discouraged? And why? You are poor, unknown, friendless, obscure, unrecognized and alone in the great swarming metropolis, or perhaps elsewhere. The rich man suffocates you with the dust of his pretentious chariot wheels. As you are now, so once was he. Did he waste time whining about it? No, by the rod! For shame, man! Get up and shake yourself, if you are not afraid such a mass of inanity will fall to pieces. Cock your hat on your head, torn rim and all. Elbow your way through the crowd, and through the world. If they don’t move for you, make them do it; push past them; you have as much right in the world as your neighbor; if you wait for him to take you by the hand; the grass will grow under your feet; rush past him, and get employment. You have tried and failed; so have thousands before you. I tell you, if you are determined you can get employment; but you won’t get it by cringing around the doors of rich relations; you won’t get it if you can’t dine on a crust, month after month, and year after year, if need be, with hope for a dessert; you won’t get it if you stand with your lazy hands in your pockets, listening to croakers; you won’t do it if you don’t raise your head above every billow if discouragement which dashes over you, and halloo to fate with a stout heart; try again old fellow!”

Today there is clearly a better societal understanding of unemployment, homelessness and poverty. The old attitude and belief that people should just “Get up and shake” themselves, as Junius professed, has for the most part gone by the wayside. There is also more recognition of the contributing factors to poverty and homelessness such as mental illness, abuse, addiction, and more. Luckily there are programs in place in St. Catharines to assist individuals who find themselves unemployed or homeless such as: Community Care, Niagara Poverty Reduction Network, Bethlehem Projects of Niagara, Canadian Mental Health Association, Gillian’s Place, Salvation Army Booth Centre, Southridge Shelter, YWCA, Start Me Up Niagara and The Raft, not to mention the food banks.

A further example of the changed mindset in St. Catharines is openly visible in St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik’s “Compassionate City” initiative. A statement from the mayor that is posted on the website for this initiative states: “I believe that the best way for us to really address these issues is by building a culture of compassion and understanding and by working together. I believe that we all have a role to play and I want to help build a compassionate city that takes care of all of its citizens. A city where everyone matters! This approach is focused on action and cultural change. It is about empowering everyone in our city – from city staff to community workers and volunteers – to be a part of a more positive future for our friends and neighbours in need. It starts from within – within each of us as individuals, within our organizations and within City Hall.”

Well said Mister Mayor.

For more information on “The Compassionate City” visit: http://www.compassionatestc.ca/


Alicia Floyd, St. Catharines Museum


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