A vision of Cape Breton Island in 2040 AD
Envisioning a bold way to reach a brighter future
It was a stroke of the pen that had set her in a daring new direction. The province had granted her ‘special island status’ with the ability to control more of her own affairs and a share of the revenue to do so.
It was an ending of sorts, to a ripple sparked by a chance comment from a member of a commission gathering ideas for a new economy. The member was from a fishing village facing the same dismaying future as those gathered: ‘ You know, the way things look, it’s really going to be up to us to figure things out.’
Those there knew it was true. No one had wanted to know. Everyone had got used to the province and the federal government looking after everything as they had the last 50 years or so, making life a lot easier.
Now the province itself was under siege, ridden with debt, its young leaving in droves, its infrastructure deteriorating, its countryside littered with abandoned farms, placing its hopes on success in a highly competitive global market.
At the same time, the planet itself was under siege with droughts and earthquakes and weather extremes. The ocean, the true lungs of our planet, saturated with carbon dioxide, our consumption bringing us ever closer to the point of no return. And all of it picking up speed.
Kitchen meetings turned into village meetings, then regional meetings. ‘ What should we do?’ They looked to the land. Most of the food, except for the seafood, came across the causeway. As did fuel and building materials, boats and gear, clothing and furniture and electronics and everything else. The island supplied almost nothing of what she needed.
Back in 1900, the island had supplied most of what she needed, and bartered for the rest. All but five per cent of her people lived in the countryside. The only government help was to the foreign owners of the coal. The island stood on its own two feet.
The kitchen meetings touched on all matters – the economy, roads, water and sewage, waste, postal services, health, education, security, accountability. The workers shared their experiences and ideas, the old brought their knowledge of traditions, the youth their fire and creativity.
The stroke of the pen allowed the island to face the future in an island way she knew best, with a strong countryside and a committed people.
Representatives from the counties sat around a table in the Island capital of Sydney. The new Cape Breton Council set the island direction, a sustainable one. The goal was to bring life back to the countryside. The brunt of the work, and the revenue, needed to be in county hands.
Just one generation gave the island a whole new look.
All ages helped with the stock taking of the old fields and or- chards, streams and woodlots, the monitoring of the lakes and coasts, university staff leading. The Island Council and the county councils played a full role in co-management of the commercial fishery.
County councils had staff to advise on gardening from windowsills to farms, on beekeeping, preserving, managing woodlots. The counties held communal equipment for reclaiming the land. There was heavy support for farmers markets. With the Island Council, they turned abandoned farms into crofts, enabling those willing to work the land to rely on part time incomes.
Community organizers helped bring education, health and fitness back to the villages as well as lighting the way for cottage industries. Community centres became busy hubs – classes for the younger children, for adults in the winter months, health clinics, cultural events and lessons, fitness classes, indoor/outdoor sports, meeting rooms.
Health costs plummeted, liter- acy rates rose.
The Island set her own curriculum, spanning grade primary to university. Much of the education took place outdoors. High schools restored their cadet programs. Some youth went on to serve in the new island regiment dedicated to global disaster relief.
Money was set aside to maintain roads and bridges. The island transit system – buses, shuttles, vans, suiting all manner of need – in time paid for itself. Most were electric – the island was self-sufficient in energy. Railways played a leading role.
Emergency and security became one, teams of night watchmen working with fire departments, first responders and the island police force, island youth coming up the ranks. Extra food and other critical supplies stored in the winter months.
Cape Breton Island was on her feet once more, her youth her glory.