July 23, 2013
The remaining industry on Cape Breton seems to be tourism. Coming down the coast today, the only towns that flourish, like Ingonish, are located around the beautiful beaches that draw tourists like myself. On the map, many towns exists along the coast, especially closer to the Sydney area but little remains of them today. I saw numerous smaller churches converted to art studios or for sale. Certainly a lovely use of empty buildings but the absence of people haunts them nevertheless. My favorite was a church turned into a Gaelic singers’ hall but it looked abandoned.
Cape Breton, particularly the southeastern portion I cycled today, used to be coal mining powerhouse but that waned after WWII with a brief resurgence during the 1979s oil crisis. By the end of the century, all the coal mines were closed. All that remains is the environmental degradation. As you might expect, the people who made their living in this industry left after the mines. It just so happens that the tarsands companies in Alberta were ready to welcome them with open arms. Newfoundland was hit even harder with the collapse of the cod fisheries in the early 90s. You can imagine the community upheaval this outmigration has caused. Unfortunately, the promises of wealth out west may also be more elusive than the job ads suggest.
I had a conversation with a potato farmer in New Brunswick about the migration from the Maritimes to the oilfields. He went for a job interview himself but decided against the move; he was fortunate to have such a choice. The large salaries dwindle quickly with the high cost of living in Alberta. Many people considered “unskilled labour” make a lot of money there compared to the slim opportunities in the Maritimes but they spend just as much, he argued, so they come home with little to show for their work. If you are looking for a job, Saskachawan is actually the place to go. The oilfields created jobs in all sectors but the cost of living hasn’t exploded yet.
Maybe tourism is the way forward but southeastern Cape Breton certainly has a distance to go from an industrial to postindustrial economy. I stopped in at a newly opened general store, that’s what you call a convenience store when you’re hoping to attract tourists, and a new resturaunt open for the first day. This may well what the transition looks like.
Tonight I sail for Newfoundland!
Road Report: 148km
The biggest climbs of the day are at the beginning and then it becomes rolling hills. Unfortunately, strong head winds made for a difficult day regardless. To get to North Sydney where you take the ferry to Newfoundland, I returned to the TransCanada. I’m really tired of that highway with the high speed traffic and lack of shoulders in spots. It got even worst today when I had to cross a long, high bridge with no shoulder. The wind gusts alone were more adventure than I needed, never mind the traffic.