Lord, the road down to Terrenceville is a beauty. And it is a road down, too, a four or five-kilometre decline to a Burin Peninsula river valley carved from between opposing hillsides, the river itself peaty and brown and the confluence of two fast but smaller rivers that rush out of the high hillsides on either side of the valley.
One of those tributaries, the one on the side of the valley the road runs along, topples over a huge domed cliff in a four-storey waterfall of brown and foam. The river opposite, far enough away that reaching it looks like the kind of trip you plan for a solid day and with a full knapsack, is terraced, foaming steps of brown and white water.
And both of them drain vast plains of weeping bog and small interconnected ponds. The barrens there are not flat, and the rises of high ground give you clear line of sight across the hummocks and dark water, your mind working as if some part of you is always dedicated to the role of mapmaker.
Up there, you get some small idea of what the province must have been like before roads: there’s plenty of moose sign, beaver, ducks and even a healthy number of eagles, and the sedged bog and hills rolls away from you — oranges and reds and beiges and browns, this time of year — like a strangely manicured wilderness.
But back to the road down to Terrenceville; it’s in good shape and it rolls downhill to a town that seems to be doing well enough. The former hardware store and grocery is boarded up, but the convenience store seems prosperous, the sand and gravel quarry on the edge of town is busy enough for the pavement to be stained with soil and mud from the regular passing of trucks, and it has the feel of a moderately well-to-do town located on the edges of a fishery.
Houses are well-kept, and on a Wednesday, one homeowner is getting new shingles while a shed is getting vinyl siding. The air — right out over the still of the bay — carries the kind of silent weight that makes even the repeated blows of a hammer on wood sound like thunder.
It seems like a wonderful place, but a place far off the beaten track from most anything. And it’s the Terrencevilles of this province — and places that are even more remote, that pose the biggest problem for the provincial government.
Thursday, the provincial government was talking about the latest steps in its Population Growth Strategy, a sort of institutional solution for the fact our population is both aging and not growing. That demographic shift means bad things in the future: oldsters pay less in taxes and eat up more in services.
Their demise is not prevented by rubber boot plants, nor call centres, nor, for that matter, by workshops. Not even by all the good intentions in this world. The government can barely get within 100 km of Terrenceville to hold a meeting, for God’s sake.
So the government is now launching community workshop consultations; there was a kind of frantic self-centredness to the announcement, with the news release including both Advanced Education Minister Joan Shea talking about our “unprecedented economic growth” and Public Engagement Minister Keith Hutchings feeling the need to proclaim, “Our economy is now more vibrant than at any other time in our history.”
Neither of which matters a whole hill of beans in Terrenceville. The community workshops? The closest are Marystown, 92 kilometres and an hour and 10 minutes by road from Terrenceville, and Clarenville, 107 kilometres and almost an hour and a half away.
It is probably unreasonable to prejudge the consultations. They will hear many heartfelt descriptions of what it is like when loved ones have to move away for work, and they will hear plenty of solutions that, in the end, have no chance of working.
That sounds awful, I know.
But there are towns all over North America, all over the world, that have depended on natural resources that failed. Their demise is not prevented by rubber boot plants, nor call centres, nor, for that matter, by workshops. Not even by all the good intentions in this world. The government can barely get within 100 km of Terrenceville to hold a meeting, for God’s sake.
We should probably be looking at how to mitigate the changes in our demographics, rather than believing that we can somehow change something that looks as unstoppable as erosion, or the predilection water has for running downhill.
To do otherwise is to tilt at windmills, to fiddle while Rome burns.
To fiddle while Terrenceville sleeps.
And Terrenceville? Terrenceville looks like one of the strong ones.
Russell Wangersky is editorial page editor of the St. John’s Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.