A Decade in Saint John: A Month-Long Celebration

A decade ago this October, I packed up a truck-load of all my worldly possessions and drove into Saint John as this city’s newest resident.  I was moving to the Port City to take my first real, grown-up job as a Cytotechnologist at the Saint John Regional Hospital.

Driving into town for the first time, I missed the exit I was supposed to take and ended up driving over the Harbour Bridge.  Classic rookie mistake.  It did, however, give me a chance to see a bit of my new home town.  I remember thinking as I passed through, what is this place?  With the audacity to have its own Hollywood sign and a major highway straight through its centre?

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I think I loved it, right then and there.

It makes sense that I would love it here, really.  Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, I’ve seen so many communities struggle just to stay alive, in much the same way that Saint John has struggled.  Just as people like to root for the underdog, I like to root for the undervalued and unappreciated places in the Maritimes.

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When I first took the job in Saint John, people tried to tell me not to move.  It seemed that Saint John inspired a rather apathetic response in Maritimers, at best.  Why are you moving there? was a common question I received as I prepared to move my entire life there.  That is, except for a couple I met at the restaurant where I worked, who lived in Saint John. They boasted about the beauty of their city and its friendly people.  After chatting with them for a few minutes, I decided that there was hope for my new city, after all.  As it turns out, they were right.

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I haven’t regretted a moment that I’ve spent here.

In many ways, I feel as though I’ve found myself here.  I met the love of my life here and we married three years ago.  We bought a home, set up a busy, satisfying life here.  I have a rewarding career and enough hobbies to keep me busy 24 hours a day.  In the past couple of years I’ve unexpectedly discovered a new purpose: to use my passion and love for the region to spread the word about all the inspiring people and remarkable things that are happening here. Because this place deserves to be seen as more than the Armpit of the Maritimes.  It deserves to be a destination in its own right.

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If you saw the recent CBC documentary about Saint John, City on Fire, then you’ll understand that it’s an exciting time to live in Saint John.  There is a momentum building in the city, and it makes you want to get involved.  To be a part of the movement.  To prove that a community can take control of its own destiny, and decide for themselves who they’re going to be.  We don’t (and shouldn’t) have to wait for government to bail us out.  We can build a better community, all by ourselves, for ourselves.

To celebrate 10 years in the Port City, I’ll be bringing you posts of all my favourite places in the area, all month long.  Those most visited, and those I couldn’t live without.

So, after a decade in Saint John, the only real question left to answer is this: Can I offically call myself a Saint Johner now?

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Canada Day ’16: Love is Louder

With Canada Day just a couple days away, we Canadians have so much to be thankful for and proud of, every single year.  But I have to say that this particular year has made me more proud than ever to call this country my home.

With Donald Trump spewing all sorts of venomous hatred on a daily basis to the south and Brexit across the pond, with the anti-immigration and xenophobic rhetoric of the Ukip party, it feels like Canada is being surrounded by insanity.

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Dangerously toxic rhetoric of the Pro-Leave camp in the UK

Credited in no small part to Justin Trudeau’s sunny ways leadership, Canada has welcomed more than 25,000 Syrian refugees over the past year.  Some provinces, including my own, have significantly increased their population size.  In fact, since they started arriving last year, New Brunswick has settled more Syrian refugees per capita than any other province, by about double the national average (CBC).

And for the most part, Canadians have not only allowed these people into our country, we have welcomed them.  There were crowds at airports, holding signs of welcome, there were groups of people whose sole job was to make our new residents comfortable and to make their transition as easy as possible.

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And our newest residents have already started improving the communities they live in. Stories poured out of Alberta when the wildfires devastated Fort MacMurray earlier this year, of refugees coming together in support, and giving what little they had to their neighbours and new friends who had lost their homes to the fire.  Because they understand what it means to lose everything, and they wanted to help.

We live in a scary time.  A time when there’s no way to know where or when terror will strike next.  A time when even a night out dancing or going to the movies can end in a living nightmare.

Fear is a natural response.  Fear usually keeps us safe; it keeps us from doing stupid shit, like jumping off a cliff (for most people). But sometimes fear holds us back.  Sometimes it clouds our judgement, and closes our minds and hearts to the truth.

The truth is that our differences do make us stronger, not weaker, and they will help lead this country into the future.

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We were afraid, but we didn’t let fear win.  We refused to let thousands of people suffer a horrible fate, through absolutely no fault of their own.

We are Canadian.  We welcome all.

I’m so proud to call myself Canadian, more than ever before.

And we have to believe that love is louder than all this noise.

