This is the first part of a two part series. You can find part 2 here.
You’re out for dinner with a new friend, let’s say someone you’re just getting to know. Imagine this acquaintance were to order caviar. Realistically, you might take their order as a clue as to the type of person they are:
You might guess that they’re doing quite well financially.
You could assume that they have exotic tastes.
You might consider their order an attempt to impress you, perceiving their hopes that the prestige associated with the dish might rub off on them.
And although these impressions are based off of a relatively small amount of data, their order, you might even be right.
Caviar is pretty damn expensive after all. Currently, Caviar costs the consumer between $50 and $75 per ounce (a two person serving), although of course the price varies by type and quality, with some of the most expensive caviar, from Iranian Beluga for example, selling for upwards of $400 dollars an ounce. So yeah, your new friend might have expensive tastes, fair guess I’d say.
Most caviar now actually comes from aquaculture endeavours in China, and there is not much of market in Canada relative to elsewhere. Given a luke-warm market for the product domestically, it’s not surprising Canadian’s might consider it exotic.
Caviar is also certainly portrayed in a way which gives the impression of prestige.
The cost prohibits most people from enjoying the dish with any sort of regularity, and with that comes the allure of exclusivity. I personally have never tried the dish, and I imagine many residents of Northern Ontario are right with me on that. While a recent surge in production of caviar by China, increasing supply and reducing price has threatened the exclusivity of the dish, from a popular culture perspective, the dish is still considered a delicacy enjoyed by the wealthy and influential.
Honestly, the word caviar basically makes me picture either posh Hollywood parties, or some super old guy with a monocle and top-hat speaking with some played up billionaire’s drawl. Caviar, conceptually at least, is a dish for elites. It is expensive, exclusive, and presumably it tastes fantastic (I wouldn’t know).
“Myths are one of the key ingredients in caviar. Stripped of its shroud of legend and tradition, caviar would just be fish eggs.”
Igna Saffron – Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World’s Most Coveted Delicacy
So, what does Caviar have to do with North Bay and the surrounding communities?
Well that takes us back in history, to the story a founding father of Sturgeon Falls, the caviar king, and Lake Nipissing’s “Black Gold” . There’s a lot more to this story than a local caviar producer.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Jeremiah Daniel (J.D) Cockburn arrived in Sturgeon Falls in the 1880’s, crossing the ice of Lake Nipissing with his horse and his limited worldly possessions. J.D left from Muskoka, and quickly found his place in the economy of Sturgeon Falls as the owner of a fur post which became a general store. J.D expanded his local empire over the following years, with both his lumber and fishery endeavours underway prior to the towns official establishment (Unknown Author1,n.d) (Lebelle, 1995).
When Sturgeon Falls officially became a municipality in 1895, J.D was credited as one of the town’s founding fathers, and a historical plaque commemorating the founding of the town on Front Street (Hwy 17) lists his name specifically. As time went on, Cockburn’s local commerce activity became pretty impressive, with his endeavours expanding further to include an Opera-house theatre, a pulp mill, and a local hotel, in addition to his thriving store, fishery and lumber harvesting businesses (Unknown Author1,n.d) (Lebelle, 1995).
In addition to his role as the head of his company directing its various activities, J.D had other official roles locally and was truly a cornerstone to the town. He acted as the regions Crown Land agent during the settlement period, the post-master, as the towns sole election poll clerk in 1913, as well as a stint as Lodge Master at the local Masonic Temple on John Street between 1914-15 (Castilloux, n.d)(Author Uknown2, n.d). He continued his crucial involvement in the temple in the following decades and was a prominent member of the masonic community in the region.
With the local prominence of the Cockburn name established, the stage was set for Cockburn’s sons to make it a dynasty.
A use for Lake Sturgeon
Coincidently, right around the time J.D Cockburn was making a name for himself on the shores of Lake Nipissing, the stage was being set for his son, Roy Cockburn, to make a legacy of his own.
While sturgeon of North America were plentiful in the colonial era, they were not sought after by settlers, and it was often considered a pest that would find its way into nets intended for a more profitable catch. American colonies took notice of the way the Indigenous peoples enjoyed smoked sturgeon, but there was very little demand for the fish as anything but food to give to slaves (Saffron, 2002). In Canada, the sturgeon were left to the First Nations peoples as well.
Essentially, colonists felt the meat from the shark-like fish was really only suitable for ‘inferior peoples’, and did not bother with commercial harvesting of sturgeon for the first few hundred years of occupation (Ontario Rivers Alliance, 2009).
That all changed when in the middle of the 19th century, when a Russian immigrant living in Philadelphia purchased live sturgeon from fishermen, and rather than throwing the roe away, he cured the eggs delicately to produce fine caviar. The man packaged the product, and shipped it to France, Germany, and back home to Russia, and an industry was born (Saffron, 2002).
This one, unknown immigrant had set in motion a black gold rush.
The North American Caviar Boom
After the discovery that North American Lake Sturgeon could produce a high quality caviar, an intense boom in the industry followed. The second half of the 1800’s saw numerous Caviar businesses all over the United States and Canada (Saffron, 2002). By 1870 the price of the sturgeon meat, in addition to the realization the fish could be exploited for their roe, justified mass-scale commercial fishing of sturgeon throughout the continent, especially in the Great Lakes (Ontario Rivers Alliance, 2009).
An interesting irony emerges when one considers the change in consumer of the sturgeon in North America in such a short period of time. Literally, from rags to riches, the meat was once considered only suitable for incredibly ignorantly deemed “lesser races”, and now it was being harvested for the purpose of producing the finest delicacy for the wealthiest nobility and royalty all over Europe.
History provides all kinds of weird irony for us to consider in hindsight, and that’s just one reason I love to study the past.
While the initial increase in supply of caviar that came with the new production in North America may have caused the price of the commodity to drop somewhat, caviar’s reputation and myth as a delicacy only grew. Consistently, year after year, there were less fish in the nets. As supply decreased, the price of caviar continued to rise, further justifying the exploitation of the resources (Ontario Rivers Alliance, 2009).
By the mid to late 1880’s, Sturgeon stocks had depleted in the Great Lakes, and opportunists turned their sights to smaller lakes to fill the insatiable demand for the product in Europe.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, Lake Nipissing was one of these lakes.
Special Thanks to Nikki Commanda. While I don’t know her, her research paper: Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser Fulvescens) Management and Status Update for the Lake Nipissing Watershed, served as the inspiration for this me to tell this story.
This is a long one, so strap in, and let’s continue where we left off…
Cockburn & Sons’ Limited
By 1988, J.D Cockburn, a man who wore many hats, had begun to really take advantage of the opportunity of harvesting Lake Nipissing’s sturgeon to satisfy caviar demand. The period with the largest harvests of the species in the lake’s history 1900-1908, saw an average of over 11,000 pounds of caviar being harvested annually. These harvests were split between the Cockburn fishery and one other commercial licence holder on the lake.
This ridiculous, ‘kid in a candy store’ style of management (or lack thereof) did a number on the sturgeon population, and by 1908 a moratorium was ordered to let the fish stock recover. The closure was short lived however, and by 1917 harvesting commercially was once again allowed.
Unfortunately, this early century collapse was only the beginning of the issues that the sturgeon population would face in the still young 20th century.
The Caviar King
In 1915, Roy Cockburn, son of J.D, and his brothers took over operations of the family fishery, and began fishing for sturgeon in Lake Nipissing.
“Wait”, you might say: “I thought you said fisheries were banned from harvesting sturgeon from Lake Nipissing until 1917.”
Yes, you’re not crazy, I did. This obvious non-compliance was admitted to by Cockburn in a newspaper article in 1946, and that’s just the beginning of the arrogance that the second generation of the Sturgeon Falls Cockburn’s would put on display.
By 1946, Roy was the sole owner operator of the Cockburn fishery on Lake Nipissing, and his caviar business had earned Roy the moniker “The King of Caviar” among locals. Additionally, Roy took the family tradition of involvement in local politics to another level, becoming the elected mayor of the town. His brother and former partner, George, was designated as the Indian Agent in the region, and the Cockburn stranglehold on the natural resources in the area grew. This was of course, a very profitable position for the family.
In a 1946 interview, Roy states that on average, they shipped 700 pounds of caviar annually, with particularly good years yielding upwards of 1,000 pounds. In the same article, the estimated profit to Roy per pound was about $4, which means the average year, his profits were around $2,800 per year from the harvests.
That’s a nice, but modest, return when you consider that includes the cost of operation, and was only one of his earning channels. It’s especially solid when you consider the serious hardship experienced in the Sturgeon Falls local economy between the depression in 1930s through to the post WWII period (Unknown Author1, n.d).
Beyond the financial gain, the prestige associated with caviar was beginning to rub off on Roy. A letter from the National Film Board of Canada(1951) indicates he was the subject of a short film, cleverly titled Net Prophets.
In the same year, Roy received another letter, this time from the Lieutenant Governor of Canada, Ray Lawson(1951). The letter thanks Roy for caviar which had been sent to the Governor to treat to some very notable guests to the capital:
“A very welcome parcel has been received from you, but we will not open it until their royal highnesses, Princess Elisabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, arrive … we appreciate your caviar and this will be a great treat for our royal visitors.”
Lieutenant Governor of Canada Ray Lawson, Letter to Roy Cockburn in 1951
Yup. The current Monarch of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II, enjoyed Lake Nipissing caviar from Roy Cockburn two years before her coronation.
And she wasn’t even the only European monarch that tried Lake Nipissing’s caviar. Emperor Wilhelm II of the German Empire also was known to enjoy caviar from Lake Nipissing with some regularity, while it was rumoured the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, had been a customer as well (Commanda, 2018).
Clearly, the caviar produced by the second generation Cockburn was of high quality and high regard, and this earned him his own royal title, as the King of Caviar, Ontario’s #1 caviar salesman.
I honestly think this story is sort of stunning.
For such a luxury product, a delicacy with worldwide prestige, to be associated with Lake Nipissing is really weird. The addition of the local dynasty of the Cockburn family makes the story more intriguing, as the family seemed to be a powerhouse, with a stranglehold of many of the resources and industries of Sturgeon Falls.
