Celebrating a strong, creative, resilient Lunenburg County
NOW, MORE THAN EVER...
BY TINA HENNIGAR
In 2014 the Nova Scotia government released the report it commissioned on the economic state of Nova Scotia, referred to interchangeably as the “Now or Never Report” and the “Ivany Report”. This report like so many that came before it was a sobering look at Nova Scotia’s current economy and its future trajectory. Elspeth McLean-Wile had a visceral response to this call to action. Elspeth owns and operates Wiles Lake Farm Market with her husband Peter. Faced with a situation where she didn’t know the answer, Elspeth chose to invite other business people she knew or knew of to create a core-team willing to think and act differently and figure out a way to create a better life in Lunenburg County. Now known as NOW Lunenburg County, this group began meeting weekly at 7:30 am, before they all went off to run their own businesses and deal with the 101 other things that they did in their regular lives. In those meetings they discussed how to address some of the challenges that are facing Nova Scotia generally and more specifically Lunenburg County. A half dozen well meaning, passionate people can’t change the future of an entire community alone.
So NOW Lunenburg County’s core-team also began inviting people. They invited them to be a part of the solution; to be part of the process, they invited them to a series of community meetings where folks were asked to be part of the future of
Lunenburg County by rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. Residents, in accepting their invitation, decided that they’d had enough of complaining about how things are and instead demonstrated their willingness to do something about it. Community members submitted their ideas for projects that required support, and then they too hosted conversations where more people joined in. Ideas such as public transportation and more access to daycare, providing lectures for lifelong learning and youth retention were championed. These public events, large and small, eventually lead the NOW Team to population growth as their key strategic direction. They began to imagine what our community could look like if we had more people; people to increase our talent pool, people to provide daycare services and host lectures, more students to fill our classrooms, and more people to ride the bus. In 2016, with a strategic direction, determination and private funding, and not much more than a title of Population Growth Co ordinator, NOW invited applications for their first paid position.
This is where my story begins: I participated in a number of . the community meetings and they left me inspired. There is something about the vulnerability of stepping into the unknown that excited me. I was happy with my life and in my job as a Development Officer for our hospital foundation, but the pull to have a positive impact on the future of Lunenburg County for my children was bigger than me.
We had one year and not a lot of money to try and grow the population of Lunenburg County. And I knew we wouldn’t be successful waiting for folks to come to us. We had to be out in the community. I wanted to work out of a mobile office, and I had found a 1976 Boler camper that would do the job! By the end of that first meeting together, my mobile office had grown into a plan to travel across the country for Canada’s 150th Anniversary, stopping in towns and cities to talk to people and invite them to learn more about our amazing county. We had created NOW’s first tangible project: A 36-day cross Canada Tour. Collectively we decided that we would raise as much money as we could and we would go as far as the money would take us. We did make it across the country. Our business community stepped in with sponsorships and citizens also donated. Almost everyone wanted to be a part of this crazy, audacious project, ultimately helping us raise $50,000 in cash and the same in-kind, making it possible for us to drive over 12,000 kms across our great country. We spent 36 days telling our fellow Canadians about our affordable real estate, jobs and business opportunities. I told them about our beaches, our incredible lifestyle, our amazing people, and the opportunities awaiting newcomers here.
We announced our tour with lots of fanfare! However, not everyone was bringing out bottles of champagne to help us christen our 1976 Boler trailer. We had our share of critics, as do all things, and cynics too! I recall a town official saying to me; “I don’t know how welcoming I’d be if some other town drove in and wanted to park in my town and take our people. I think I’d have you thrown out.” In fact, no community threw me out. I met with town officials and asked them what’s happening in their communities - where should I go? They generously shared their community with me! They introduced me to Chambers of Commerce, business leaders and youth champions. I had dinner invitations, I was offered booths at markets and even had a police officer redirect traffic for me, so I could drive the wrong way down a one way street. I gave out real estate guides, information on our schools, athletics, locally produced wine and beer and lots of dog treats.
As a result, I met thousands of amazing Canadians. I met Laura who lost her parents and now there’s nothing keeping her in Edmonton anymore. She wept as she told me that she now feels lost in this big city, and so I told her about some of the people she’d find in Lunenburg County. Folks like Paula who moved . to Petite Rivière from Toronto. She’s a nurse, a volunteer firefighter, and she loves her new life. Her friends visit from Toronto, watch the sunset on the beach and say, “I wish I could do this.”
