I have to take a moment to mourn the death yesterday of Tragically Hip lead singer (and so much more), Gord Downie. His voice and lyrics sang Canada into being for me, usually through the tape deck of my vehicle. Their 1987 EP sang Nackawic, NB, in my high school years: Smalltown Bringdown. Up to Here and Road Apples shaped late nights in Halifax and Waterloo, where I saw them in small university venues. Fully Completely landed in time for summers in Alberta, “driving down a corduroy road” in pick-up trucks At the Hundredth Meridian. Only singles penetrated my life later, like Bobcaygeon, but no less deeply, as I was working in Northern BC and exploring via logging roads on weekends. And then — a decade away in Australia where the Hip is unknown. I remember a trip home in the mid-noughties, visiting a friend in Revelstoke and hearing the Hip blasting from the house next door. Ahhhh, home. I’m with Justin. Thanks, Gord.
Last week I visited my family’s lake cottage in New Brunswick, and did the usual dash in to the nearest town, Nackawic, for food and drinks. I grew up in Nackawic, and left in 1991 for university and beyond. After 26 years it is often an uncomfortable outing, undertaken with stealth: I’m always worried I’ll see someone I should know but whose name eludes me. This trip was happily anonymous. I was able to linger in my annual nostalgia trip: peering in the window of the bowling alley (which seems to have shut down without removing its Open sign); popping in to the post office where I was a frequent customer in the days well before digital (sending letters to many penpals, collecting stamps , and returning Columbia House monthly choices to avoid billing).
At the checkout of the grocery store, I spied a headline on the regional paper, the Bugle-Observer, “Good News for future of Forest City Dam – maybe” (sadly paywalled). Anything dam-related catches my eye, so I grabbed it to read at the cottage, which has no TV or internet access. The future of the small dam that holds back the enormous East Grand Lake on the border between Maine and New Brunswick at Forest City is at question, motivating owners of the 2,000 cottages around its perimeter to organize to keep the water levels up. Under the fold was another story related to dams, also written by Doug Dickinson. A fellow named “Hoot” was being inducted into the Atlantic Salmon Hall of Fame, and he “still names his favourite fishing spot as the long-gone Hartland pool” on the Becaguimec Stream that drained into the St. John:
That all changed after dams were constructed on the St. John River. Smith said the salmon fishing was still good after the Tobique Dam was built, but declined after the Beechwood Dam was finished. The Mactaquac Dam put an end to the Hartland Salmon Pool.
One of my new research interests is the use of digital archives to understand cultural change in regions that have faced infrastructure change like hydroelectric dams and related inundation. Newspaper archives is one of those I’d like to explore in this way, so we can look back and understand how host communities are affected over time, and how they adjust. This newspaper would make for an interesting case: 50 years later dams are still front page news. What else hasn’t changed? The third front-page article: Meet Miss New Brunswick 2017″.