There is little doubt that the family was a local empire. Empires often come with a cost.
To understand these costs, you have to hear the other side of the story.
In 1850, Nipissing First Nation (#10) was included in the Robinson-Huron Treaty. The treaty included $4.00 to each member annually, with no adjustment for inflation over time (notice the $4 happens to be the same amount of profit Roy Cockburn made on each pound of caviar). The treaty outlined the arrangement between settlers and Indigenous use of the territory and its resources (Commanda, 2018). The specific mention of fishing in addition to hunting, made the treaty the first of its kind in this regard.
It’s really important to understand that in the context of Indigenous language and perspective, the treaty was understood to essentially be an agreement of sharing, and non-interference between the parties sharing the territory. The treaty was only written in English, and there wasn’t an understanding of a transfer of ownership the Crown viewed it as. From their understanding, the settlers and First Nations peoples alike would have full access to the fish in Lake Nipissing (Pottery, 2016).
They were half right.
The Myth of Abundance
The abundance of natural resources in the North, and the associated opportunity for financial gain, was a major selling point to settlers moving into the Lake Nipissing area (Department of Agriculture, 1880).
In my research for this article, I came across a (very) old pamphlet from the 1880 which advertised for settling in the Muskoka and Nipissing regions.
The pamphlet makes multiple references to abundance of resources, including specific mentions of the area’s fish:
“The numerous lakes and rivers literally swarm with fish of the best varieties, such as salmon trout, white fish, trout, herring, maskinonge, bass, pike, pickerel and many other kinds.”
Information for Intending Settlers: Muskoka and Lake Nipissing, Department of Agriculture, 1880
This isn’t the only reference which implies the fish were plentiful in the region, and connects well to the concept of “The Myth of Abundance“. The ‘myth’ developed in colonial societies, experiencing irrationality in response to the seemingly endless supply of land and natural resources in North America compared to back home in Europe. As a result of the myth, which was entrenched generation by generation, as well as the popular understanding of “nature” as a frontier to be tamed, settlers misused and damaged the quality and quantity of natural resources. Settlers were basically under the impression that the resources were so plentiful that they could never be exhausted.
Now to be fair, the pamphlet, maybe read by one J.D Cockburn himself, does make reference to the need for conservation of resources despite the abundance:
“There is a good deal of game in this part of the country and no game laws to preserve it for the exclusive use of particular persons. The laws simply refer to confining hunting and fishing to their proper seasons, to prevent destruction during breeding seasons, which would very soon have the effect of destroying the game entirely, and in this every man in the country has an interest, the property in game being common to all.”
Information for Intending Settlers: Muskoka and Lake Nipissing, Department of Agriculture, 1880
The people of Nipissing First Nation were under the impression their use of the fish in Lake Nipissing for the subsistence of their community would continue uninterrupted by the settlers.
Unfortunately, something else was coming.
Gradually, as the century moved forward, limits and restrictions were placed on fishing in the lake. Now one might think the concern would be overfishing, and that any restrictions put in place would have everything to do with the size of harvests, the quantity of fish being caught. Just seems like common sense.
The regulations the Department of Fish and Game put in place were actually the imposition of preference to the settler market, with banning of traditional indigenous techniques for sturgeon fishing like night fishing, as well as a ban on the use of spears and the traditional net designs used by the Nipissing (Commanda, 2018).
With any conservation or preservation effort, their is a cost, usually a direct restriction on economic activity, like harvesting fish, to reduce the damage to the environment. In this case, because of the restrictions chosen, those costs were imposed directly on the Nipissing people, with regulations aimed at reducing their harvests, their right to which had been guaranteed by the Robinson-Huron Treaty.
It was of course preposterous that the Nipissing were considered the threat to the fishery. The Anishnabee people of the region have been fishing sturgeon from Lake Nipissing for literally thousands of years (Pottery, 2016). Not only did they sustain the fish stocks over that massive duration of time, the resource was described as thriving and plentiful in the settler’s literature upon their arrival (Department of Agriculture, 1880). These restrictions shouldn’t have just raised eyebrows, they were just the transparent imposition of power.
Hell, it seems like if conservation of the fish population was the goal, the settlers should have been asking for the advice of Nipissing First Nations people.
It seems pretty obvious that the Robinson-Huron Treaty would not have been agreed to if the transfer of ownership and potential for such restrictions had been evident or understood.
Evidently, the regulations were less concerned with the settler commercial use of the resource, given the harvest of 11,000 + lbs. of caviar (and 143,159 lbs of sturgeon itself) annually between 1900-1908 (Commanda, 2018). When you think about the fact that Lake Nipissing likely wouldn’t even have been commercially exploited as heavily for sturgeon and caviar had the Great Lakes not been overfished for the product by the 1880’s, it’s pretty easy to see what was coming next (Ontario Rivers Alliance, 2009).
Following the 9 year moratorium on sturgeon fishing the the lake, harvests began. In 1925 Lake Nipissing harvesting surged to represent 40% of the caviar produced in Ontario, and in ten short years, that number dwindled to 8% as harvests became smaller by 1935 (Harkness & Dymond, 1961). There were less and less sturgeon as a result of over fishing.
The obvious pattern here, first in the Great Lakes, and then in Lake Nipissing, is overuse and exploitation.
This is a textbook example of “conservation” as the imposition of power onto a vulnerable group. The regulations and restrictions were passed in the name of environmental protection, and yet the practices that continued were far more detrimental than those that had been excluded. Simply put, the restrictions were a way to allocate more of the resource to the colonial society and its members.
Keep in mind, I’m not saying all environmental law and policy is simply the imposition of power. I earned a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies studying policy specifically, and I think I’d be disappointing my former colleagues and myself if that was my take on environmental policy. Many, or even most, of these policies are crucial checks on devastating human behaviours. In fact, better policy probably would have prevented the gross overfishing of sturgeon on Lake Nipissing.
It’s incredibly important that we look back on the unintended (in this case, likely intended) consequences of the policy, and the way the costs of that conservation are distributed, aiming for more equitable and enforceable policy in the future.
As time proved, the commercial fishing was a much bigger threat to the Lake Nipissing Sturgeon than the traditional harvest techniques of the Nipissing people. Both the sturgeon and the Nipissing people have paid the price for the (mis)management of the resource.
Both continue to suffer the consequences.
Decimation of Lake Nipissing Sturgeon
When you think about it, the commercial harvesting of fish for caviar calls for incredibly delicate balance. The species has a long life span, and many lake sturgeon live be 100 years old. The species has a low reproductive rate as females only produce eggs every six years or so (Ontario Rivers Alliance, 2008). Studies suggest sturgeon harvests should represent less than 5% of the population for sustainable use (Commanda, 2018). The unchecked harvesting specifically for the quality of reproduction, logically speaking, inevitably leads to the collapse of that fishery.
To put this simply and drive it home: when the nets were cast, fishermen were hoping to harvest the very fish that would re-stock the lake. Without being careful about the number of fish harvested annually, a decline in the sturgeon population in Lake Nipissing was a foregone conclusion.
Enforcement matters to.
As previously mentioned, in 1908 the resource was beginning to suffer the consequences of overfishing after the most intense sturgeon fishing period of Lake Nipissing’s history. The overfishing necessitated a moratorium on fishing sturgeon in the lake between 1908-1917.
This is where enforcement comes in.
Interestingly, in a newspaper interview from 1946, Roy Cockburn admits he has been harvesting sturgeon since 1915. It sure seems that the priority in the policy was control rather than conservation given he openly boasted about a clear infraction of the regulation. A total ban of harvests was going unenforced on one group, while the technique of harvest after the ban was enforced on the other. There’s not much to say about this other than the priority of the policies and their enforcement was clearly not one of conservation.
No records exist for the harvest of sturgeon on Lake Nipissing from 1924-1959 (Commanda, 2018). It sure doesn’t seem like limiting harvests to preserve stocks was a priority through this part of the 20th century if they couldn’t be bothered to record and report the size of the harvests.
The impact of overfishing of the sturgeon was compounded by the changes in the habitat due to human use around the lake. A mill built on the Sturgeon River around the turn of the 20th century increased the turbidity and suspended solids and particulates in a key spawning ground for sturgeon, further stressing the reproduction of the species (Ontario Rivers Alliance, 2009).
Later projects on Lake Nipissing, including a sewage treatment plant and hydroelectric production, changed the chemistry and physical characteristics of the habitat, including changes in temperature detrimental to the delicate process of sturgeon spawning. Only about 1% of sturgeon eggs survive in the best of conditions, meaning these changes likely had major impacts on the reproductive capacity and population of the fish.
The situation obviously got worse over the next half a century, and commercial fishing of sturgeon was no longer viable or permitted due to depleted stocks by the 1990’s. By this time, the exercise by Nipissing people of fulfilling their treaty rights and traditional livelihoods by fishing for sturgeon began to become more stigmatized, as their continued fishing was seen as selfish exploitation of a shared resource (Pottery, 2016).
This is of course, incredibly ironic given the sturgeon were plentiful for thousands of years, but less than a century of colonial control decimated the population.
The Nipissing people were left with the feeling that the spirit of non-interference in the Robinson-Huron Treaty had been broken on the part of the crown by their restrictive policy of traditional harvesting. To add insult to injury, they also had to suffer blame and scrutiny of ruining the recovery for the continuing to practice their treaty rights to fish the lake sturgeon, which of course had become much more difficult because of overexploitation by businesses.
When you consider the reduced capacity of the Sturgeon to meet subsistence needs it filled prior to the overfishing, the cost of the unchecked harvests of Nipissing’s black gold rests heavy on the shoulders of Nipissing First Nation.
And the sturgeon themselves aren’t any better off. Despite strict bans on commercial sturgeon fishing, a recent study by Nikki Commanda(2018) showed that in the 30 years or so since, the population in Lake Nipissing has not rebounded, and continues to require an endangered label. Her conclusion ponders why Traditional Ecological Knowledge (the data pertaining to ecology in the oral histories by Indigenous peoples) held by the Nipissing peoples hasn’t been sought out in order to replicate the management that allowed the population to be so strong to begin with.
