My father, the esteemed writer Harry Bruce, once allowed that while the construction of a causeway, in 1968, through the Petitcodiac River was not “the most monumental blunder in the history of atrocities mankind has inflicted on the environment,” it was, nonetheless, amongst the dumbest.
“By blocking the bore, the causeway forced it back on itself, and the silt that once hurtled upriver settled in the lower reaches of the Petitcodiac,” he wrote in 1995, in a piece for the Montreal Gazette. “It created a huge plain of greasy mud, and turned the river into a sluggish, unnavigable joke. The Tidal Bore deteriorated until the locals called it the Total Bore.”
He noted, pointedly: “American humorist, Erma Bombeck, drove across North America with her family to see what they expected to be a thrilling natural phenomenon. When they reached Moncton, she wrote, ‘A trickle of brown water, barely visible, slowly edged its way up the river toward us with all the excitement of a stopped-up toilet. . .I retained more water than that. . .It was a long time before anyone spoke. About 5,000 miles to be exact.’”
Ms. Bombeck didn’t live long enough to see what became of the river and its bore. But had she been one of the estimated 30,000 happy gawkers, who gathered along the Petty’s banks the other day, she would have sung an altogether different tune as a three-foot high wall of water, bearing a clutch of professional surfers from around the world, coursed upstream. One of them, a bright, young fellow from California, called it a “chocolate wave”. And it was.
Experts had predicted that, following the causeway gates’ permanent opening three years ago, decades might pass before anyone noticed any appreciable change in the river. The experts were wrong, though they weren’t complaining.
Last month, when the first of the new “super bores” arrived, Global News reported, “This is biggest one of the year. Daniel LeBlanc with Petitcodiac Riverkeeper, says it is only going to get more impressive in the coming years. ‘There’s no question that the reason we have a beautiful bore is because of the restoration of the river, (he said).’”
There’s also no question about the fact that nature, when left alone, can be remarkably self-correcting – a certain comfort at a time when the Province is struggling with the environmental implications of onshore oil and gas development.
For Moncton, at any rate, the return of the bore fairly drips with the sort of symbolism that city officials might otherwise pay good money to manufacture. The community’s motto is “resurgo”. What better way to illustrate the efficacious effects of sound planning (in the river’s case, the decision to allow its water to flow freely), than a resurgent tide?
What a stunningly marvelous backdrop to the statistics we routinely deploy to persuade newcomers to settle here: The fact that Moncton’s population growth rate since 2006 is 9.7 per cent, making it the fifth-fastest growing Census Metropolitan Area in the country; the fact that Westmorland County has typically attracted at least three times as many people every year than any other county in New Brunswick; and the fact that, since 1990, the city has added more than 25,000 jobs to its workforce.
The bore is, of course, a creature of moon and tide, of gravity and specific density. But it is also a testament to change, to renewal, to possibility. Its return to its past glory is a handshake with the future – a future we write with every decision, every move we make today. What else do we imagine for ourselves? What will be the shape of our community 10 or 20 years from now?
The Petitcodiac’s restoration is not yet complete. The “monumental blunder” still stares at us, waiting grimly to be replaced by a partial bridge. Meanwhile, the tidal bore rushes in from the sea, roaring at us to greet all the days the will come with courage, conviction and, most of all, sheer, untrammelled delight.