How winter’s bone tests us

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

We may remember the dreaded winter of 1992. Perhaps we choose to forget in the Hub City, which took the brunt of one of the worst white dumps in the recorded history of the province.

My sister was living here at that time and she remembers – so well, in fact, that she rarely sets foot in this fair town after the fall equinox and before the summer solstice.

The snow in 1992 reached the second-floor window of her apartment near Steadman Street. To escape, to get, say, milk and eggs, she crafted a makeshift bunny hill on which she slid to ground. (How she returned to her abode, I’m not entirely clear; something about climbers’ axes and pitons hovers into my long-fossilized mind).

The point is, as rough as we’ve had it recently in New Brunswick. . .well. . .it’s been rougher.

Nineteen-Ninety-Two was also the first full year of a brand, new tax introduced in a brand, new recession – the HST. As the snow continued to fall, joblessness in this province rose well above 15 per cent. Poverty and illiteracy rates were among the highest in the country. Violent crime was a daily occurrence in Moncton’s downtown core, which was, by the way, easily mistaken for certain boroughs of the burning, benighted southern reaches of London, England, where hooligans and punks roamed the streets nightly.

Last winter, one snowplow driver told Global News, “We’ve got as much snow now as we had then (in 1992). But then it came kinda all in like two or three days where this has taken a week. Then, we could not even drive with the truck with the wing down.”

All of which is to reiterate that notwithstanding last winter’s absurd “White Juan”, which seemed to last for weeks (trust me, it did; I have the pictures to prove it to my Los Angeles-based, Venice-Beach hovering, muscle-bound brother), we’ve actually had it pretty good in Moncton over the past two decades.

We’ve rebuilt our local and surrounding economies. We’ve diversified away from solitary, single industries and into integrated, diverse ones. We’ve embraced the notion of cultural and linguistic duality so completely that we’ve managed to host a baker’s dozen of major, international francophone events without materially or socially threatening anyone in this community who can’t (or doesn’t) speak and read the French language.

We have become, in effect, what we intended to become: a cosmopolitan city that welcomes newcomers with a shake of the hand and a slap on the back; an urban centre of 140,000 people that, on a good day, habitually behaves as if its region is ten times larger, as if its heart is 20 times as big, as its census data routinely reports.

We may one day remember the dreaded winters of 1992, 2015 or, indeed, the one we’re in.

In the meantime, the HST will surely rise. Toll fees will surely smack travellers on provincial highways. Income taxes might rise.

But all of this won’t stop us from inventing better tools for digging out from under an avalanche of debt and deficit. We are, in the end, remorselessly resourceful; we will outlast this particular winter.

And if we do eventually touch that rim at the edge of the world – on a hot summer day when the clouds gather over the ocean, and the sun shines through and onto New Brunswick – it will be ours to grab.

We will have sacrificed the memories of bad times to erect those of good ones, when winter’s bone does not so easily test us.


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