After reading her paper, I’m inclined to agree.
So the story of the Caviar King of Lake Nipissing is one of opportunity, riches, prestige.
But it’s also a tale of betrayal, greed, and the destructive capacity of humankind.
So what can we learn from this story?
Equitability, environmental policy, and sustainability
You wouldn’t think there’s much to learn from this story in terms of environmental policy other than, basically: “Don’t do that”.
But there is a lesson here about equitability and sustainability of policy.
Sure, it’s pretty easy to ague that the policies that were put in place were obviously targeting First Nations harvests, and probably had little to do with the preservation of the sturgeon population. That said, this obvious power imposition reminds us that in any environmental policy, it is crucial that the economic costs are distributed in a way that is equitable.
Pretend the rules passed concerning the harvesting techniques would have made a huge positive impact on the sturgeon population, I know this would seem more likely if they also limited the amount harvested, but bare with me. Pigeonholing the Nipissing people into different techniques for harvests left them with the choice to either harvest the new way, abandoning thousands of years of expertise passed down generation by generation, or break the rule and risk penalties from enforcement. They were aware that commercial harvesting wasn’t being restricted, and this would only contribute to resentment.
If the cost of a resource use rule falls squarely on the shoulders of one group, and that group’s change of behaviour is what’s being relied on to create the positive change, will that that rule actually be effective?
Had the officials making the policy considered this?
Maybe. Probably. I don’t know. But it’s pretty clear that their chosen policy instrument was ineffective, as the population collapsed relatively promptly, and it put the Nipissing people through some undue suffering to compound other colonial issues.
There are two sides to the rules, enforcement and compliance. Even the most common sense rules have to feel legitimate for people to comply.
With the transparent imposition of cost on the First Nations people, it seems to me non-compliance was probably rampant. Thus, even if the effects of those rules had been really positive in theory, the rule wouldn’t be effective because it wouldn’t be followed. Given enforcement on Indigenous people was often quite strict, the non-compliance likely led to increased tension between settlers and First Nations in the area, a negative knock-on effect of the ineffective policy, and perpetuating the strained relationship with First Nations peoples.
When a small town is founded, it seems pretty inevitable that those who get in on the ground floor have a massive opportunity to become a political and economic cornerstone of that town. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, it’s pretty natural when you consider that the needs of the community are many, and there’s only so many people to fill them. In an area rich with natural resources, like Sturgeon Falls for instance, an early claim to the market is a golden ticket.
The Cockburns exemplify this perfectly, with J.D establishing a small local empire, and his sons taking it over.
The issue is that in this case, as in many I’m sure, the family members become prominent community members, and hold prominent official roles in the community, with which they can create advantageous situations in their business endeavours. For example, Roy’s brother George’s role as the Indian Agent for the region contributed to Roy’s acquisition of a local cranberry marsh which had helped sustain the Nipissing People for hundreds of years. The lack of enforcement on the sturgeon harvesting during the moratorium, and the lack of limits to commercial harvesting, further exemplify this. The potential for nepotism and family favours only grows when one considers Roy was literally the Mayor of Sturgeon Falls.
Let’s put this bluntly:
Imagine today, the Mayor of your community was commercially harvesting as much fish from the lake as he desired, specifically for their eggs, year after year, without recording the harvests at all. Oh by the way your mayor is also making a small fortune on that business, in addition to his others, while the town suffered a multi-decade period of devastating economic hardship. All the while, subsistence fishermen were persecuted for their harvests of that same fish.
Absolutely unacceptable, right?
Basically, there was no check on the Caviar King, and it had devastating consequences on the environment and those who rely on it. It is my firm belief that while we need businesses to create, we also need government must protect. With such a blurred line between the two, it’s not surprising that the incentives of profit and self interest outweighed the concern for the common good.
Where rules come from and healthy scepticism
Finally, this story reminds us that rules come from somewhere. When the powers that be make decisions, even with the best of intentions, they can have unintended consequences. When these good intentions are absent, the results are even worse.
It’s pretty obvious from my reading of this research that this was a clear case of discrimination on the Nipissing people built into the environmental policies concerning the sturgeon harvests on Lake Nipissing. The disadvantage to the First Nations subsistence fishers was a feature of the policy, not a bug.
This reminds us that we must be diligent. When we read about a new law or policy, we should think critically:
Who benefits? What are the costs and how are they distributed?
Now I’m not saying we should descend into nihilism because rules are just the imposition of power and everything is incredibly arbitrary. I’ve been there. It’s a bad mental spot, and there’s just no room for improvement.
I believe in improvement.
What I am saying, is that we should practice healthy scepticism, and be active and informed about the rules that concern us. If something isn’t right, it should be challenged through the appropriate channels. When it comes to rules about the environment, they concern all of us.
Our elected officials are just that, elected, and if they aren’t serving the public benefit, or are blatantly serving a specific interest over others, we should make sure those so called leaders are never in a position to make those types of decisions again.
Be skeptical, be diligent, be critical. But never let your scepticism crush your belief in improvement.
So there you have it, the story of Nipissing’s black gold and the Caviar King.
Special Thanks to Nikki Commanda. While I don’t know her, her research paper: Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser Fulvescens) Management and Status Update for the Lake Nipissing Watershed, served as the inspiration for this me to tell this story
I have to say, it has been pretty strange trying the launch a blog with a very local slant in a time when the only story anyone cares about is as worldwide as Pitbull.
Yes, it seems like all anybody is talking about right now is COVID-19. And because of the pandemic, everybody is doing their talking over WiFi.
People are (I hope) staying at home most of the time, with the exception of trips out for necessities. We’ve been asked by experts to collectively participate in social distancing and isolation to make sure that the health care system isn’t overloaded with cases. The less interaction people have, the less the risk of transmission throughout the population.
So how much does locality matter in a time like this?
Sure, we can feel a little safer than larger cities with more international links, and our relatively small number of reported cases also might bring comfort to some. To some degree locality definitely matters. I wouldn’t want to be in New York or Italy right now for instance, and I sincerely hope those situations improve.
But it’s more about our daily experience. Many people are living and working in the same space now, and the setting of their lives has shrunk. It stands to reason that if you’re spending most, if not all, of your day in the house, where that house is doesn’t really matter very much.
Given the lack of physical social interactions, you might even say that communities not tied to geography, like interests, such as the sports you watch or your hobbies, are actually rivalling the local community in importance more than usual.
You probably follow a certain hobby on Instagram, Facebook, or Reddit. Those communities online are all discussing COVID-19, both in general, and how the situation pertains to the area of interest that brought them together.
Think sports. I regularly spend time discussing sports with my group-chat of friends that live all over Ontario, and one is even across the pond in Wales (though fortunately his devotion to the Toronto teams hasn’t dampened with distance). I spend time on reddit or facebook commenting on the developments coming out of the NHL, MLB, and NBA about how their seasons might occur (or not) following this situation.
(For the record, I don’t think any of those leagues will have games this seasons)
The point I’m making is the community I’m interacting with now is less about where I am, and more about what I’m interested in.
Now to some degree, with the heavy integration of social media in our lives, this is always true. But when you’re stuck inside and the actual in-real-life interaction with community is taken away, the importance of the online communities can only grow.
Anyways, the beginning of The Gateway has been a bit of a struggle between wanting to write about the local topics I had envisioned the site being about, and the desire to write about what everyones thinking about right now. Today, the desire to write about this unparalleled, globally-shared experience won out.
One interesting aspect of the COVID situation I thought I’d share some thoughts on is the way that businesses, especially large ones, handle the situation. The pandemic has devastated the stock market, and businesses that have closed as a result have had to decide how or if they would support their employees.
Let’s stick with the sports angle.
Immediately upon the announcement that the NBA season would be suspended, Celebrity-Owner of the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban assured the media that the franchise would be taking care of their hourly employees, ensuring they would be receiving the cheques they’re counting on even though the events they work were not going to occur. Some other teams followed suit, and even some big name players, like Giannis Antetokounmpo, donated to funds designed to provide a safety net for the teams hourly employees.
Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Leafs, Raptors, and other Toronto based teams, has ensured that employees will receive 95% of the amount they would have if they had worked the events. Seems good that teams and players were looking out for their people.
Other teams though, like the Winnipeg Jets, who’s owner David Thompson is worth an estimated 38 billion dollars, refused to make such assurances.
Facing an onslaught of public criticism, including the poignant tweet above illustrating just how greedy that move was, the team decided to pay the employees for the remaining home games. The power of public opinion.
There were other penny pinching strategies at the cost of the employees, such as Boston Bruins making their assurance conditional on if the season would continue or not, which would of course represent a major delay to the employees receiving money that they likely could use right now. This also recieved backlash.
The Buffalo Sabres, who have been torturing their fans with their play on the ice for years now, still haven’t put in place a plan to ensure their employees have a safety net in this difficult time. Their owner is worth over 5 Billion dollars.
While discussing the various strategies clubs had for the situation in one of my aforementioned sports-related group chats, one member made a simple, but important point about the world of business right now:
He said that not taking care of the employees was straight up bad business. Why?
Because the only thing anyones talking right now is COVID-19, and that means the only public relations any company has right now is how they handle it.
He makes a great point. Let’s consider some of the big, brand-related, stories we’ve been hearing recently.
Bauer, an iconic brand in Canada and the hockey world, recognizing the potential for mass shortages of face masks for front-line healthcare workers, shifted it’s production to the making of hockey visor like face shields to distribute to hospitals all-over.
Is this an inspiring action by the business? Absolutely, I’d say.
They recognized that this is a crucial moment in human history and that they could play a part in mitigating the damage, and they took it. Pandemics are a team sport, and we’re all on team humanity, so bravo to Bauer.
But keep in mind this is also great PR. The brand is in the news when hockey is totally irrelevant, and people will definitely remember the way the brand stepped up to help handle the situation. Bauer scratches the publics back, the public scratches theirs.
A tweet from Head Coach Darren Turcotte indicated that witnessing the brands actions, the Nipissing Woman’s hockey team would be switching to the brand. Bravo Lakers.
