Kris Austin Commentary in The Daily Gleaner: Amazing life in rural NB
True grit, dedication, and a determination to overcome the greatest of obstacles can be an elusive trait in today’s society. However, for those who live in small town New Brunswick those are the very things that become a normal part of life. Take for example the recent fire that destroyed Minto’s only grocery store. The local Foodland was not only a central part of the Village, but the building itself was a landmark that has a rich history dating back decades. I can’t help but admire the community support that has rallied around this loss. Everything from the volunteer firefighters that dropped what they were doing to respond to the call to the surrounding businesses that opened their doors for food and water in support of those battling the blaze. A local bar owner was even planning a fundraiser to help our seniors with groceries as firefighters wrestled to bring it under control… remarkable.
Yet the thing that stood out to me more than anything else was how the owner, Richard Veenhuis has responded.
This man has been a resident of Minto for over a decade and has had tragedies that no one person should ever have to endure. Despite the ashes and ruin he had one main theme to deliver: “We’ll overcome.”
Those two words should be the iconic phrase for all of rural and small town New Brunswick, as there is a striking similarity with many of these communities. Abandoned buildings, closed businesses, shuttered schools, shrinking populations… the list goes on and on. The challenges these areas face are daunting at the best of times but if you add in an aging population coupled with high taxes it almost seems insurmountable.
I’ve been asked many times why I choose to live outside an urban center. The overall taxes we pay do not always reflect the level of government services we receive. There isn’t the same perks and amenities that are offered in urban areas. Many people who live in cities cannot figure out why others choose to live in these small towns.
The simple answer is our way of life and the amazing people that make up these communities. I cannot tell of how many countless fundraising events I have attended where hundreds of locals would gather to help someone in need. We come together like no one else, especially in the face of adversity. We know what it means to have true community spirit. We don’t have an over dependence on “the system” but instead we work together to make things happen. We get to know our neighbors and can put aside our differences to work for the common good of the neighborhood.
I do not believe that the rural way of life is unsustainable. I am not prepare to throw in the towel on a vision of prosperity for smaller areas. It will take some innovative and thoughtful ideas to change course, as well as political will, but I believe it’s possible. A closer look to agriculture and small businesses can be a good place to start. Enticing entrepreneurs to set up shop in rural New Brunswick with reasonable incentives can also have an impact.
Reviving towns and villages throughout our province is no easy task, and I certainly do not want to over simplify a complex problem. Yet regardless of how things unfold and what challenges may arise, I stand in solidarity with Mr. Veenhuis’ statement, “We’ll overcome”.