Sunday, 26 April 2015

Seeing New Brunswick in Vermont

If anyone follows me on social media at all, you'd be well aware we exchanged the usual week away down south for a chilly week exploring all things Vermont. Let me tell you, the adventure was much more transformative than any all inclusive could have offered me personally. I totally didn't expect this. After all, on the surface, the state looks a heck of a lot like New Brunswick. 

From almost hitting a pack of wild turkeys to the maple syrup crazed tourist culture to the incredible devotion to its historic properties, this pastoral state has the look and the feel of my own province. It was the subtle differences that began to blow me away and got me thinking about what Vermont does right that NB could take a look at.

Obviously there are some major bonuses Vermont has when it comes to its layout. With its proximity to a gorgeous ski region and more than a few major U.S. cities, it has tonnes of draw when it comes to tourism. However, beyond tourism, Vermont's industries are few. New Brunswick has the opposite setup so we are at a disadvantage. We certainly have a fantastic recreational scene but the drive to get there would be tough for the Quebecois, Americans, Nova Scotians etc. My argument today is that some of the things VT has done to preserve its uniqueness are a major part of the reason people are drawn to visit the state, not JUST for the convenience. 

The biggest thing we noted when we began our trek to Manchester, VT is how drastically the highways change between New Hampshire and the VT state line. You very suddenly go from major tolled highways to an outrageous tour through every last little town you can imagine. I'm talking 'the highway goes through Main Street' kind of thing. It was as if they decided that once you got to Vermont, you were going to slow the eff down whether you like it or not. Being forced into slowing down and taking your time to soak in tree drenched mountains and towns frozen in time in is a theme we ended up seeing often. 

I love this idea for New Brunswick. Encouraging people to 'take the long way' can result in the best adventures. We stopped at weird convenience stores and saw the pristine and falling down old barns, horses, cows and farm stands. All of it was part of the scenery, not meant to be 'driven through'. New Brunswick is so often called the Drive Thru province. What if that was taken in a positive context? 

The other major thing we noticed about Vermont through talking to MANY people, is just how adamant they all are about supporting the community at large. From the fanciest fine dining spot we visited to the dive-i-est dive bar, all things Vermont were most prominently featured. Whether it was cheese, meat, cider, beer, coffee or the wood the bar was made out of, they excitedly talked about how it was from their Green State. Even the gas stations only served Green Mountain Coffee and a few other local brands. Imagine Java Moose in EVERY Irving? 

We were looking for a cab downtown in Burlington and spoke with the front desk. The woman told us that the cabs had recently become unreliable. When I asked her why and it was because the company that had been reliable, began acquiring too many shuttles and were thus taking airport business away from the other cab companies. The city considered it a monopoly and shut it down. Now Uber is the best way to get around Burlington. The mayor even reported using it and is considering changing the cities ordinances on the matter. Our very first Uber ride was with Thomas, a retired professor who just loved driving around chatting with people. He gave us the run down of how supportive people are of each other in their community which is why Uber has worked so well as it's P2P. People trust their neighbour to pick them up and get them where they need to go. New Brunswickers know their neighbours, often within 1 degree or two. Putting the money back into the hands of the driver instead of the company is something I personally see as the future of commerce. Imagine an overhaul of how public transport works in NB? 

We saw one smoke stack for a small paper mill the entire 9 hours we drove through south to north west and through the north east of the state. The rule in the city of Burlington is if a building you want to build is beyond a certain height, you have to purchase a Fire Truck that has a ladder that can provide service to it (usually to the tune of 1.5 million). They have no clothing and shoe tax to encourage commerce for local business. There are food co-ops everywhere. Vermont liquor policy ENCOURAGES you to open your own craft brewery, winery etc. The main shopping district in Burlington isn't a sprawl of malls but a pedestrian and there is no smoking ANYWHERE on that particular street. There are very few suburbs and there are solar panels for miles. The big ideas surrounding what's important to the state itself, trickles down creating all of these other policies protecting, preserving and celebrating what it is to be 'Vermont'. Imagine if New Brunswick embraced it's identity instead of constantly ripping it to shreds?  

There is so much I see in New Brunswick that can be done to make this kind of mentality shift happen. A few mom's I spoke to said they went out, lived other places in the USA and then couldn't imagine not coming home to raise their kids there. The schools are so fantastic, safe etc. etc. etc. They bring their kids to happy hour at craft breweries for pete's sake. Of course people who grew up in the area would leave for their own wanderlust and for opportunity. Just like our youth leave New Brunswick. What if we started making NB a place that families couldn't imagine not coming back to?  What if we reorganized to make our community whole, healthy and supportive of one another? How do we change minds and make people see that being from NB isn't something to hate but to celebrate? I am not saying to 'Be Vermont'. I want to Be New Brunswick. 

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