This whole situation sucks, but it is definitely an opportunity to reward companies that act with some grace in a scary and uncertain time.
Suds and Sanitizer
Here’s another one you’ve probably seen: craft brewers and brewing conglomerates alike using their facilities to produce hand sanitizer instead of just their delicious beverages. With a major shortage of hand sanitizer, likely due to the hoarding by some individuals, this is another great move. Labatt is one brand that’s taking action on the sanitizer shortage, while in our region, Crosscut Distillery is putting forth a small but mighty effort to lend a hand. The more we all clean our hands, the better the outcome of this whole situation, and these companies are stepping up in a positive way.
Speaking of beer, here’s a really weird one: the name of the virus has really hurt one particular brand. Corona, typically enjoyed with a lime, isn’t being enjoyed much these days.
“5W Public Relations said that 38% of Americans wouldn’t buy Corona “under any circumstances” because of the outbreak, and another 14% said they wouldn’t order a Corona in public. The survey encompasses polling from 737 beer drinkers in the United States.”
Does it make any sense? Is there a connection between the name coronavirus and the beer? Is there any logical reason not to enjoy a Corona just like any other alcoholic beverage right now?
Of course not.
But consumers are weird, and I guess all the bad news associated with the word “corona” has dampened the appitite of their consumers.
Jim Morrison sang it best:
“people are strange“.
Restaurant and Delivery Services
The food industry has certainly had to centre its PR around its handling of the pandemic. Local restaurants, who would be under threat from a bad month let alone a borderline quarantine situation, have had to decide to stay open or not. Those that have stayed open have ensured everyone they’re taking extra precautions, and are really pushing for local support in this difficult time. Some are even changing up their model, like how Twiggs is putting together things like pizza kits that require some assembly and are therefore entertaining. Others are preparing frozen meals and marketing them almost as meal prepped food. Local restraints in North Bay are even uniting under a campaign to “Distance Socially, Eat Locally“.
Larger chain restaurants are also assuring customers that extra precautions are being taken to stop the spread of coronavirus. Little Caesars comes to mind specifically because they’ve marketed their “Pizza Portal” system as a contactless way to get yourself a Hot-n-Ready:
The delivery services, such as Skip the Dishes, are also introducing new precautions against the spread of COVID, advertising “contactless delivery”. Businesses, especially in the restaurant industry, have had to adapt and innovate in response to the threat of the pandemic.
Another thing we should note is whether companies that aren’t really necessary right now refuse to shut down to help stop the spread. I saw this post on facebook the other day, and I found it to be infuriating. I won’t credit anyone with it so nobody gets in trouble, but seriously, I can’t think of anything less important right now than telemarketing. Gathering people together for that purpose is asinine, and shows a disregard for the seriousness of the situation.
Do better Zedd.
Hoping on the Brandwagon
Other brands, that have absolutely nothing to do with the virus are also including the pandemic in their marketing.
Take this Jeep ad for instance:
Cool design? Absolutely. What does the jeep brand have to do with the pandemic? Very little. But at least they’re encouraging public compliance with the advice of experts. It shouldn’t hurt.
And you can expect that the marketing teams of most brands will also jump on this bandwagon, given they still have to advertise, and they know where the public consciousness lies.
So thousands of people are dying all over the world from the same cause and I’m here talking about brands.
You might be thinking: “Who cares?”
And fair enough. But there is a point I’m making: We need to remember the way companies handled this when this is all said and done.
Mark Cuban apparently believes that the public will have a long memory when it comes to the way brands handle coronavirus:
“How companies respond to that very question is going to define their brand for decades. If you rushed in and somebody got sick, you were that company. If you didn’t take care of your employees or stakeholders and put them first, you were that company,”
We vote with every good, service, and experience we buy, and I think that it’s really important that when all this is said and done (and even throughout this), we should be voting for the companies that stepped up and realized some things are bigger than money.
The public consciousness has a short attention span, but with such a profound experience like this, we should have long memories. Let’s reward the people who acted like people, and punish the people who didn’t.
Election day isn’t once every four years. You vote with your wallet everyday. Never forget it, and if you see a brand putting people in a bad spot right now, don’t forget that either.
Corporations were famously ruled to be people by the U.S Supreme Court. Let’s reward the ones that show us some humanity.
Bidets never really made it in North America. I’ve actually only been at one house that ever had one, and it was sort of a running joke at parties. People just don’t see them as a real option in their hygiene routine here. Well, with the panic buying and hoarding of toilet paper in reaction to the pandemic, there’s been a bit of a shortage in supply.
So, you’re faced with an empty stock of toilet paper. Those empty shelves are coupled with uncertainty about when the supply will catch up to demand. Do you go home empty handed or do you grab a bidet attachment for your toilet and give it a whirl?
This isn’t a significant change in the world, but it is interesting the way these major shared experiences open the door to major collective changes in behaviour and norms. I’m sure “Big-Bidet” has been looking to crack the North American market forever, and all they needed was a shortage of toilet paper to make their mark.
So will a proliferation of bidets in North America happen? I certainly can’t proclaim to know, but the door is at least open for bidets to become a norm (or at least significantly less odd) in North America.
Okay. Yes, I’m making a half-serious joke. Poking fun at the truth really. I’ve seen the term “Big-Bidet” a few times and I just couldn’t resist.
But the serious reality is that our experience with Coronavirus will change all of us.
COVID-19 will change our world.
History and Uncertainty
When we face uncertainty, sometimes it helps to look back at history for similar situations. You can observe how the situation played out, who was impacted and how, and see what experts with the benefit of hindsight have to say about the phenomenon. Basically, the past serves as data from which we can find clues about what happens next.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have looked at the outbreak of the Spanish flu just over 100 years ago, between 1918 and 1919.
So how did Spanish flu change the world?
What was the impact on public institutions and human behaviour?
What did the newfound appreciation for the invisible threat of pandemics and the fear of pestilence look like?
It’s interesting to read tidbits from the past about the measures officials recommended to curb the threat of the virus: Eat healthy, exercise, rest well. It’s obvious they simply didn’t have a clue (Kamradt-Scott, 2010).
Currently we are in a state where self isolation and social distancing are being recommended, and it has seemingly been followed fairly well by most of us. In the past, the idea of recommending anything close to quarantine was scoffed at. It was simply accepted as fact that there wouldn’t be compliance on the part of the public, and thus it wasn’t worth the headache of trying to enforce these measures (Kamradt-Scott, 2010). Maybe it’s just easier to ask people to stay home in the age of the internet.
I’m really not looking to compare and contrast the way the two pandemics are handled.
I want to look at what happened after the Spanish flu for clues to the ways that our experience with Coronavirus might change our world.
A ‘watershed moment‘ describes a moment or instance that has wide ranging effects, a moment that changes everything. The Kennedy Assassination changed the course of American politics for the following half century. The horrendous attacks on 9/11 changed the way we experience all aspects of public life in terms of security. These moments changed the course of History.
A watershed moment is the instant at which nothing is the same. Are we in the midst of one of these such moments? Coronavirus has exposed an evident lack of resilience provided by our modern way of life to the threat of pandemics. COVID-19 virus may be exposing the limits of globalized and highly connected world.
How the Spanish Flu Changed Our World
The Spanish flu killed somewhere between 20 and 50 million people worldwide. In Canada, the Flu was estimated to have infected one in every six people, and somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 people were killed. While commercial air travel had yet to proliferate, the conditions of trench warfare that characterized World War I provided the perfect conditions for the spread of disease. The transportation of soldiers from all over the world to hotspots in Europe, and their subsequent journeys back home provided a conduit for the transmission of the virus.
Locally, it is rumoured that there is an unreported mass grave at the cemetery at Nipissing Junction, where CNR would have allegedly buried quickly growing number of cadavers. One story I found describes the spread of Spanish flu through the small cottage community of Brent, ON located in the North of Algonquin Provincial Park. The park was a destination for soldiers transitioning home from the war, and almost everyone in the community caught the virus. The CNR doctor came in a special train to bring the community back to North Bay for treatment, but everyone except the park ranger refused. Fearing the conditions in the city would be more dangerous, they took their chances. Fortunately, everyone survived.
Indigenous communities were hit particularly bad, experiencing a mortality rate 5x that of the rest of the population. While the virus itself didn’t discriminate, the vulnerability of working-class people to the primary and secondary effects of the pandemic was high.
“Nothing else- no infection, no war, no famine- has ever killed so many in such a short time”
Alfred Crosby, Historian, speaking on the Spanish flu pandemic
After much devastation across the world, the Spanish flu pandemic subsided eventually. Next Nations worldwide, Canada, the provinces, and municipalities had to react to the threat of a return to pandemic. People, had to react to the pandemic.
Would people go about their lives exactly the same as before?
Had the experience changed everything?
In terms of institutional reactions, the general lesson learned by governing bodies in the Spanish flu was simple: health is a collective issue. A newfound understanding of the way collective behaviour, and societal vulnerabilities, shaped the devastation of the pandemic armed the international community with better information to address vulnerability to future pandemics. Rather than the previous belief that people were simply responsible for their own health, the paradigm shifted to look at health in terms of the herd.
After the pandemic, it was clear that the poor working conditions for the blue collar members of the community, as well as the high unemployment restricted the resilience to the virus. Governments in many nations reacted to the pandemic and these realizations of vulnerability by socializing healthcare. This policy would allow for everyone to seek a base level of health care regardless of their socioeconomic standing.
Many countries created new governing bodies and ministries related to health, or increased their importance within the governmental structure. In Canada, Robert Borden ordered the February 3, 1919 National Conference on Hygiene in response to the pandemic and the spread of VD, which lead to the legislation founding the Department of Health (Rutty & Sullivan, 2010). When one considers that less than a century before this, people simply did not see a role for the government in health care, this represents a major shift in the perspective of government and their role in society(Kamradt-Scott, 2010).
Studies have found that new hospitals and other health related items were at the forefront of the agenda in post Spanish flu Canada, garnering votes and concerns that simply weren’t there prior to the pandemic (McGinnis, 1977). Health care, obviously, was at the forefront of the public consciousness, and public health education leaned into this concern, with organizations spreading information aimed at keeping the public healthy at a rate not seen before in Canada’s history (McGinnis, 1977).
