In the interest of full disclosure, growing up as a callow and ambitious youth Moncton never nestled into my top-five list of places to live. To be candid, it didn’t even reach the lower echelons of my top 50.
Why would it?
The Hub City and I first became acquainted during a blizzard in January 1975. Here, my father and I landed on a tarmac at the airport, en route to somewhere else. Ours was to be one of those dad-son adventures – a take-your-kid-to-work day for the peripatetic pater familias, whose writing career kept him jaunting from place to place, port to port.
Stranded under blankets of snow, there was nothing to do but arrange for a truck ride back to Halifax – a journey that in those days and under those circumstances took ten, teeth-clenching, white-knuckled hours.
Arriving more or less safely home in body and soul, Father Bruce poured himself a stiff drink, turned to me and asked whether I was still interested in becoming a commercial pilot.
“Sure,” I replied. “But not if I have to fly out of Moncton.”
Of course, today, some 40 years later, it seems everyone wants to fly in and out of Moncton. The Chinese send their most promising aviators to the flight academy here; Calgary-based WestJet has just announced a new training facility at the international airport; and sun-starved travellers leave daily from these environs for points south.
And, of course, that’s the point: Wait a few years and the Moncton of old becomes the Moncton of new.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of my permanent residence in this vibrant, changing city. According to some, that still makes me a Johnny-come-lately, a come-from-away. But if you know anything about my family, or me, I’ve become the Rip Van Winkle of my kinder.
Almost from the day of my birth in downtown Toronto, we’ve been a rambling bunch – some or all of us bivouacking in southeastern Ontario hockey country, Ottawa, Halifax, Prospect Bay (NS), Port Shoreham (NS), Vancouver, Victoria, Los Angeles. (Family lore has it that I was actually conceived on a mountain pass somewhere in the Swiss Alps, or maybe Santa Monica. Who can tell? It was the 60s, for crying out loud).
But since May 1996, I’ve installed myself in Moncton and have been almost bizarrely happy to do so.
No, I don’t speak French the way I should. No, I don’t recall, off the top of my head, the history of every founding family in this community. And heaven forbid that I should go to church every time the bells ring along Gordon and Queen Streets (and they ring a lot).
Still, I feel at home here.
I feel at home in the cruddy, defiantly optimistic urban core. I feel at home with the constant existential angst over the fate of the Petitcodiac River and the causeway that bisects it and the wastewater treatment plant that tries not to defile it. I feel at home amid the plethora of open hands – and in the absence of clenched fists – that greet me wherever I go.
God willing, I’ll be here another 20 years, extolling it, criticizing it, observing its progress, forgiving its periodic failures, and defending its achievements against all detractors.
Nowadays, the Hub City nestles into the number one slot of my Top 50 places to live.
I’m not alone. KPMG routinely tells the world that Moncton is the place to be for business, quality of life, educational opportunities, and a little thing called hope.
You say it, come-from-away.