Poitras’ Imaginary Line well worth the time

When I first moved to Moncton nearly 15 years ago, I was told I could find out everything I wanted to know about the history of Moncton by reading a book called Resurgo which had been published in 1990.  I read this book and to this day much of its content remains impressed up on my brain.    It wasn’t a particularly well written narrative – in fact it read more like a list of story summaries out of the Moncton Times or the Moncton Transcript or the eventual Moncton Times & Transcript.

But it was amazing because of the stories.  A Moncton mayor getting into fisticuffs with the newspaper editor.  A politician donning rubber boots and surveying the Petitcodiac River during an election campaign to convince residents he was serious about funding a bridge between Moncton and Riverview.   Bootleggers, bilingual businesses, Oscar Wilde’s visit and, of course, stories about the early 20th century natural gas that was piped from Albert County into Moncton.   Yes, we were mining natural gas and using it in New Brunswick before Alberta even knew what was under its feet.  There was a story of a pipeline burst and explosion in downtown and of Albert County residents who occasionally smelled the gas on a windy day.

Interesting side note.  I wonder if there were anti-natural gas development activities back then?

In reality, wood stoves cause far more property damage across North America than anything related to natural gas and, with the exception of insurance adjusters, you don’t see any populist campaigns to outlaw wood stoves.  In fact, I see the province is actually going to encourage more wood burning in New Brunswick (from the policy released this week) as one way to reduce NB Power’s main Achilles heal – the need to provide peak winter heating.

But I digress.

My point is that one book – Resurgo – gave me 150 years of history on Moncton and profoundly shaped my understanding of the region and its people.

We need more storytellers in New Brunswick.  Because we are a small province, there hasn’t been as much an interest among writers and publishers to chronicle our history and I think we suffer from it.  There are some good books – a great one titled A Brave and Noble Scheme on the Acadian expulsion for example – which should be mandatory reading for high school kids.

Jacques Poitras’ book on Beaverbrook – which I thoroughly enjoyed – provided a perspective on our history – and of one if its most influential residents – that also left its mark on my thinking about this province.  I believe I wrote at least one blog on the book (search for Beaverbrook in the search box).

His new book Imaginary Line: Life on an unfinished border is well worth reading as well.  It traces the history of the Maine-New Brunswick border,  the political machinations over the years and the impact on the communities along the border and in the province and state as a whole.

I was struck particularly by some parts of the book.  His descriptions of the historically French communities on the Maine side is interesting. His summary of the proposed NB Power sale and the LNG debate and its implications provides good perspective on the cross-border implications.   Poitras talks about specific communities right on the border and how 9/11 changed so much in the cross-border interaction.

I didn’t realize we still had an outstanding border dispute with the Yanks.

Poitras got down and dirty for for this book.  He physically traveled the entire border – even its remote areas – and there are multiple times he has to don his rubber boots.

If for no other reason, this book is worth reading to get some perspective on a part of NB history that most of us have little understanding.  Maybe if he sells enough books, he will be compelled to write more stories about New Brunswick.

Knowing our history will help bind us to this place.

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