A couple of weeks ago, we had supper with long-time friends. Both the host and his younger brother were born and raised in Pugwash; one brother remained here and took over the farm while the other brother became a minister and has lived all over Canada.
What I have listened to most of my life, and what I never tire of hearing, are Garth and Eldon’s stories about growing up in Pugwash.
They are stories that reveal that “the good old days” weren’t necessarily better or much different. They also provide hints into the rural way of life and why it matters that it is disappearing.
Garth and Eldon were educated in a one-room school located in their immediate neighbourhood. They had good teachers and bad ones, they got into trouble and managed to get out of it again. Of course it’s only the “You did what?” stories that get told, the funny stories that leave us wondering how anyone ever learned anything.
Yet Eldon remembers the students who came to school without eating breakfast and recognized that it hurt their learning. Garth said he had to go to Pugwash for Grade 11 but then to Oxford for Grade 12 which reminded me that my mother-in-law, six years older than Garth, had to leave her home in Bayhead to live in Oxford in order to attend Grades 11 and 12.
I also remember my father saying that he learned more in a one-room schoolhouse because once he was finished his work, he listened to what the older students were being taught.
Bigger isn’t always better and our small communities need small schools. At the same time, parents complain about students spending an hour on a bus at the start and end of each day but at least we don’t have to leave our communities to finish our basic education.
These stories about the “good old days” are important because thanks to video games and computers, we aren’t telling them as much. There could be an entire generation that doesn’t hear about “the good old days”.
These stories are important because they are our history. If we don’t learn our history, we can’t learn from it. If we don’t learn from the past, we will keep repeating it.
There are several reasons for the devastating decline in rural population – lessons Nova Scotia simply isn’t learning – but from Garth comes an example of the boat we might be missing.
Garth left. He went to university and became a minister, raised three children, earned several degrees including a doctorate. He has lived in Ontario and Alberta, travelled to places like India and Ireland and Indonesia, spends time in Florida in the winter, is retired now and living in Ottawa. He even ran in a federal election. Through all of those changes and challenges, every summer, Garth has returned to his cottage at the back shore. Every year, he comes home to Pugwash.
Many of the young people and young families who are leaving this province express regret and a longing for home. Home is here. Like Garth, they could keep coming back. Not just to visit but also to own land, a home.
Garth’s two grandchildren spend part of their summers at the family cottage and now his daughter owns a summer home here. She is putting down roots and keeping the connection with rural Nova Scotia. Why? The land and the sea, family and history.
That is reason enough to preserve Nova Scotia (Canada’s ocean playground, remember?), not exploit it and ruin it and destroy it simply because the policies of two levels of government put the economy and profit of foreign-owned companies ahead of our small farms, companies and entrepreneurs.
Instead of clearcutting our woods and giving away our lakes and shorelines, instead of ruining our land with fracking and spoiling our waters with pesticides, instead of creating laws and regulations that benefit corporations instead of citizens, we need to preserve this landscape for these young people who are leaving. For their children.
The stories are being told but no one is listening to the lessons of them. Decisions made are about the economy yet people are still leaving.
What if there is nothing for them to return to?