New Brunswick

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Our cross country tour continues with the most schizophrenic of provinces: New Brunswick. When I lived in Amherst, Nova Scotia we used to say: 10 miles across the border and fifty years back in the past. It was all chauvinism, of course, yet there is a certain truth to the matter. In New Brunswick history never goes away and little can be understood about the place without understanding its divided history.

The northern part of the province is largely French — the descendants of Acadians who either refused to be expelled or who gradually filtered back from their land of exile in New Orleans. The southern half is populated by United Empire Loyalists — refugees of the American War of Independence who sometimes come across as more British than the British. Somehow these folks have managed to live together in the only voluntarily officially bilingual province in Canada (Manitoba only had its bilingual status restored due to a court case).

It hasn’t always been easy. For many years the north was solidly Liberal while the south consistently voted Conservative. Then they switched and recently they switched back again. The important thing was — they were never on the same side — except that time Frank McKenna won every seat in the province. And people in Alberta thought they had that one-party rule down pat.

There’s another way in which New Brunswick exceeds Alberta — the concentration of wealth. Practically the whole province is owned by two families — the McCains who dominate in the area of food production and the Irvings who pretty much own everything else — oil and gas refining and distribution, forestry, ship building and every media outlet except the CBC. They are not exactly two big happy families but they say that what they don’t own in NB isn’t really worth having. It may be a mere coincidence that NB also has among the lowest average wages and highest rates of poverty but I somehow don’t think so.

But wait there’s more. The province is notably small-c conservative and has tried harder than most (PEI has one-upped them on this) to limit the access of women to abortion services but, determined to be contradictory with itself, it is also the province that had the first non-openly gay Premier (who apparently had a fondness for marijuana). It was also the home of the Bricklin — a gull-winged sports car that was built 7 years before the similarly styled but more famous Delorean appeared on the scene.

Crazy as it might be — with quirky British-slang laden English and fractured French (no, really, I once heard a guy say: Je prend me auto a la mechanic et il dit, le carburetor, c’est all-fucked-up. Wrong on so many levels.) — but New Brunswick has its charms — nicest beaches on the east coast, the strange ‘garden pots‘ formations of the Fundy shore and the St. John river valley where your house only floods every fifth year. Crazy but determined to be so — it may be the most ‘Maritime’ of all the eastern provinces.

And that’s ten minutes.

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