Another realization was that individual nations or governments were not going to be able to stop the threat of pandemic acting unilaterally. They would need to act in conjunction with each other in the event of another pandemic. Spanish Flu didn’t respect international political borders, and neither would whatever was to follow. The League of Nations, an early precursor to the United Nations, formed an international Health Organization in 1920 in response to the pandemic, recognizing the need of the collaboration of many nations to combat the threat of a return of a pandemic.
Into the early 20th century, the miasmatic theory of illness (greek for bad air) was beginning to subside in popularity to germ theory, which states that small organisms “germs” were a threat to human health rather than poisonous air. The experience with Spanish Flu further entrenched the burgeoning germ theory, as well as entrenching the health care practitioners response in the use of thorough hand washing and other sanitization measures to stop the spread of infectious disease (Tomes, 2010).
Prior to the Spanish flu, women of households were often trained in basic home-care aimed at offering basic treatment to members of households of illness. The experience with the Spanish Flu largely did away with this norm, stressing instead early warning signs of illness so that the sick would be brought to health care practitioners in a timely manner(Tomes, 2010).
In addition to these institutional changes, the experience with Spanish flu lead to a newfound importance in medical research, with a huge increase in the efforts and funding for projects aiming to isolate influenza and other viruses (Kamradt-Scott, 2010).
Overall, the Spanish flu changed the world in a myriad of ways, most of the changes relate to the shift in paradigm from health being understood at the level of the individual, to a perspective that regarded health as a collective issue. The Spanish flu had made it evident that when it came to health the fate of individuals was linked by societal factors and the potential for transmission through contact.
How might COVID-19 Change Our World?
While the context is different, because the world has changed completely since 1918, these examples of changes after Spanish flu can inform us on what’s to come. Below, I make a few guesses on what comes next, informed by some research on the Spanish flu aftermath, paired with observations about our modern world, and the reaction to COVID-19 thus far.
Everyday we interact with handles, touch pads, touch screens, railings, etc, the list is endless. We touch things all the time, then we touch our phones, our faces, and our food. In the face of COVID-19, it seems obvious that our behaviours are risky in terms of the spread of germs.
Right now, our fear of pestilence and the spread of disease is at an all-time high. We have lots of great educational material on the internet, and the information has spread far and wide. People are being as mindful about what they touch in public as they are about how often they touch their faces. Businesses like Skip the Dishes are promoting ‘contactless’ service, while others are refusing cash payments for the time being.
The question is, as this fear fades, will the behaviours we develop over the course of this pandemic stick? Will businesses continue to advertise “contactless” services as a hygienic norm? Honestly it’s sort of hard to tell when the situation is so fresh. Studies of the Spanish flu have found that fear as an emotional reaction waxed and waned, and that behaviour change with these shifts (Balinska & Rizzo, 2009). We can probably expect the fear of contact to fade overtime, but for now, the world is ripe for change in this regard.
The Growth of Online World
One joke you’ve probably seen floating around is how now we’ll understand how many meetings could have been emails. The joke pokes fun at the culture of meetings in the corporate and public sectors. Well, there’s truth in most jokes, and the structure of work world might change forever in the aftermath of COVID-19
Consider the number of people being told right now to work from home. Millions of people around the globe are completing their work responsibilities remotely, with no need to go into the office. This is like one huge laboratory experiment about what happens when people work from home.
I suspect you’ll see a lot of businesses be more open to the idea that workers can work remotely after this experience and seeing that generally the responsibilities are fulfilled. It might become a big part of contract negotiations, with people ensuring the right to work at home a certain number of days a week. An emerging culture of remote work is bound to have some effects, both positive and negative.
One negative of working online is the reduction of informal discussion amongst colleagues. Much innovation at work comes from casual conversations between colleagues, as information is shared informally and ideas synthesize. Without the physical workspace where these more causal interactions can occur, it’s possible we’ll see less innovation moving forward.
That said, there are negatives to the physical work space. Commuter culture has become a huge thing in North America, with many people working up to two hours from home and driving back and forth five days a week or more. This has major psychological implications in terms of mental health, and creates a great deal of practical inconvenience as people lose up to 4 hours of the part of their day not devoted to work. Hard to have the energy to cook healthy and exercise with a routine like that. More work from home would reduce this mental stress, in addition to the reduction in greenhouse gases emitted by personal automobile use associated with the commutes.
Speaking of congregating online, what impact will we see of this experience on online education? Well, there will be probably disappointment in the capacities we have for online education as it stands. Additionally, it will probably be realized by more people outside of the education profession that the interactions created in attending a physical school is essential in the social development of students. School is an opportunity for students to learn how to treat people, and if homeschooling online becomes big, that benefit will be reduced systemically.
That said, this experience of being forced to learn online might lead to innovations in the platform, like virtual reality(VR) classroom to immerse students in their learning.
Imagine being at home, class is starting. You put on the VR goggles and suddenly you’re surrounded by peers in a state of the art (and sterile) classroom. The teacher starts talking about whales, and all of a sudden the classroom is in the sea and you’re watching a Blue Whale pass by. Pretty cool.
There’s definitely some potential for improvement to online education, and this experience for many students of being boxed into online learning might teach us some lessons on just what might accomplish that improvement.
Another bright side is that ‘higher-learning’ institutions like universities and colleges may innovate and improve their own online capacity, allowing for increased flexibility for learners seeking a degree, potentially reducing costs and access barriers to would-be students.
For most North Americans everyday life consists of work, or school, or both, and this experience of a pandemic is bound to bring change to these realms in terms of the capacity for online operations.
Changes to Health Care
Well, one obvious one for our American neighbours is universal healthcare. Will they finally join the rest of the advanced nations in the world and guarantee a baseline of healthcare for their citizens that doesn’t cripple unlucky parties with loads of debt?
It sure seems like if it’s not now, when the collective element of health has never been more obvious, it’s never.
Long has the notion that the health care of others “ain’t my responsibility”, but maybe, like the change in paradigm experienced by most nations after the Spanish flu, the idea that health is a collective issue might proliferate in the United States in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. I sure hope they figure it out.
With the nudge to a perspective on health in terms of the collective, it wouldn’t be surprising to me if in the next few years the issue of pharma-care coverage doesn’t get some spotlight in Canada. Universal pharma-care, proposed by the Federal NDP party in the last federal election, would ensure those without health insurance through work aren’t paying a fortune for prescription medication. The COVID-19 has reminded people of the role of luck in health and wellness, and brought vulnerabilities of people to light. I would imagine, thinking more collectively, we can expect a more liberal policy in terms of universal pharma-care in the aftermath of Coronavirus.
Another shift following the Spanish flu was the aforementioned increase in funding and research aimed at keeping populations healthy. Given what is spent on the military every year, it wouldn’t be surprising if more funds are allocated at preserving wellness rather than the external threat of war. I fully expect grant money towards healthcare related research to skyrocket in the aftermath of this situation.
Overall, expect to see a huge emphasis on our healthcare systems, their capacity, organization, strengths, and weaknesses. COVID-19 has rudely reminded us that we have a lot to learn if we’re going to stay healthy, and that we have to work together to turn that learning into results.
Beliefs About the Role of Government
There has always been much debate about the role of government in our society. The left side of the political spectrum tends to see the role in terms of the responsibility to offer services like health care, education, transportation, etc., while the right tends to see the role of government as preserving freedom and stepping out of the way.
Well in the current context, the whole political spectrum is looking at the government to act responsibly and protect its citizenry, both from the virus itself and the aftershocks to the economy. Even Mitt Romney was proposing a relief cheque in the amount of $1,000 to every American to assist in the resiliency to the effects of the virus and the measures employed to stop the spread. Now it’s not the Universal Basic Income(UBI) Andrew Yang was proposing in his short-lived bid for the Democratic nomination, but that’s still a prominent member of the Republican party advocating for the use of federal funds as a social safety net.
But here’s the thing about safety nets:
they work a lot better if they’re in place before the fall.
Governments need to recognize that there is a lack of resiliency in the average family to shocks to the economy, and that vulnerability has knock-on effects all the way up the market. If social safety nets like UBI were in place in advance of environmental and economic shocks, the public would be far less vulnerable. Right now, many people (myself included) do not know when their next pay cheque is coming. The expenses don’t go away, the debt doesn’t go away, but the income does. This vulnerability, in addition to the obvious consequences of closing businesses, slows the economy to a halt.
If the safety net were in place before the fall it’s intended to catch, it’s just a lot more effective. I hope this lesson is learned by institutions, businesses, and the public, and that the resiliency of the everyday person and their family is considered in economic policy decision making, especially concerning social safety nets.
Outdoors is ‘In’ Again
When it’s safe to do so again, people will want to get out. Sports entertainment and other big, indoor, crowded events will no doubt rebound. But in general, for many I imagine there will be an aversion to close quarters and big crowds. So I suspect people will want to get out, and will chose to do so in wide open public spaces more often than before. Maybe we’ll find a new appreciation for walks in the park. Maybe we’ll see increased camping and day-use in Provincial and National Parks might emerge as people seek out activities they can do with people at a reasonable distance.
When this is over, when we can all stretch out our legs and get out, I would think the demand for outdoor recreation experiences will increase in response to our collective isolation.
Faith in Experts
One really encouraging thing we’ve witnessed throughout this experience is that people in general are adhering to, and spreading, the word of experts. I’ve heard the phrase: “well, the CDC…” more in the last two weeks than ever before. While there have been many examples of a lack of common sense in the media, it seems like in general, citizens and governments alike have decided to listen to the people who know what they’re talking about rather than some weird lady on facebook that claims to have all the answers and all the right essential oils to stop the pandemic in its tracks.
So, in terms of implications for the world moving forward after COVID-19, will this renewed belief in experts persist beyond the pandemic?
I would imagine it will, at least for a little while. Well people might find the social distancing and isolation unnerving and inconvenient, it’s really not a question of comparing the effects of doing it with not doing it, it’s much more a question of the impacts of doing this now or doing it later.
