Do you feel that, Strait area?
Did you notice the tides of change washing through Port Hawkesbury as 2019 began, crashing through years – decades – of cynicism to bring a sea of new hope and optimism on the night of this month’s town council meeting?
I did. After all, it was impossible to ignore.
Left for dead by many after a divisive by-election campaign and post-election comments by the victor in that race, the Destination Reeves Street project took on a life of its own when Port Hawkesbury residents, from all walks of life, insisted they would not be steamrolled by partisan interests, fear tactics and negativity.
They took back their town.
They talked it up, almost nonstop, on social media. They sent over 170 letters of support – representing nearly 300 individual town residents – to the mayor’s office.
They showed up in droves at the February 5 council meeting, a standing-room-only crowd that flooded the Civic Centre’s usually-cavernous Shannon Studio. They spoke articulately, thoughtfully, and passionately about their love of Port Hawkesbury and their desire to see it grow to accommodate everyone that a project like Destination Reeves Street will impact.
Now, it’s true that the resuscitation of this road overhaul would not have happened without the round-the-clock efforts of the mayor and the divergent personalities on our town council, town staff, engineers with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, our Member of Parliament and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
As a result of their efforts, questions were answered, myths were busted, and a new spirit of cooperation emerged, surprising even the most hopeful of us in Shannon Studio on that already-legendary Tuesday night.
However, I have never seen this level of public engagement on an issue impacting Port Hawkesbury’s future. I would have to go back to the municipal election of 2012, when two new councillors in their 30s were elected (one of whom, of course, is now our mayor), a seesaw battle emerged for the mayor’s post after two consecutive acclamations to the town’s top job, and even returning-office officials were shocked at the 70 per cent voter turnout.
There are, of course, other times that I have been proud of Port Hawkesbury, either as a resident and homeowner or whether I was simply commuting to, renting in, or visiting the area.
Many of these triumphs are recent. Only five-and-a-half years ago, hundreds of us converged on MacQuarrie Drive Extension and, over the course of 10 hours, built a community park that has only grown since then and come to serve as one of Port Hawkesbury’s shining jewels.
Just 29 months ago, we welcomed 11,000 people – nearly quadruple Port Hawkesbury’s population – as Grammy-winner Meghan Trainor lit up the town’s athletic fields. I will freely admit to being among the skeptics regarding the contest that got her here and the confusing distribution of free tickets, but in terms of solving the logistical nightmare of finding parking and transit services for thousands of people from across the Maritimes, Port Hawkesbury more than proved itself.
In 2005, Port Hawkesbury partnered with several surrounding communities to host an unforgettable 50th anniversary celebration for the Canso Causeway. It felt like every conceivable space in Port Hawkesbury – and within a 50-kilometre radius of the town – was buzzing every night, with concerts, ceremonies, parades, pub nights, displays, teas and everything else imaginable. (We’ve only got another 11 years before the 75th anniversary, by the way. I say we start planning for that now.)
Some of my favourite post-2000 Port Hawkesbury moments are, sadly, already consigned to the past. These include the Strait Area Relay For Life, a victim of volunteer burn-out that appears to be affecting the Canadian Cancer Society fundraiser in other communities, and the heyday of the Port Hawkesbury Creamery, still idle nearly a decade after renovations ground to a halt. I wistfully recall Duncan Wells, onstage with me as part of the “Songs Of The Waterfront” series I hosted from 2002-04, beholding the Creamery and saying (on microphone): “We need something like this in Sydney.” We still need it in Port Hawkesbury, too.
But look what we have here: new businesses; expanding long-time businesses; developers looking to set up shop (new hotel, anyone?); and world-class educational opportunities.
We also have a revived Festival of the Strait; an annual Christmas Parade and a beloved (free) Seniors’ Christmas Dinner; the Civic Centre; the best junior hockey team in Nova Scotia; and thriving churches and community organizations (and I would say that even if I didn’t happen to be the secretary of the bustling Port Hawkesbury Rotary Club).
We are a town that dares to dream, with the leadership ready to put those dreams in action. And that will carry us well beyond our long-anticipated Reeves Street re-do.
I feel it. Do you?