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This sign at the Super-Valu off Commercial Drive caught my eye the other day:
“We do not accept the PC Gift Cards (good only for Alantic Super Valu back east). Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.”
Other than the missing ‘t’ in Atlantic, what stood out for me was the phrase, “back east.” Growing up, my family used this term to describe the region where both sets of my grandparents lived: Ontario. We’d head Back East every couple summers to visit them, and sometimes they would come Out West to visit us.
I polled a group of people who ranged in age from their late 20s to early 60s for their definition of this phrase. This group included people originally from both B.C. and Ontario, as well as several people who have immigrated here but were born and lived extensively in other countries.
The results of my highly unscientific survey show that Ontario is overwhelmingly seen as the location of back east. Several participants also pointed out that their answer was contingent on their current location; for example in B.C., back east might mean Ontario, but in Ontario, back east means the Maritimes.
I also learned of an alternate expression while conducting my research: “down east,” which apparently means “really east, such as Newfoundland and the Maritimes.”
Geist’s phrasebook of regional differences notes that the expression in question is used if the speaker has family in Ontario. Otherwise, it’s “out east.”
And of course, to whoever created the Super Valu sign, back east is Atlantic Canada. Maybe they have family there.