In the aftermath, when we compare the trajectories of the virus for those nations who practiced preventative measures early to those who waited longer, the public will have a tangible example with immediate feedback of the way that listening to the advice of experts mitigated the risk.
This experience, and the lessons learned about the benefits of seeking expertise, should be present in the collective when faced with future world, national, and local issues.
Belief in Collective Action
For the past two decades or so, we’ve been well aware of the scientifically studied phenomena of climate change, and the risks and threats to humanity associated with it. That said, even stringent environmentalists can easily fall into the belief that their actions are a drop in the bucket. This feeling can lead to learned helplessness, and apathy, causing people to ignore the advice of experts believing that their actions alone could never move the needle, so “why bother?”.
Climate change, being a prolonged issue, bound to gradually take effect in the future until a tipping point is reached and feedback cycles cause major changes to our world, poses challenges. People will not get timely feedback of the effect of their efforts, and are therefore less likely to feel encouraged by their effects and continue to make efforts.
COVID-19 on the other hand is sweeping the globe quickly, and wreaking havoc in it’s path. People have been asked to do their part as individuals for the preservation of the herd; stay home, limit your contact, and help “flatten the curve” to help ensure health care institutions have the capacity to handle the issue.
Well it might feel like it will take forever before we see the effects of these actions, relative to climate change, the feedback is pretty immediate. Areas that do well to social distance and self isolate will slow the spread of the virus and ensure health care practitioners are able to keep time with the people infected.
With luck, we’ll have many examples of places that do well to reduce the spread and mitigate through individual contributions to collective action. This will serve as an experience in the collective consciousness that supports the notion that:
through the small actions of many, great change can grow.
I can’t pretend all, or even any, of my predictions will be correct. I haven’t given odds or percentages, or even a tangible mark where one might say it came true or didn’t.
The goal of this article was to take a look into our past and consider the future. I found the research for this to be thought-provoking, and I hope you find this article to be the same.
Nobody can be sure what will happen next, but the one certainty is that in the aftermath of the Coronavirus watershed moment, the world will be a very different place.
Balinska & Rizzo (2009). Behavioural responses to influenza pandemics: What do we know?
Kamradt-Scott (2010). Changing Perceptions: of Pandemic Influenza and Public Health Responses.
McGinnis (1977). The impact of endemic influenza: Canada 1918-1919.
Rutty & Sullivan (2010). This is Public Health: A Canadian History.
Tomes (2010). “Destroyer and Teacher”: Managing the Masses During the 1918–1919 Influenza Pandemic.
Not long ago, our communication through technology was relatively limited. With phone calls, the public could make general one-to-one contact. Radio and tv hosts could connect to the masses, and businesses and governments could reach the masses through those same avenues. The fireside chats, a weekly brief given by President Franklin D. Rosevelt from 1933 to 1934, was simply a use of a medium (radio) for one person to reach the minds of many. In terms of simply using a medium available to him, this isn’t terribly unlike Donald Trump’s unsophisticated use of twitter during his presidency to communicate to his base and the American people.
Up until the era of the internet, this ability to communicate to masses of people was largely limited to those with some sort of power, economic or political. The technology that assisted communication endeavours of everyday people was limited to the telephone, and one-to-one communication.
A model of this style can be seen below. Forgive the roughness of the model, and the fact that this particular one isn’t very useful until it has others to be contrasted against. Just note the fact that while the message communicator has lines to its whole network, they only can call people one at a time. This limits the capacity for information to be disseminated throughout the network.
Of course human ingenuity found a pretty efficient way to disseminate information even with the limited capacity of one to one calling in terms of technology.
Consider the weird “Phone-Tree” I used to stare quizzically at on my parent’s fridge. A phone tree is a means of allowing a message to travel through a network more efficiently than one person calling everyone in the network with the message. In the phone tree days, one person would call a few people with an important piece of information, and they’d all call three or more people with the information, and so on and so forth. The structure of the model below depicts a phone tree and the responsibility and connections between each actor. Note that this is the first stage, the original message communicator is only able to call one of their three connections and begin the dissemination of the information.
Now of course this system reduces the weight of the responsibility of the message communicator. They don’t have to call every name on the list, just a few, and the pre-arranged structure of the phone tree takes case of the rest. But the phone tree isn’t just more efficient because it distributes the responsibility more evenly. It actually increases the capacity of communication by the number of lines active at a given time. Admitted, the first step above doesn’t have this feature, but watch what happens each step in terms of the number of active lines at once.
Stage Two: 2 active lines of communication. Message reach of 3.
Stage Three: 4 active lines of communication. Message reach of 7.
Stage Four: 6 active lines of communication. Message reach of 12
Stage Five: 8 active lines of communication. Message reach of 21
The phone tree model allows for the number of active lines of communication to grow, and therefore the reach of the message grows with it. The system is a pretty efficient way to transmit information through a network if the only technological capacity for communication each node has is one to one.
As you can imagine, in practice this probably wasn’t as efficient as it promises to be in theory. Think of the ruckus that missed calls and lazy links in the chain probably caused back in these days. That’s without even considering the ‘broken telephone’ effect.
I spent many summers in university helping to run a youth camp at Nipissing University for indigenous children from all over Ontario. We’d play the game broken telephone, I’m sure you’ve probably played it yourself. If you haven’t, basically you sit in a circle and one person starts a message that gets whispered from ear to ear around the circle until it returns to them, often completely and totally different from the message they sent out.
The message behind the game is that the more links in the chain, the more likely it was that the message that was created by the first player would be distorted in its journey.
Anyways. The ability to communicate with the masses, to reach many minds at once still eluded the public even with the clever, if not perfect, structure of the phone tree.
But with the internet we have absolutely democratized this ability. Anyone can hop on twitter, facebook, or instagram and reach people from all over the world in an instant.
Take instagram live, a broadcast feature that allows users to broadcast live video to their networks. One user can get on the platform, record a video with their message, and that is broadcast live to all of their network. This is of course, much more efficient than a multi-stage phone tree, and eliminates the opportunity for the message to change between receivers. Not everyone will necessarily tune into a broadcast and get the information, but the communication capacity itself is certainly there. This model also demonstrates the way tv and radio communications would look.
Now, granted, you have to build up a reputation online if you want a following. Things like Search Engine Optimization, the timing of posts, the connectivity of your network and the quality of what’s being communicated are all major factors on if you’ll gain traction, as is luck. But even without the guarantee of masses to communicate to, and no insurance against screaming into the void, we are at least provided the tools to reach the minds of many.
Even with all the flaws that come with social media, including vitriol and the spread of ignorance and misinformation, I’m glad that type of power is in the hands of the people.
During these difficult times of social distancing and isolation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen all sorts of clever uses of social media platforms, including challenges to help others stay fit, sharing musical talents, and the spread of vital public health education like wildfire in the online realm.
It’s important to remember how lucky we are to have these capabilities, to reach out and be heard, even when we’re alone.
Sure, everybody likes different music, but have you ever met someone who actually didn’t enjoy music?
I doubt it.
Music brings people together, think of how many hundreds of concerts and festivals, and millions of music crazy attendees there are every year. But right now, in the face of the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that we don’t come together physically. So does that mean music ceases to bring us together? Absolutely not.
Numerous stories have emerged during the course of the pandemic about the way the power of music has subsisted.
Just about everyone has seen the videos of people in Italy, standing on their balconies, singing, playing instruments with their neighbours, providing notes of hope in what is a very difficult time in Italy.
The music has a powerful effect on the viewer, it is powerful in what it represents, the human spirit and community in the face of a harsh challenge to humanity. While viewing these clips, it’s important to consider that many of those singing likely have family members effected by the pandemic (and the mortality rate is extremely high in Italy). It is honestly such a wonder that something so spectacular can be cast out of such grim times.
Here’s a nice compilation of some of the performances. It pretty well speaks for itself.
Another really interesting thing about this pandemic and our prescribed self quarantine or social distancing is the way that platforms like instagram, facebook, and snapchat have been utilized by musicians to ensure the music they play finds a listeners ear beyond the traditional album recordings streamed on services like Spotify and Apple Music. It’s almost like a democratization of concerts without barriers to access like cost of ticket, paired simultaneously with a window into the artists life in the time of social distancing.
While concerts like this started before his, Chris Martin of Coldplay may have really brought the trend to light with his instagram live set “Together at Home”
After Martin’s concert, John Legend, Keith Urban, Rob Thomas and numerous other major artists continued the trend putting on their own concerts.
But it’s not only major artists using the platform. Artists of all different walks of life are using the social distancing measures as an opportunity to record new content, and it’s a fine treat for everyone. This snippet I came across, a cover of Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean, I particularly liked:
There are a ridiculous amount of talented people out, and this is a chance for them to put out great content to a captive audience which is starved for the kind of connection music can bring.
I’m actually going to use this opportunity to recommend my favourite cover of all time, Coldplay’s Green Eyes preformed by Annie Sumi. It’s from well before the time of COVID-19, but as my dad always says when it comes to music “it’s not when it comes out, it’s when you hear it”, and I suspect anyone reading this could use the uplift this angelic voice provides.
NPR compiled a list of links to upcoming virtual concerts being offered. A highlight for my taste was Hozier March 20th at 3PM EST. But the nature of instagram live as well as other social media platforms is that the information moves fast and is widespread. Artists could be announcing concerts on their platforms the day of, or even just hold surprise concerts. It’s sort of exciting thinking wonderful performances are right around the corner, and we’ll probably remember them forever given the circumstances.
Some artists are taking it one step further. Take the Arkells from Hamilton, ON for example. Throughout the past week the band has been posting the sheet music to their songs on Facebook and other social media platforms. Then, at a prearranged time daily, the band goes live on instagram for its “Flatten the Curve” music lessons.
Thus far, the band has taught viewers how to play some of the biggest hits in their catalog, including: Leather Jacket, People’s Champ, And Then Some, and their new hit single Years in the Making. The classes offer a pretty intimate experience between the fans and their favourite band, and has included opportunities to ask the band questions, discuss general everyday topics, the current circumstance, and of course, talk music!