 

Maritime Love for Fort McMurray

Most of you will know by now that wildfire swept through Fort McMurray, Alberta yesterday, forcing the evacuation of the entire city.  Many people escaped just in time and with only the clothes on their backs.

The fires within the city have been put out for now, but the wildfire still looms threateningly nearby.  Some 1600 structures have been lost to the fire; entire neighbourhoods are gone.

I know I speak for many when I say that we grieve for you, Fort McMurray.

The Maritimes has always had strong ties to Alberta, and Fort Mac in particular. Every Maritimer has a family member or friend working in the area.  We keep you in our thoughts; we pray for a speedy and safe resolution to this nightmare you find yourselves unable to wake up from.

If you would like to help, you can donate to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Appeal here or by texting ‘REDCROSS’ to 30333.

If you are still trying to locate family or friends in the area, you can contact the Red Cross, or Facebook has activated its safety check feature.

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THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Michael De Adder

 

A Little Good News: Area 506 Festival

This New Brunswick Day long weekend just got a little more New Brunswick-ey. Yesterday a new summer festival was announced, to take place July 29-31st in Saint John. The festival will focus on music, culture and goods and will allow New Brunswick to showcase all it has to offer.

Ray Gracewood, chair of Area 506, spoke on Information Morning Saint John, saying of the festival: “The idea being it’s a melting pot of everything New Brunswick has to offer and a celebration for the positive things going on in our province…each of these communities has a story to tell … whether that’s an event, a product, a celebrity, anything. It’s an opportunity for these towns to come together and show everybody what they’ve got”.

Musical performers will include NB’s own Matt Anderson, 1755 and the Bona Fide. Grace Potter, Big Sugar and July Talk are also scheduled to perform over the weekend.

While the festival will span across the city, the heart of it will take place on Long Wharf, in what promises to be a very unique venue: a shipping container village.

I’m really excited about this event.  I think it’s going to have a fresh, urban vibe to it, and I love that it will be a chance to celebrate NB.  Too often recently, we’ve been made to feel as if we’re a doomed province.  Most recently with Maclean’s magazine, who published a very unflattering article entitled, Can Anything Save New Brunswick.  Yes, you read that right. This festival will be a chance to respond in a big way.  It’s like saying: So you think we’re a dying province?  Well, we’re just going to throw a huge party celebrating how very wrong you are!

And it will be great for New Brunswickers to show off their NB pride, because I know there’s a lot of pride out there.  The festival will show us what is positive, and also what is possible.  Because if we don’t think that things are possible, they never will be.

You can buy earlybird weekend passes now for $59.  Once those run out, weekend passes will be $79 with single night tickets at $49.  Check out the event website here.  You can also follow them for updates on Twitter @area506fest and Facebook at Area 506.

So, let’s celebrate ourselves this New Brunswick Day weekend, my fellow NB’ers, and take pride in where we are and where we’re headed!

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A Little Good News: The Wentworth Learning Centre 

This is the start of a new series at Maritime Love, called A Little Good News.  In the series, I’ll tell stories about positive things happening around the region.  Because, frankly, we could all use a little more good news.  My first A Little Good News story is on a subject very close to my heart: rural schools.

In June of 2015, the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board voted to uphold the decision to close Wentworth Consolidated Elementary, along with Maitland District Elementary and River John Consolidated, after rejecting their hub school proposals.  The communities were obviously devastated by the closures.  They fought, and continue to fight to keep their schools a part of their communities.

I grew up in the next village over from Wentworth and while I did not attend this school, I’ve visited many times and I know the toll that a school closure has both on the students and the community.  It can be very hard on kids to adjust to a new, often much larger school many kilometers away; their grades often suffer because of it.  On the community the effect can be even more drastic.  When a school closes, a community’s centre of gravity is lost, leaving it’s members unsteady and unsure of where the next step lies. Many families will move, simply to be closer to school and after school activities.  The remaining community struggles to maintain solidarity, without the school as a rallying point.

The people of Wentworth refused to give up and because of the hard work of some very committed members of the community, they have just announced that in September of 2017, they will be reopening the school as a “P-3, independent, not-for-profit, community governed and community maintained facility“.  And starting May 1, 2016, they will also offer “commercial space available for rent to encourage small business ventures and give owners affordable space to grow“.

To get the full scoop on the project I called on an old friend, Nathan Patriquin, who is the Vice President of the Wentworth Learning Centre Cooperative Ltd, the group that is overseeing the project and will be responsible for the Centre’s operation.  The Centre will not be affiliated with any local school board, instead relying on an ongoing fundraising campaign to raise the funds necessary for it’s operation.  He tells me that they are also accepting proposals from certified daycare providers and are marketing the almost 1500 sq ft of remaining available space as a “business incubator to encourage new entrepreneurs to pursue their ideas“.  When asked how the community has received the project, he tells me that while cautiously optimistic at first, the community is encouraged by the progress that has been made as the project gains momentum.

