‘I have two feelings — one of nostalgia and the other of anticipation’
CBRM held first council meeting on Aug. 1, its first day as political entity
Editor’s Note: This is the first instalment in a special editorial series commemorating the 20th anniversary of amalgamation in CBRM. We hope you enjoy today’s story, which takes you back in time to the headlines of 1995. Watch for more articles later this week chronicling the years since and also looking ahead to what’s in store for the future. While it should come as no great surprise that the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s very first day as a political entity was splashed all over the front page of the Tuesday, Aug. 1, 1995, edition of the Cape Breton Post, the island’s newspaper of record hedged its bets on whether government or gambling was the biggest story of the day.
Spread across the top of the front page of the Post on that day, in heavy, dark type, was the headline “Cape Breton’s wheel of fortune,” with a small but helpful subhead of “Historic day for gambling and regional government” directly beneath it.
As fate would have it, the CBRM’s first day on the job came on the same day as the opening of the Sydney Casino, which, like regional government, is still going strong 20 years later.
While the main headline for the page may have straddled the fence, the main story on the page, under the headline “Cape Breton begins new political era” written by the late Chris Hayes, for many years the Post’s municipal reporter, accurately captured the gravity of the day, particularly in a telling quote from outgoing Cape Breton County warden (and incoming CBRM mayor) John Coady:
“We literally are making history,” said Coady, taking a break from a farewell to Cape Breton County that featured local performers, magic shows for children and hotdogs behind the county’s administration building.
“I have two feelings — one of nostalgia and the other of anticipation.”
The story goes on to talk about the first official meeting of the new mayor and 21 councillors, set to take place at Centre 200 in Sydney that same evening, where Premier John Savage and Municipal Affairs Minister Sandy Jolly were to be on hand to give their blessing to a ceremonial transfer of power.
The story also touched on the nuts and bolts of the first day of the new administration, where brand-new regional police, fire and public works services hit the streets for the first time in an official capacity, and municipal employees, relocated from their offices in Cape Breton County, the city of Sydney and the towns of Glace Bay, New Waterford, Sydney Mines, North Sydney, Dominion and Louisbourg, moved into their new working space in Sydney’s Civic Centre for the first time.
The final paragraph of the story noted that a big celebration to mark the first day of regional government was planned for the Sydney board- walk that evening, featuring a wide variety of local performers.
It came on the heels of another huge concert the night before, featuring popular Celtic band Rawlins Cross, that drew 10,000 Cape Bretoners to that same boardwalk to mark the City of Sydney’s final day.
That event was captured by Cape Breton Post photographer Vaughan Merchant in a wide-angle shot from the roof of a nearby hotel that took in most of the crowd, while the late Ray Fahey, the Post’s other photographer at that time, earlier on Monday was able to capture the County of Cape Breton’s final moments as a political entity with a dramatic photo of the CBRM’s new mayor lowering the county flag for the final time, surrounded by all 21 new municipal councillors.
But the newspaper also contained more downbeat stories that closed the book on a number of long-standing political entities that had served their people faithfully for many years.
Northside reporter Julie Collins took in the final meet- ing of Sydney Mines town council on Monday afternoon and, in the Tuesday, Aug. 1, edition of the Post, she described a scene of sadness where council paid tribute to the residents and staff who had served the town faithfully over the years.
On hand for the final town council meeting was retired senator Bob Muir, who began his political career as a Sydney Mines town councillor.
“I began my career in politics 47 years ago right here in Sydney Mines and I’m proud of what the town leaders have accomplished,” he told the gathering. “It’s going to take time but I hope everything works out with the new regional government.”
Meanwhile, earlier Monday morning in Sydney, Chris Hayes took in a somewhat less melancholy final meeting of the City of Sydney council and reported on it in the Aug. 1 edi- tion of the Post under the headline: “Mood upbeat as city holds final session.”
“I look forward to the fact that we have a new region with exciting times ahead, and while it may be a little depressing looking out a vacant office, there’s more good memories,” said Mayor Vince Maclean. “I’m really upbeat about what the future holds.”
Sydney’s longest-serving mayor — from 1978 to 1993 — was in the audience, along with many former city aldermen, and expressed confidence that Sydney would remain the hub of the new regional government.
“It’s a nostalgic day, really,” noted Manning MacDonald, “the culmination of a lot of work over the years.”
Not surprisingly, the everpopular Letters to the Editor section of the Post also weighed in on the action.
Under the headline: “New super city needs a name,” Victor Coffin of Sydney admitted his letter was more to stimulate discussions on a new name for the new municipality than anything else, but he zeroed in on Sydney habour as one of the few remaining municipal assets with any degree of economic potential.
“One name we might submit for your consideration is the ten- letter word: BRETONPORT,” he wrote. “How does the term ‘city of Bretonport’ sound to you? It’s one of our ideas, what’s yours?”
Naturally enough, the Post’s editorial for the Aug, 1, 1995, edition dealt with the dawn of a new era in municipal government, but, in typical Doug McGee fashion, it was also a history lesson, as the Post’s editorial page editor informed his readers that this wasn’t the first go-round for the concept of a municipal government in Cape Breton.
Apparently, in 1879 the concept of municipal government was introduced to Nova Scotia and the Municipality of Cape Breton County was established under one regional regime. But, according to the editorial:
“Unfortunately the forces of separation began to take hold within six years of that event as the more prosperous areas began to hive off into autonomous towns.”
Though that first attempt was likely doomed to failure from the start, given the growing prosperity of the island at that point in time, the editorial ended on a cautiously optimistic note:
“Now the wheel has gone full circle and it’s left to 21 elected councillors to oversee the municipal concerns of 120,000 residents.
“There will undoubtedly be problems of all kinds as the reality takes hold, but let’s not forget the problems faced as partners in poverty under the old system.”
Ken MacLeod Special Report