Riverside

Btown001Riverside

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is set in the fictional Canadian town of Riverside, N.S.  Or as the main character, Stephen Shulevitz, puts it:

"This is where I lived.  Riverside, Nova Scotia (population 1,816).  The kind of place where all those movies about small town America seem to get filmed.  You know the kind I'm talking about.  The camera rambles down the street and you see people chirping greetings and friendly chit-chat at each other, waving from their houses, old people raking leaves, with a soundtrack of quick bouncy notes on the strings.  For a horror movie just run the same scene and add a slow, tense cello."

Riverside, if it existed, would be located near the centre of the Annapolis Valley, by the roots of the North Mountain. The Valley is of course a real place, running along the north-western part of the peninsula and facing New CowBrunswick, and it's where I grew up. I remember it as an area mostly made up of apple orchards, cropland, pastures, forests and small towns, bordered by two low-lying mountains – you can walk to the top of the North Mountain in two hours or less, depending on how often you stop to take pictures and point at things. Once you're over, there's the shore and a rocky beach that looks out over the Bay of Fundy at New Brunswick.

68447 485532761480570 1452425058 nErnest Buckler's novel The Mountain and the Valley (1952) is set here. It's also the backdrop for the Stan Rogers song, Watching the Apples Grow. (If you've ever heard the song, it sounds a bit like everyone in the Valley spends their days square dancing and picking apples; I just remember watching a lot of TV.)

Stephen's hometown of Riverside is fictional, but it looks a lot like the town where I grew up and went to high school, Bridgetown, Nova Scotia, (population 949). Anyone from Bridgetown will notice the similarities right away: the river and the railway bridge, the town hall decorated with a clock, the Victorian houses, even a Tim Horton's at the town limits. But looks and general layout are as far as it goes. I felt free to change things Btown hallaround whenever I felt like it, and all of the characters in the book are just people in my head and not based on anyone, living or otherwise. (Of course, if you'd like to be in the book, and you have a lot of money or a global publicity machine at your disposal, give me a call.)

Sorry, Bridgetowners. I did this mainly because I don't have a great visual imagination Btown snowy houseand find it difficult to invent landscapes and backdrops from scratch. I could be asleep and having a dream about life on another planet and everything would look pretty much like my old living room in Dartmouth. And I'm apologising because Riverside doesn't always come across as the perfect place to grow up in my book. Everything is presented from the point of view of the main character, and Stephen is seventeen, restless, and counting down to the end of high school – desperate to escape, as so many of us were.

Btown sign winterBoth Bridgetown and Riverside are lovely spots: streets lined with shady trees and brightly painted wooden houses, natural beauty everywhere you look. And they are both small and closely-knit communities. You can greet everyone passing on the street by name. You don't have to worry about your children getting carried off by strangers – there are no strangers. Cars will slow down if you even look as if you're thinking about crossing the street. You will always feel at home.

Unfortunately, for a self-conscious teenager, this presents its own set of problems. Do you ever feel that everyone Btown mainis staring at you? In a town like this, odds are you'd be right. They all know that you took your Christmas lights down over the weekend. Your purchases at the local Pharmasave were duly noted. The downtown is one street long and you're surrounded by people who have quick mental access to every embarrassing thing you've ever done, or that anyone in your family has ever done, going back for generations. Let's just say it can make a restless youth just that little bit more restless.

Pictures: clockwise, Valley view  by David Neily, Granville Ferry by Ryan Scranton, photographer, Snowy house by Aodhan O'Faolain, Bridgetown main drag and high school by Jill Neily, Town sign by me, Town hall by Aodhan O'Faolain, Lovely cow by Derick Smith

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