As an added benefit, goals of self-improvement like learning an instrument, or new songs on an instrument you already play, is a great way to deal with some of the psychological challenges of isolation. The Arkells have clearly figured out a way to curb their boredom and share their talents with the world. And for the record, once life gets back to normal (and it will), you have to see this band live. They’re Canadian, their tunes are catchy as hell, and, no word of a lie, they actually sound better live than the records can capture.
So while there’s a lot of troubling news out there, lets keep in mind we’ve got such a rich conduit for communication and human contact in the form of internet, and music is a great way for the human spirit to inspire us all to get through this happy, healthy, and well.
With the threat of the worst global pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1919, people are realizing, through public health education campaigns and a consideration of their own ways of life, that their behaviour when it comes to germs has to change.
The biggest, and most relatable example is the worldwide realization right now that:
“wow, I touch my face a lot.”
People are starting to be mindful of the contact they make with their face, especially in public. Furthermore, I’m finding myself very mindful of what I’m touching. I’m considering it more in an effort to kill germs that might already be waiting, for example washing the things we touch most often like our devices, doorknobs, switches and handles around the house. I’m also considering the things other people touch most while in public and avoiding contact with those things (aren’t we glad tap exists on our payment cards?). Overall, there seems to be a new set of rules for the way that we interact with the environment derived from this newfound fear of pestilence.
So, what do manners look like in a time of COVID-19?
Is it appropriate to tell someone: “dude you just touched your face like 16 times.”?
Can we go full grandma mode like Jamie “Noodles” McLennan on TSN1050’s Overdrive, telling a cashier “give me your hands” and sanitizing them to our satisfaction (probably not a great approach socially, but he’s got the spirit).
Clearly, some things that were clear no-go’s before are going to be considered much more acceptable during and in the wake of this pandemic.
Hand washing has always been a no-brainer. Lord knows what sort of germs we pick up in our day to day life, so washing your hands when you get home, use the bathroom, before and after eating, has always been a well known way to reduce risks to your health. The change here is one of degree. For a little while here, let’s be obsessive germaphobes. Wash for 20-seconds at a minimum, and wash often. Oh, and pair your hand washing with a scrub down of your phone, the two go hand in hand (ugh.).
Just type in your favourite song, and boom, you get a nice infographic so you can bring some music to your hand washing routine
Calling People on Unhygienic Behaviour.
So your work is an essential service, or is one of the businesses or construction projects deemed “business as usual” at least for now. You’re going to make contact with others, it’s inevitable. So how much of their hygiene practice becomes your responsibility in a time like this?
If you were to notice a colleague wasn’t washing frequently, or sanitizing their workspace, do you call them on it? In the past, regardless of who’s “right”, it would have been seen as rude to comment on something like this. In a time of pandemic though, hygiene is everyones responsibility. Even if it means telling that coworker or fellow shopper that they’ve been touching their face or practicing some other germ related faux-pas, and that it’s awkward.
Just be polite, act a little uncomfortable about it, like you hate to do it but “it’s just the times, ya’know”.
Wearing a Mask
This is actually a weird one. Before, if you were wearing a surgical mask in public, I think I generally would have assumed that either your immune system was somehow compromised, you were sick, or that you were a germaphobe of a high degree. Now it’s pretty interesting though. You wouldn’t see someone wearing a medical mask and think anything except that they are taking the risk of COVID-19 very seriously.
That said, the norm shouldn’t be wearing these medical masks right now. There’s a serious shortage of these types of supplies, and people stealing them from hospitals and other health care centres are only making it worse. Unless you are sick, are somehow compromised in terms of your immune system, Officials have recommended you not wear the masks, in order that the supply manufactured to meet the excess demand worldwide reach health care professionals on the front line first.
Since we’re talking manners, it’s rude to undermine the capacity of our health care system at a time like this. It’s careless, and selfish.
In general, non-religious face covering was also seen as suspect. Those covering their faces for non faith-based reasons didn’t seem to have any reason for covering their identity, and thus we probably imposed the idea that people covering their face must be getting into trouble. As the weather gets warmer face coverings like a buff or balaclava would be seen as a little weird, but you might actually see people wearing these types of coverings, either out of ignorance of their ineffectiveness, or out of a desire to discourage them from touching their face. Either way, there’s a bit of a change in norm here.
Yes, life without physical contact with other humans is just plain weird as hell. It’s a little depressing, and even for those introverted folks who generally enjoy a lot of alone time, it’s nice when socializing is at least an option.
Social distancing isn’t just having your friends over instead of congregating in public: it’s not meeting your friends in person at all. In normal everyday life, it might be seen as rude to avoid contact with your social circle. Now, let’s see it as polite to stay in, make contact virtually, and reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, not only for ourselves, but for the most vulnerable members of our society.
Is it lonely? Hell yes.
But do yourself a favour and make a point of calling an old friend, your parents, your grandparents and extended family you’ve fallen out of touch with. Even reach out to the people you see all the time.
Have a drink on a group chat, recall old times. Laugh. Talk about how you’re feeling about the whole situation. It’s healthy to connect, but for now, it’s rude to get together in the physical realm. We will beat this thing, but we have to do it by acting in the interest of the collective and ignoring our self-interested impulses.
It’s also important to literally distance yourself from those who you come into contact with on your essential trips. Remember the really rude behaviour in grade-school of basically distancing yourself from one person as if they had cooties, and they’d go to join the circle and everyone would run away (I’d be ashamed to admit to being either party in this scenario so I’ll plead the fifth). Well, we should all sort of pretend to do that to everyone. Literally stay a few metres away from everyone whenever possible. In line at the grocery store, in the aisles in the grocery store, at work if you’re not working from home, literally, as much distance as reasonable in the specific space whenever possible.
I’ve already discussed the Toilet Paper Dilemma at length elsewhere, so I’ll just say this:
In addition to not buying an obnoxious amount of necessities in a manner that prevents everyone from getting what they need, please consider those who can’t afford food and continue to make donations to the North Bay Food Bank. We know from past pandemics that economic hardship can be a real vulnerability, and we should help all of our neighbours in our city in any way we can.
Let’s not just look at peoples grocery carts to make sure they don’t have too much, let’s look in our neighbours bowls to make sure they have enough (figuratively of course let’s avoid close contact with people’s food).
Just don’t. I guess if you have essential business related travel for work, but even then, I can’t really imagine how much of that is necessary in the event of a pandemic.
You’ve probably seen the imbeciles on TV or online bragging that they’ve decided to follow through on their spring break in Miami travel plans, and just generally worry about the fate of our species.
They’ve been given all the information they need, they’ve been nudged in the right direction with the known closures of businesses in their destinations, and yet they still make the wrong call. Sometimes, mom and dad have to set down rules for those who aren’t yet mature enough to exercise common sense, and it’s pretty clear travel restrictions, and restrictions on businesses open coming from the government directly should be paramount in priority. The few health care practitioners I spoke to about the issue were shocked that malls have not yet been ordered to close. If there’s a way people can act contrary to what is needed, they will. Just take the option away.
Their freedom to be idiots shouldn’t impede the rest of our freedom to make it through this with minimal harm.
Even consider cancelling shorter trips by automobile, such as in-province trips. Most travel is just extremely unnecessary and allow you to act as an influential vector for the virus.
Just Don’t Do It.
The Stop and Chat
Another interesting change. In the past, as Seinfeld taught us to snub someone when you’re out and about is pretty rude. It’s a cultural practice to say hi to our familiars in public, and even, if you’re able, to stop and catch up.
Well the “stop and chat” is no more. If you’re out for a walk or jog around the block and you see a neighbour you’d normally stop to chat with, don’t! A wave is all you need to acknowledge your presence and avoid feeling like you snubbed them. It’s really, really tempting to seek out human contact when you’re stuck in your house all day, but just keep the social contact virtual for now.
So times have changed, let’s do our best to practice these new good manners during in the time of Coronavirus.
When we learned that the Brampton Battalion would be relocating for the 2013-14 season, and that North Bay would finally be getting another OHL franchise, our first since the centennials left for Saginaw in 2002, I was pretty excited.
Growing up, my dad had season tickets to the Barrie Colts. From this experience, I learned what a pillar an OHL franchise can be for a community. Hockey brings Canadians together like few things, and when I heard we’d be getting the Battalion, I was ecstatic. My first thought was basically that it was good for the community, and hey, it would probably provide me with some entertainment. Win-Win.
My second thought was:
“I really hope they change their brand”.
No, I didn’t mind that they stuck with the name Battalion. North Bay is a community deeply engrained with military tradition, and the name and motif fits well. The alliterative flow of the name from “Brampton Battalion” even sticks with “Bay Battalion”. The name is totally fine. No, I’m talking about the logo, and …
(I’m sorry Troops diehards, this has the potential to upset you)
… that god-awful green.
This all might seem superficial to some degree. We get a team, and hockey isn’t about how you’re dressed, so who cares? I’m a sports fan, I certainly get this perspective. The product on the ice is what counts.
But I also like to wear cool gear from my favourite teams with pride. I’m a fan of good design. Whether you’re a Habs fan or a Leafs fan like myself (Sens fans: I just assume you’re all in hiding) you have to admit both jerseys, logos, the brands, they’re absolutely impeccable. In fact, they’re timeless. The histories of their Toronto and Montreal respectively is stitched into every thread of the Leafs and Canadiens Sweaters. They are worn with the upmost pride.
The brand of the North Bay Battalion, however, is just not good design for our modern tastes. It doesn’t have that timeless quality. And for those of us OHL fans from the Brampton Battalion days, it’s really just not our own.
For starters, let’s talk about the green. I just think its actually a brutal colour to centre your branding on. The olive/khaki shade certainly calls upon a military motif, but when it comes down to it, for everyday people who would be wearing your merch’, it’s just not a great look. Who’s wants to wear a vomit coloured green? It’s only the (very few) hardcore fans who I see wearing the jersey around town. There is very little appeal in the merchandise for the casual fan. A t-shirt that colour, irrespective of the logo its just not quite what you would call “cool”.
