Tag Archives: surfers

Bridge over troubled waters


Local activists spent decades twisting the right arms of federal politicians getting approval, five years ago, for a full-time, functioning fish passage through the causeway that connects the communities of Riverview and Moncton across the Petitcodiac River.

Now, it’s time to twist their left ones.

Provincial Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Roger Melanson may be a tad opportunistic (this being an election season, and all) when he asks national party leaders what, if anything, they intend to do about the second phase of the river’s planned restoration – a bridge that will replace a significant chunk of the existing fixed link – but he’s not wrong.

The permanent gate-opening has produced efficacious results that not even the most optimistic of riparian ecologists could have predicted back in 2010: The river is dramatically wider around The Bend; fish species have returned in droves; and the famed tidal bore has never been higher.

As a result, tourists have once again designated the banks of Atlantic Canada’s Big Muddy a choice destination on their calendar of things to do when hanging about southeastern New Brunswick in summertime.

Long-board surfers from California now routinely make the 6,000-kilometre trek, from their sun-bleached bivouacs, to “ride the tide” from the Petitcodiac’s mouth, near Fundy Bay, to the shores of Riverside Park (a 90-minute journey, by some accounts).

One of my sons-in-law – a marine biologist with a masters degree in environmental management, and as avid a surfer as God ever made – had never heard about the river’s “tidal bore, version 2.0” until he saw a lengthy clip on You Tube a couple of years ago.

“Alec,” he told me, “You know, I just have to do that.”

I have no doubt that he will.

All of which points to the obvious truth: When a community heeds, and invests in, the integrity of its natural splendors, the local economic impact can be as substantial as twinning a highway.

According to Parks Canada’s website, nationally protected areas make “a substantial economic contribution to (the country’s) economy. Through the spending of the organization and the visitors to Parks Canada’s National Parks, National Historic Sites and National Marine Conservation Areas, a significant and widespread economic impact is felt throughout the country.

“In 2008/09 Parks Canada’s organizational spending and visitor spending totalled $3.3 billion. Of this amount, visitor spending accounted for $2.7 billion and $587 million was spent by Parks Canada on three program areas. The overall national economic impacts derived from the spending attributed to Parks Canada on the Canadian economy are: Gross Domestic Product, $2,988 million; labour Income, $1,925 million; employment, 41,720 fulltime equivalents; tax revenue, $218 million.”

By my calculation, that’s a four-to-one return on public investment, which renders Parks Canada one of the most successful “businesses” in recent Canadian history.

Why, then, can’t the same logic be applied to the Petticodiac River – surely one of the most deserving heritage sites in this country that has not actually received designation?

It would begin with a bridge over the waterway where the causeway now stands. That edifice, with federal support, would further facilitate the natural flow of the river. Eventually, silt and mud would find their way to the coastal estuary and out into the sea.

Meanwhile, our duly protected riparian banks would become magnets for the environmentally sustainable development of public spaces – especially those that would support and augment a new downtown events centre complex.

In 20 years, or less, we might just well engineer a world-beating river restoration and find, to our astonishment, that we did something right.

Indeed, no arms needed to be twisted.

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Catching Moncton’s “chocolate wave”

 Resurgo is action in latin. And that's a dead language. Get 'er done boys and girls

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.

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