This is Richard Bridge's response to What are you skating towards in 2012?

The Future of the Annapolis Valley

Richard_Bridge_Barrister_and_SolicitorDespite the exceptionally mild month of December in this part of the world and a rare absence of ice on the pond, I am trying to skate toward an understanding of the future of my adopted home – Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

To me, this valley is one of the most beautiful places in Canada. It’s roughly 80 miles long and runs parallel to the Bay of Fundy from Annapolis Royal, the oldest continuous European community in Canada, to Wolfville, the home of Acadia University.  

It is blessed with good soil, regular summer rains and enough heat for grapes and peaches to be grown commercially and for tomatoes to ripen in the fields.  It gets good marks for ecological health, recreation, infrastructure, a university and three college campuses, proximity to Halifax, an interesting history and a sense of community, including the arts and volunteer activity. It also has hydro, tidal and wind power, and is virtually free of coastal fog, making solar power viable.

The Valley is also exceptionally affordable. Here the young clerk at the Home Hardware store can afford to be a home owner. An old character home and acreage with lush fields and forest can be found for less than $100,000.

In global terms it is very lightly populated, with just over 80,000 people. It is a collection of small towns, hamlets, farms and forests.  The end of the Valley farthest from Halifax has experienced a decline in population since the 1990s, while the rest of the Valley has grown slowly.  Immigration from the UK, Europe and U.S. is significant.  The Valley does not attract many immigrants from other parts of the world.

Like many rural areas, the Valley faces some fundamental challenges: demographic strain (loss of young people to Halifax, Calgary or elsewhere, an aging population, declining school enrolment); a heavy reliance on public sector for employment; and ongoing closures or contraction of some businesses and industries.

The Annapolis Valley strikes me as much like the Okanagan Valley or the east coast of Vancouver Island were 30 or 40 years ago. Both of those regions have changed almost beyond recognition in that time.  This includes dramatic increases in population (largely wealthy retirees from across Canada), the proliferation of big box retail and sub-urban sprawl development, a shift from primary industries to service-based economies, and prohibitive housing and land costs. While some of this has occurred in the Annapolis Valley, it has been on a relatively minor scale.

I expect that the Annapolis Valley will become a major retirement destination now that the west coast is so expensive. This could mean gated communities, loss of prime agricultural land and further demographic strain.

My personal hope is that it will increasingly become a destination for folks of all ages interested in agrarian pursuits, sustainability and a “small is beautiful” approach to economic and community development.  There seems to be growing interest in these themes, so there is a chance we will not physically spoil the Valley.   

Richard Bridge is one of a handful of experts in charity, non-profit law in Canada. (www.lawyerforcharities.ca)  He has applied his multiple talents to a range of initiatives to improve civil society, only some of which involve the law. He is proud of his seventeen year old son’s thriving heritage seed business.

Note: I release individual essays from the collection, What are you skating towards in 2012?  on a regular basis. Upcoming contributions are by Jacques Dufresne, Lindsay Cant, Arthur Wood and many others. You can access the accumulated essays here.

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