Visitors find out how South Shore communities became "masters of their own destiny."
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“Welcome! I think you’re new here, aren’t you?”
Hiro and Hatsuko smile and nod as they approach the young man who has greeted them from behind the desk. “Yes, we just arrived.”
“How is the cycling?” the young man asks, indicating the helmets the two are carrying.
“Oh, very good. We came from Yarmouth since one week ago,” says Hiro, carefully forming his words. “Excuse me, my English not very good.”
“No worries,” says the man brightly. “We have many international visitors here. If you’d like a tour, I could ask Keiko to show you around. She’s working with us for the summer.”
“Yes, thank you very much.”
The receptionist taps a square on the wall behind him, which expands to fill the wall. Shortly a young Asian woman comes into view.
“Keiko, I’d like you to meet our two guests. Are you able to show them around?”
“Sure. Be right there.” A minute later she bounds through the door. “Welcome to the South Shore Stewardship and Innovation Centre,” she says. [In Japanese:] “Hiro-san and Hatsukko-san, would you like to speak in English or Japanese?”
“I think mostly English,” said Hiro. “We are practicing.” He looks gently at Hatsuko and squeezes her hand. “We are on honeymoon. Learning-honeymoon. We always want to see Nova Scotia. We studied in school.”
“It is very beautiful,” adds Hatsuko.
“What did you learn and what are you interested in?” asks Keiko.
“Local economies,” says Hiro. “and the Blue Movement. Because in Japan we are also learning a new way for communities.”
“Great. Why don’t we start by seeing what is going on here, and then you can find out more about the history in the Story Room.”
She leads them through a glass door into a large open space with about 40 people are clustered around work stations, each with its own digital and manual tools.
“This is our manufacturing makerspace,” explains Keiko. “It is better equipped than the local labs. People come from all over the region to test their prototypes and get advice from resident designers and engineers. It’s always humming here. In the daytime it’s also part of the school system. The walls are interactive, so people can tune in to other makerspaces from across the province and internationally.”
After eavesdropping at a few of the stations they move on to another large room, this time equipped with built-in ovens, cooking utensils, and preparation tables. Down the centre of the room are long wooden tables, their tops made of polished tree slabs. “This is our food makerspace. People try out different kinds of cooking here and learn about nutrition. Groups also use the space to make their own meals for meetings or festivals or just to bring the community together. This is also part of the school system.”
The three make their way through the rest of the complex, which includes recreation rooms, a pool, a library (including a tool library), a co-working space for entrepreneurs, and a large indoor courtyard that is used for community and regional meetings. They finally arrive at the Story Room.
Hiro and Hatsuko take their places on swivel chairs in the centre of the room, while Keiko calls up the story on the Blue Movement. As the room darkens, she takes a seat beside her guests.
“Our story begins,” says a woman’s voice, “with the Antigonish Movement in eastern Nova Scotia.” The voice describes the dire economic challenges of the 1930s, as black-and-white images of Nova Scotian fishermen and farmers appear on the walls. The crackling voice of Father Moses Coady speaks passionately about the need for university educators to move out of their ivory towers and into the rural communities to help people become “masters of their own destiny.” The narrator describes how, through the leadership of Coady and others, study groups, credit unions, and co-ops flourish, enabling communities to play a more active role in their local economies. They are no longer passive players at the mercy of outside interests. For several decades the Antigonish Movement, as it comes to be called, is a powerful vehicle for grassroots education and economic self-determination in eastern Nova Scotia, and a model that is soon being exported to other parts of Canada and the world.
The narrator’s voice pauses and the room darkens once again. Gradually sounds of rippling waves, piping plovers, and gulls, along with the smell of fresh salt air, fill the room. The walls fall away and the viewers find themselves surrounded by a vast horizon of sea and sky. Seals are basking on rocks so close they seem to be within reach. Hatsuko nudges Hiro, as she recognizes the wilderness beach near Port Mouton that they had walked along just two days before.
