Cape Breton among At­lantic ar­eas hop­ing to stanch the hu­man ex­o­dus


Ge­orge Mac­Don­ald has seen it play out gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion, the time­worn rit­ual of watch­ing friends and fam­ily pick up stakes and head west.

A mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lor for Glace Bay, a hard­scrab­ble Cape Breton town whose thick coal seams were once some of the most pro­duc­tive in North Amer­ica, says he’s now fac­ing the prospect of see­ing his grand­kids join the steady flow of peo­ple leav­ing homes in the East in search of op­por­tu­nity in the West.

“They’re go­ing to have to leave to find work,’’ said Mac­Don­ald, a for­mer teacher in the area. “So even if you want them to stay or you love the area, it’s just nat­u­ral that they’re go­ing to move away.’’

The trend is noth­ing new for the com­mu­nity and the re­gion as a whole, which has seen its youth move out for work in B.C., Al­berta, On­tario and Hal­i­fax year af­ter year as eastern economies strug­gle with dy­ing in­dus­tries, an ag­ing de­mo­graphic and flatlin­ing pop­u­la­tions.

In the first tranche of 2016 cen­sus data re­leased Wed­nes­day, Cape Breton — long a fix­ture of the “low­est growth rates’’ cat­e­gory — reg­is­tered sixth on that list of ever-smaller ur­ban cen­tres, con­tract­ing by 2.9 per cent be­tween 2011 and 2016. Camp­bell­ton, which strad­dles the Que­bec-New Brunswick bor­der, tops the list with a 9.3 per cent de­cline, while New Glas­gow comes in third at 3.7 per cent.

But an­a­lysts sug­gest that flow may have eased in re­cent years fol­low­ing a drop in oil prices that led to work slow­downs and job losses in the Al­berta oil­fields — a ma­jor em­ployer for eastern Cana­di­ans. In­deed, Cape Breton’s lat­est growth rate is a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment over 2011, when it shrank by 4.1 per cent.


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