Cathy and I just hit a milestone: January marked five years since we decided to buy a house in Port Hawkesbury.
Our first five-and-a-half years of marriage saw us renting an apartment in the town, but we wanted to put down permanent roots. And having moved a combined 39 times throughout our lives, we had no desire for something temporary.
We considered every option for our personal and professional lives, even looking at towns and cities that would have taken us well outside the Strait area and likely had me leaving my job at the time.
But we chose Port Hawkesbury.
And we continue to choose Port Hawkesbury.
We wanted to commit to a growing, thriving community, one that honoured and respected its founders and past achievements, while evolving into a place that truly welcomed everybody. We saw Port Hawkesbury as a place of colour, character, collaboration, faith, friendship, maturity, and growth.
We still feel that way.
The town showed incredible resilience during the shutdown period for the Point Tupper paper mill. That strength of character, and the genuine affection so many of us have for the town and its history, has emboldened a new wave of leaders in our business, public-service, arts, recreation, volunteer, and community-service sectors.
Port Hawkesbury is no longer looking backward and hoping it can somehow become 1975 all over again, or waiting for the next industrial mega-project to arrive. It’s focusing on the here-and-now, daring to imagine what could be, as opposed to grumbling about how good we supposedly had it decades ago.
We thought the Destination Reeves Street project was the natural next step in this evolution.
Here was an ambitious overhaul of Port Hawkesbury’s main thoroughfare, with a decades-old sidewalk and access-point system to be replaced with the proper entrance-exit pathways befitting a bustling array of small businesses.
Here was the funding and business-owner buy-in finally needed for the streetscape and facade program that has transformed communities as diverse as St. Peter’s, Mabou and Cheticamp, and is about to take shape in Arichat.
Here was the long-awaited active transportation route that we’ve wanted to properly connect Reeves Street and its businesses and services with the NSCC Strait Area Campus. At last, the students getting their education in our town would receive the respect, safety, and genuine connection to Port Hawkesbury that they need and deserve.
And here was a progressive kilometre-long reconfiguration of road lanes that showed Port Hawkesbury was truly entering the 21st century. (Or, you know, the late 20th century, since road diets have been in place since 1976 in the likes of New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and other backwater American hick towns. But I digress…)
Here were the turning lanes that we’ve seen in the likes of Sydney, Antigonish, New Glasgow, Truro, Kentville, and Halifax. Here was the recognition that bicycle usage by residents and visitors to our town is indeed on the rise – say, didn’t a bike-rental shop arrive on the waterfront just last spring? – and deserves to be embraced by all of us.
You’ll notice that I keep using words in the past tense like “was” as I describe all this. I wish I didn’t have to do that, but at the time of this writing, three of the five elected members of Port Hawkesbury Town Council – including the one sworn into his job earlier this month – seem determined to derail Destination Reeves Street.
The most astounding thing about all of that: The sticking point that keeps arriving in the relatively-recent wave of opposition to Destination Reeves Street is the least permanent portion of the project – the road diet.
Everything else I’ve mentioned – sidewalk and access-point overhaul, streetscape and facade, connector path to NSCC – is there for good once it’s all installed. The project contract between the town and its provincial and federal finding partners explicitly states that the road diet is a pilot project. If it doesn’t work, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal hauls out its paintbrushes, we go back to four lanes of vehicle traffic, and the bike lane disappears.
At the risk of oversimplifying it, I sincerely have trouble imagining a $5 million highway development with the potential to change the way any of us – residents, commuters, visitors – look at Port Hawkesbury could be flushed away for the sake of a few lines of paint.
Now, I’m well aware that some of the road diet concerns have come from the town’s emergency responders. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll note that Port Hawkesbury Fire Chief Curtis Doucet was our building manager in our apartment-living days. I have no reason to suspect his sincerity or objectivity, and I don’t see his motives as politically-driven.
That being said, I’m hoping that when Destination Reeves Street returns to the town council table this coming Tuesday, February 5, it’s given the professional, mature, forward-thinking, modern response that we gave Port Hawkesbury five years ago, when we made this the place we would call home for the rest of our lives.
We chose a future here.
Now it’s time for the town to choose its future.