I’m addressing this column to those of you who have lived in Port Hawkesbury, and the general Strait area, longer than the past decade.
It’s surprising that so many of us still don’t recognize that this region has a significant number of residents who weren’t born and raised here, and several more that are basically just passing through.
This isn’t new. It’s been happening for decades, thanks to a variety of factors including post-secondary education, career opportunities, out-of-province industry ownership, immigration, resettlement, real estate purchases, retirement, and/or family connections.
For the most part, we’ve done a great job of welcoming these newcomers to our region and its workforce, education system, churches, community organizations, and general daily life.
But if we’re going to keep that up and make people with only a few years, months or even weeks’ worth of experience in the Strait area feel as comfortable as those who have spent their lives here, we’ve got a couple of bad habits that need to disappear.
Now, I’m not going to spend too much time on the phrase “come-from-away,” because it’s already getting attention from those responsible for immigration and refugee-settlement strategies in Nova Scotia. As much as some of us might see it as a term of endearment, it’s not an especially helpful turn of phrase. Truth be told, it seems flat-out ignorant, given the major impact on our very existence by those who have made the Strait area a second – and in some cases, permanent – home over the past century.
Instead, I’d like to see an end to a trend that has gone on for far too long and has even planted its roots in my own generation: Giving directions based on structures that no longer exist.
Not true, you say? Apparently, you haven’t tried to find your way around Port Hawkesbury or Port Hastings over the past few years. Phrases like “where the old Stirling Apples building used to be,” “the old call centre,” or “next to the old Canadian Tire store” still come out of the mouths of those endeavouring to help poor souls who most now envision these long-demolished or long-abandoned structures.
And if I ever hear “the old vocational school property” or, even worse, “the old CRVS site” again, it’ll be too soon.
It hasn’t been called the Canso Regional Vocational School for over a quarter-century. It hasn’t operated the bulk of its programs there for two decades. The building that used to house these programs was levelled in 2004. There isn’t a scrap of evidence on this Reeves Street property that would even come close to suggesting it hosted anything resembling a vocational school at any point in history.
I certainly don’t say any of this to be insensitive to CRVS (or NSCC Strait Campus) graduates, teachers, or anyone else with any kind of connection to the building. But we’ve got to think of the folks we are desperately trying to attract to – and keep in – our area. Is it that much harder to direct someone to “the property across from the Civic Centre” or “the site next to the veteran’s park and cenotaph,” to make it easier for those who have only been here – and may be having their first experience with an English-language environment – for a short period of time?
To be fair, I’ve fallen into this trap myself, directing people to “the old arena grounds” when there’s a colourful, eye-catching and fully-operational community park and playground that makes a much better landmark. Old habits die hard, even for allegedly forward-thinking complainers like me.
And it’s not just Port Hawkesbury that struggles with this type of stuck-in-the-past speaking. Ask any visitor or recent arrival to St. Peter’s who’s attempted to reach their destination based on “the old Irving site” (now an empty lot) or “the old high school building” (which hasn’t been a high school since 2000 and hasn’t housed any kind of school for over a decade).
Or talk to an Isle Madame newcomer mystified as to the exact location of “the old IMDH,” which hasn’t existed for 18 years and is nearly impossible to spot from Arichat’s High Road, particularly with the 14-year-old Richmond Municipal Building sitting right in front of it. For that matter, ask someone who has lived in Isle Madame for less than five years to tell the difference between the High Road and the Lower Road (alias Veteran’s Memorial Drive).
It may be a hard habit to break, but it’s worth focusing on the here and now as opposed to the landmarks of the past. Otherwise, our newcomers might choose other communities to be their own personal “here and now” – and our lives will be poorer as a result.