A more recent chapter in the story now unfolds. It is the year 2006 and a provincial official is promoting open-net salmon aquaculture as Nova Scotia’s “Blue Revolution”—as the answer to the economic woes of coastal communities that are losing their men to distant jobs and their families to urban centres.
As the story continues, it becomes clear that this salmon farming technology is not all that it first seems. Under pressure to create jobs and attract industry, the government glosses over growing scientific evidence of the hazards of fish parasites and diseases, the toxins used to treat them, and the damage to coastal ecosystems. The pristine beaches and habitats of the South Shore are at risk, along with other species that have traditionally been an economic mainstay.
In the small South Shore community a group of citizens teams up with scientists to better understand the environmental and economic impact of a proposed aquaculture expansion in their cove. The fishers collect data over a number of years, until there is undeniable evidence that the environmental and economic costs outweigh the benefits. The community is determined to have a voice at the decision-making table.
Meanwhile, in other coastal communities on the Eastern Shore and Bay of Fundy, other citizen groups are also educating themselves. Soon a broad coalition forms across the province and invites government and industry players to re-evaluate the viability of “bluer” technologies.
The narrator continues, “Over the following two decades, communities continued to partner with universities, bringing together local knowledge with scientific research so they could develop their own marine resources in the most sustainably viable way. As with the Antigonish Movement, the act of coming together to raise awareness and develop a shared vision gave citizens what they needed to balance interests from outside their communities. Once again, people gained confidence in their ability to become ‘masters of their own destiny.’ In the process they became well practiced in the art of negotiating multiple needs and perspectives, articulating what they believed to be most important, and protecting the long-term interests of their communities and environment. As a twist of irony, this new flowering of civic engagement and cross-sector partnerships became known as the Blue Movement.
“We are grateful to these courageous founders of the Blue Movement, who sat on all sides of the table. Without them Nova Scotia would be a much different place than it is today. We would not be attracting the visitors, immigrants, and investors who, like us, are committed to a responsible way of living on our planet.”
The images switch to activities in the present-day Centre, the region, and its famed aquaponic nurseries.
“Today the South Shore Centre builds on the legacy of the Blue Movement by bringing together diverse partners in a way that protects our economy, environment, and way of life for the long term. The Centre is also an innovation incubator, focusing the creativity of scientists, entrepreneurs, and citizen groups on community challenges and opportunities. For example, the Centre played a role in the creation of South Shore Aquaponic Industries, which now produce enough fish and produce year-round for both our own communities and urban markets in Nova Scotia and Central Canada. Our new state-of-the-art plant is a closed-loop, completely organic and waste-free system, using fish waste to fertilize hydroponic vegetables, while the vegetable beds clean and recycle the water used to raise fish. And all of this is onshore, leaving the health of our coastal waters and shoreline intact. The wild salmon fishery has returned, along with our reputation as a place of pristine beauty, ecotourism, sustainable products, and an inspiring way of life.”
The viewers now see the province as a whole, with lines defining its bioregions.
“The South Shore Stewardship Centre is part of a provincial network. Each Centre is situated in the urban hub of its bioregion. Over time the regions have specialized, so that the province’s economy as a whole balances self-sufficiency and global trade.”
After a pause the narrator continues, “The Blue Movement calls to mind the image of our planet.” The viewers are now looking through the window of a space station at a blue earth floating in black. Gradually they are brought closer, until they are hovering above Nova Scotia, a green peninsula in a sea of blue.
“When we forget the whole picture, it is easy to become lost in small or partial thinking.”
The window shrinks until all that can be seen is a mere slit of light.
“It is easy to drift into a haze of sleep and let others determine our fate. Then our horizon becomes narrow, and we lose touch with what is most important.”
The image fades to black and the room to silence.
Slowly a dawning sun rises on a distant horizon, revealing the ocean’s shimmering surface, which becomes flooded with light. Once again the three viewers are sitting on the wilderness beach.
“The Blue Movement reminds us that we only have one ocean, one atmosphere, one planet. When we truly remember this, our choices become clear.
“In fact, there is really only one choice, which is life.”
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Susan Szpakowski is co-initiator of Likely Stories.