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.