I congratulate the people of Wentworth on their commitment to providing local education for their children and for fighting so hard for their community.  It is exactly this kind of innovative thinking that will keep our rural Maritime communities alive and help them prosper into the future.

If you would like to learn more about the learning centre or are interested in renting space, please visit their Facebook page Wentworth Learning Centre.

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Share Your Maritime Love: Wes Booth

Feeling frustrated with the situation in his province and the lack of support available for youth, Wes Booth and a friend took matters into their own hands last summer and founded the group We Are NS. Wes immediately hit the road for a hitchhiking tour of the province to meet Nova Scotians and share stories of positivity.  You may have seen him on the side of the highway, or had him paint your nose blue as part of his grassroots social media campaign, #bluenoserbychoice.

His passion project, while at times overwhelming, has garnered him lots of attention and social media followers.  He understands the challenges facing youth in our region and he’s committed to helping to create solutions and that’s why he is the perfect person to launch our Share Your Maritime Love project.

Do you live in the Maritimes?  If so, where do you call home?

Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

What do you love most about life in the Maritimes?

The people.  We have a safe and beautiful environment but our people make the biggest difference and they are our greatest asset.

What do you find most challenging about living/doing business here?

The conservative nature and narrow-minded thinking.  People are constantly being told, “times are tough, resources are limited”.  We are resistant to change, anything new is considered a risk.  We don’t listen to each other.  We need to learn to communicate, to respect each other, to collaborate.  We need to support people in trying things.  I think a lot of it stems from fear.  We need to see competition as healthy.  I think we can learn a lot from America’s example in the way they always strive to improve and get better.

But I do think there is more opportunity here than other parts of the country where the markets are saturated.  If you are a risk taker with passion and you work hard, you can make it happen here.

What is your favourite place(s) in the Maritimes?  Why?

Cape Breton, NS – When I was there I really felt their struggle and I could relate to that used, abused, forgotten feeling.  The place is beautiful, the people are awesome and welcoming. They have resiliency.  They’re survivors.

White Point, NS – This is a special place that my family goes to a lot.

What do you think we can do to build a better Maritimes?

Make youth feel valued.  We have no future if we don’t value youth.  And it’s not just about retaining youth, but attracting youth too.  Unless you prove yourself or get lucky or persevere you can’t get anywhere.  Youth and seniors are the two groups that have the most free time – we can use them.  We need to invest in youth programs, invest in people. We need to attract new people who can sustainably live here, attract people with like-minded values and build around that.

Thanks so much to Wes for participating!  You can follow Wes on social media @wesleybooth as well as his group We Are NS @wearenovascotia.

If you would like to take part in our Share Your Maritime Love project, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Share Your Maritime Love!

Today marks my one year blogiversary.  It’s been one year since I started writing regularly at Maritime Love.  It’s been a wonderful year full of self discovery and creative expression.  Thank you to everyone who has visited maritimelove.com and read, shared and liked my posts.  It’s so amazing when people reach out to tell me they enjoy the site. I really appreciate your support!  This has been a labour of love, in an effort to give back in some small way, to a place that has given me so much.

I’ve enjoyed sharing my stories here over the past year and I will continue to post about my adventures around the Maritimes in the future.  But this year I want to focus on connecting with people in the region and learning what it is they love about the Maritimes.  So, I’m launching the Share Your Maritime Love Project, where I’m inviting you to share what you love about this place and why.

More specifically, I’d like to know:

  1. Do you live in the Maritimes? If so, where do you call home?
  2. What do you love most about life in the Maritimes?
  3. What do you find most challenging about living/doing business here?
  4. What is your favourite place(s) in the Maritimes?  Why?
  5. What do you think we can do to build a better Maritimes?

I would like to feature someone new on the website each week.  It could be a born-and-bred Maritimer, a new resident, someone who has left the region or a visitor.  I want to hear from all of you!

By doing this, I aim to learn more about the Maritimes and the people who live/have lived here and I hope to gain insight into what we can do to improve life for Maritimers.

If you are interested in being featured on Maritime Love, please comment on this post or reach me through social media (links on sidebar) and I will be in contact with you. Please share this post with anyone you think might be interested.  I can’t wait to hear from you!

And don’t forget to use the hashtag: #ShareYourMaritimeLove