And it’s not hard to imagine the jerseys look a hell of a lot better with a simple tweak of the shade of green. After googling shades of green, I think something like a Basil verging on a forest green, would look much better while still maintaining a military feel. The below mockup, while not my proposal for the teams next jersey, just gives you an idea of how a different green can really change the identity of the brand.
Much, much better right? So, a tweak to the green and all of a sudden you have a jersey that looks much sharper.
Now about the logo. Once again, the military motif is fine, it’s the execution that flounders. Modern logos aim to be sleek, and often minimalism is a more effective form than the charcuterie style on the current logo. And yes, character style logos definitely dominate the OHL team brands (see Charlie-Horse on my beloved Barrie Colts logo), but the current logo, basically, a guys face, is just not something I’d ever want on a t-shirt or a hat. Given how little Battalion merchandise I see around town, I think it’s fair to say others agree with me.
Consider the Winnipeg Jets’ logo, which manages to pay homage to the airforce without appearing tacky in the least. It’s sleek and appealing, and has been an effective brand since the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg in 2011.
Since the great OHL finals run the Battalion had in their first season in North Bay, attendance has steadily declined year over year. Honestly, I find the games to be affordable and entertaining, it’s good hockey. I really don’t go often though, once a year probably. Speaking for myself, a rebrand would really drum up more interest from casual fans like myself, and would likely cause some excitement about the team locally, especially if the merchandise is appealing.
That’s not to say the team won’t need to be a lot better than they were in the somewhat mercifully cancelled 2019-2020 to put bums in the seats. Just that people around town talking about your new logo, excitedly anticipating your new merchandise, and proudly wearing it around town is nothing but advertising for ticket sales.
The Toronto Blue Jays rebranded in 2012, unveiling a logo that combined elements of the teams history with a sleek modern design. You might remember that the hats donning the new logo became a huge fashion trend Canada wide, were sold out everywhere seemingly forever, and reinvigorated dwindling interest in the team with a younger demographic. Obviously a rebrand of the Battalion isn’t going have national style implications, but it could certainly help make the team cool around the city again.
Jose Bautista in both the pre (left) and post(above) rebrand Jays jerseys. I think it’s pretty unanimously agreed this was a HUGE upgrade.
In terms of a new logo, there are some options to maintain the military themes while adopting a more minimalist style logo. One might incorporate inspiration from the Moose theme of logo of the local Algonquin Regiment (see below), or simple elements which call to mind the theme, such as military vehicles, army boots or helmets, weaponry etc. While the airforce wouldn’t be necessarily broken up into “battalions”, the aviation theme from the CFB North Bay base might also localize the logo.
Honestly, even a word style alternate logo, either with “North Bay” or “Battalion” or both in an impactful font, coupled with a deeper green would make for a fantastic 3rd jersey which could drive some merchandise sales and promote the brand.
Really, the biggest mistake here, to me, would be to continue with the current branding. It’s not uniquely North Bay, it never was, and I think even those few who really like the current brand won’t mind some reinvigorated interest and some new merchandise to support their Troops.
I can’t pretend to be an expert in logo design, but I do know that the teams current logo doesn’t work well for merchandise. Timing wise, with the news that the Battalion have the first overall pick in the OHL Entry Draft, and concern about the dwindling attendance to Battalion home games, the organization should seriously consider a rebrand to reinvigorate local interest in the team.
Hockey fans in North Bay know that they can’t afford to lose another franchise. The reality is we don’t get a third shot at this, and the franchise should be doing everything it can to endear itself to North Bay hockey fans, and this includes producing some cool merch’ that fans can get excited about and wear with pride.
In 1935, a 19 year old man, standing 6’2, 240 pounds, was brought into the North Bay jail by his brother and a Police Constable. In no time, the man was fighting with officers with the fury of a “caged lion”. The conflict began when officers present noticed the man was wielding a razor sharp 8 inch long file, a tool used for sharpening saws.
Three local officers, three provincial officers, the man’s father and his brother all attempted to remove the weapon from the man. A Deputy and a Constable both sustaining injuries from the file, including stab wounds located on the face and scalp of the deputy.
One officer present described the attempt to enter the cell to calm the man down as “almost suicide”, and the man’s rage was described by the attending officers of that of 10 times that of a normal man. There was no information regarding if substance use had a role in his behaviour.
The man fought off officer after officer. At first he stood with a rosary clenched in his outreached hand shouting “you can’t hurt me with this”, and then he began to attack intruders to his cell with his file. Eventually, officers decided to let him be while he calmed down, out of fear of sustaining additional injury, leaving him in the cell with the file. While they had tried to secure tear gas in order to assist in disarming the man, it was unavailable to them.
Sure this story is pretty crazy. A barely-adult manhandling the local police, stabbing one officer and injuring another in the chaos. While the article didn’t specify, we can assume the man eventually calmed down as he didn’t make future news. The key to this story is not necessarily the conclusion however, the key is the interesting coincidence of the name of the man:
Lebelle & McClenaghan (2009). The Beat Light: North Bay Police History 1887-2007. WFL Communications.
There’s an experiment that I stole from my thesis supervisor that I occasionally run with students as an activity in class. The idea behind the experiment is simple: I tell the students I have an extra 5% in bonus marks on an upcoming test, and that they can acquire a portion of this prize depending on the way they choose to play the game. The 5% is meant to represent a scarce natural resource, and their response is meant to simulate the use of that resource. I usually instruct students to think of it as if they’re all fishing from the same pond.
Each student can choose one of the two options:
Exploit – take the maximum amount of the finite resource that they can.
Sustainable use – split the resource evenly among the whole class/community.
If all the students chose the sustainable use option, they equally split the prize, and a second round commences in which students have an opportunity to repeat the experiment and earn even more bonus marks. The second round is meant to simulate the way that renewable natural resources, such as lumber, fish, etc. can be used basically indefinitely if responsibly managed.
If one or more students selfishly decide to maximize their take from the resource pool by choosing the exploit option, the total is split among only those students who selected exploit, and everyone who chose to responsibly use the resource misses out.
Without fail, every single time at least one student chooses to exploit the resource.
Of course this is the result I want as their instructor. It provides an opportunity to show students a little about greed and human nature. It also makes a great transition into discussion of the tragedy of the commons, and the way humans tend to exploit greedily, with less concern for the big picture. If we all take as many fish as we can get, eventually, there simply won’t be any fish left to reproduce and maintain the stock. We do not seem to mind the consequences of our actions being felt by others.
This might be starting to sound a little like the issue we’re having with toilet paper.
In response the COVID-19 pandemic, and in anticipation of potential for quarantines people are stocking up on necessities. And rightfully so! It would be awfully foolish to not be prepared in the event a state of emergency closes down businesses.
That said, the obsession with buying (literally) hundreds, and hundreds of rolls of toilet paper is absolutely insane. There should be more than enough toilet paper in this city to go around, even if households are in quarantine for a period of a month.
But there isn’t. As a result of the perception, or fear, of scarcity stores are sold out citywide. We have manufactured the very scarcity we feared. Worse, it’s transformed into a vicious cycle. With media outlets reporting about the widespread shortages, you can bet the next time a rational consumer (i.e who initially purchased a reasonable amount of toilet paper) sees toilet paper available, they’re going to stock up, in response to the actual scarcity we now face. We’ve transformed the situation to one where you either over do it, or miss out all together.
The worst part of all this, is those with limited transportation and accessibility (think elderly people) are the ones who are missing the opportunity to get the essential product, compounding the fact that they are already the population most vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.
And there really shouldn’t be any shortage. In a piece in the Globe and Mail, the CEO of Kruger products (makers of Cashmere and Purex toilet paper) is quoted as saying that they are manufacturing toilet paper at maximum capacity, without any plans to change the price of the products despite the increased demand. Basically, the supply chain of toilet paper from manufacturer to consumer should be uninterrupted in the coming days and weeks. There will be plenty of toilet paper once they have caught up with the blip of overbuying, and those with years worth of toilet paper to store will feel a little bit foolish that they prevented their fellow residents from having a basic necessity.
A useful mental model for the way that the manufactured scarcity of toilet paper becomes a vicious cycle is the choice faced in the prisoners dilemma.
In the prisoners dilemma, you and another suspect are brought in for questioning about a crime you’ve committed. You are separated, and are therefore unable to know what your accomplice is saying to the authorities. Both of you are given the option of giving up the other in exchange for a lighter sentence. Neither of you know that without a confession, they likely will be unable to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The model below depicts the four possible outcomes of this situation.
As you can see, the ideal scenario for both would be not giving up the other, as united they stand the best chance of achieving reasonable doubt and going free. The worst possible outcome for one of the suspects is holding their tongue, only to have their accomplice rat them out forcing them to face the full penalty of their crime. Thus creates a scenario where it is logical to sell out your accomplice and receive a fairly good outcome for yourself in order to prevent yourself from becoming “the sucker”.
To translate this model for the current “Toilet Paper Dilemma”, I pit two hypothetical shoppers against each other. This is obviously a major simplification of reality, but it’s still a helpful model to understand the choice consumers are faced with.
So when you walk into the store and by some miracle you’re actually faced with a supply of toilet paper, you also face a choice. You could be selfish, act as an individual and buy the store out of their supply in an attempt to prevent the worst possible outcome for yourself, or you can act in a way that ensures everyone gets what they need.
So please, buy an appropriate amount of toilet paper, even if you’re worried. It’s understandable that people act more selfishly in times where they feel in danger, but consider the nature of the threat facing us. Making sure you don’t get the infection is not enough, this is a threat that faces everything from our supply chains, to our stock markets, to our education, to our entertainment, and the only way to make sure you are safe is to reduce the rate of transmission through our world. Hoarding soap for example, might ensure your hands are clean, but if nobody else’s are, I don’t like your chances. The number of others that are vulnerable to contracting the disease directly impacts your own probability of contracting COVID-19.
This is all to say that our fates are deeply entangled.
If we can’t learn to be reasonable and unselfish about something like toilet paper, what chance do we possibly stand at beating this threat to our way of life?
Oh, and anyone stealing face masks from health care professionals… get your act together. A pandemic is no excuse to behave like a Neanderthal.