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Two (other) Solitudes

June 26, 2018

They're demolishing the high school.

 

The hospital is next to go in this little corner of Canadian solitude. 

 

My father went to that high school. So did I, although it was a junior high school back in those days. My father's graduating class had more than a thousand students. Last year's class counted 138. The school board didn't even try to sell the building, knowing there would be no takers.

 

In Canada there are no longer two solitudes, there are too many to count. One of growing unease should be the city and the small town. The big city thrives, the small town dies.    

 

Every school in town that my father and I attended - is closed. Closed, not because new schools opened, but because there are no children left to teach.   

 

North Sydney, N.S. The Gateway to Newfoundland. Last stop before the rock. Yet for generations, it's been head west young man. There's little for you here. 

 

It wasn't always like this. There were better days, despite the melancholy of Cape Breton's famous gallows humour. Old timers tell tales of foul downtown air, the stench from a trio fish plants, men and women working around the clock. There was a bustling wharf where jobs were plentiful, all you had to do was put your name on a list. There were men by the hundreds, employed in mines that supplied the nearby steel plant that employed hundreds more. 

 

Commercial Street was lined with department stores, shoe stores, hardware stores, stationary stores, a movie theatre. There was a gas station on every second corner. The church pews were full. It's mostly gone now, gone in three generations, replaced by the Tim Horton's drive thru and Walmart. They even closed the post office. 

 

Now it's the hospital. Its pending closure denied by politicians for years, only to be confirmed by Nova Scotia's premier this week.  

If this sprawling halfcontinent has a heart, here it is. Its pulse throbs out along the rivers and railroads; slow, reluctant and rarely simple, a double beat, a self-moved reciprocation. - Hugh MacLennan

 

In another solitude called Ontario there's a new premier named Doug Ford. He wants to build a subway from Toronto to Pickering, nearly an hour from the CN Tower. Cost? Unknown. When he's done with that he wants build another, to Markham. His predecessor pitched an $11-billion bullet train from Union Station to London. That's London, Ontario. Population: 388,000.

 

Backyard BBQ conversations turn to rumours of people cashing out of the Toronto housing boom and paying cash for an Ottawa house. While in the bubble of the capital city, unemployment is the lowest anyone can remember and construction cranes mask the skyline.  

 

In a world away, small town Cape Breton has as many abandoned homes as Vancouver.

 

Two (other) solitudes. Little reciprocity.

 

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