She told me how scared she was when she moved to Nova Scotia; she laughs now “Life hasn’t been all that easy for me. Living here has been the easiest.” I met Liz in BC who makes and sells her own gluten free cookies, which were amazing. She asked me how the gay and lesbian community are treated in Lunenburg County. I connected her with a good friend of mine who is in a long term same-sex relationship, and hoped she’d give our community a good, but honest review of how she and her partner are treated. I feel like she’s respected, appreciated and loved in my community, but does she feel that way? To my relief, she does. And I met a lady in my hotel lobby. She was in line behind me, eyeing my t-shirt which read; “Follow Me to Lunenburg County Nova Scotia.” She had a warm, kind, shy smile and a bright blue and yellow hijab covering her head. I turned and asked her if she was familiar with Nova Scotia, and I told her about Lunenburg County. I told her about our incredibly supportive Muslim community. I told her about the Alis’ and the Sodes’, two families who have several businesses and have built a small but mighty mosque in our community. She gave me a puzzled look, and I worried I had somehow insulted her. For a moment I regretted being an extrovert.“I’ve never been asked to move to a community before.” She informed me in a soft voice, “I’ve only been asked to leave it.” Her response both startled and alarmed me. Both of our eyes welled-up and we hugged. “Well, we’d love to have you,” I assured her. I invited everyone to create a life they love in Lunenburg County; the young and the old, families and singles. I asked retail workers in the mall, servers in restaurants and even that police officer who stopped traffic for me. I asked reporters who interviewed me, road construction workers when I was stopped in traffic and truckers at truck stops. And it turns out, if you invite enough people, someone is bound to accept!
My job since my return is to reconnect with those folks I met, and those who heard or read one of my 19 media interviews. I’ve met people who are in the beginning stages of moving here and even some who have arrived and are now unpacking. I consider myself their first friend. And as any friend does, I try to ‘hook them up’ with what they need. “You need daycare? You should call this person.” “You need a job in the financial sector? You need to call that company.” And “did you check out the farmers market? The general store? What about the firemen’s breakfast?
You simply must go to the next one!” Lunenburg County isn’t perfect, but we’re working on it. There are still some gaps and issues, things that we all need but not
everyone has - yet. Affordable, reliable internet in some parts of Lunenburg County is one, and more doctors is another. We know that whether you’ve just moved here or if you’ve lived here forever, these are two basic necessities that we all deserve. NOW Lunenburg County is working with our communities and inviting people to come together to work on these two issues. We’re thinking creatively, strategically and working toward solutions.
And that brings me to today. This magazine was born of a need to have a gift to give people we meet. We needed something to tell people about our industries, and our entrepreneurs, and to show off our beaches and farms and to introduce folks to what we believe is our best resource: our people. We hope you read this and get a small sense of who we are. And then we want you to give this magazine to someone else with your invitation to them to consider life here.
Inevitably, there will be amazing people and places that we failed to cover in this magazine. We can’t possibly do a story on everyone, we just have too many great people! That’s where we need our community to help. It’s up to you, and me, and every other person in Lunenburg County to tell our own story. I am inviting you to tell the people you meet what you love here, tell them about our new skate park, our amazing walking trails, our new businesses, and our thriving arts and culture community. Be welcoming!
Tell them about the people who are doing amazing things; people who have started businesses and created services and experiences. Speak up and be proud of what’s going on here. Tell people that our traditional industries are spawning new ones such as the advances we are making in Ocean Tech. Share with them our connection to some of the worlds most recognized . brands such as Michelin Tires, EA Sports video games, High Liner, and Clearwater. Be proud that Stelia manufactures parts that are found in outer space. Sing the praises of our arts and culture community. Who better than us to tell the world who we are?
People on tour have said to me, “Why are you doing this? Are you promoting your community because you’re experiencing an economic boom?” I explain, no, not an economic boom, it’s a lifestyle boom. When I interviewed dozens of newcomers to Lunenburg County, many used the same word to describe . their new life here: “full”. Lunenburg County is full of beauty, volunteer opportunities, things to see, places to go, and people to connect with. You can choose a full calendar or a full
bookshelf or both. I invite everyone to create a life in Lunenburg County that is as full as you want it to be.