The city that never quits
It’s been knocked down more times than a prize fighter – but never knocked out. Community leaders share their thoughts on why mighty Moncton always bounces back
On May 26, 2008, Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc, wearing the ceremonial robe and Chain of Office was sworn into office. Following the municipal election on May 9, 2016, having not reoffered, he turned both over to his successor.
In an interview during the final weeks of his term, he seems to be feeling a little nostalgic because he takes out the hand-crafted wooden box containing the Chain of Office, an ornate medallion bearing the names of past mayors. His fur-trimmed cloak hangs, unused, in the closet. He’s worn it only twice, he says, once when he was sworn in, and once when a group of Red Hat Society ladies came for a visit.
“They begged me to put it on for them, so I did… just for one minute,” he says with a smile.
The lid of the box bears the city’s Coat of Arms and motto, ‘Resurgo’, which is Latin for ‘I rise again,’ a testament to the spirit that drove Moncton’s rebirth after the collapse of the wooden shipbuilding industry in the mid-1800s. The crest honours the city’s early beginnings in agriculture, the rail industry that helped revive it as a transportation hub, the tidal bore, and also the skilled labour contributed by the community.
Moncton has a propensity for the rebound. Forty years ago, it lost several major employers in the span of a few years: Swift’s meat packing plant, Eaton’s, CN rail shops and CFB Moncton. The city was staggered by the job losses, but not for long.
Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce CEO, Carol O’Reilly, first moved to Moncton in the dismal years following the closures. “When the CN shops closed, it was a difficult time for everyone,” she says, “but I believe the attitude of the community changed that. We began to believe we’re as good as anyone else. When I think about where Moncton is now — the richness of the community, how we are perceived — it has evolved so much.”
“People decided to pull the city up by the bootstraps and make things happen,” says LeBlanc. “That has always been the way of the people here. We have a ‘can do’ attitude. Carry that forward to today. When Moncton has performed on the world stage and hosted world class events, we’ve been able to do that successfully, even though we are, by most standards, a small city. The spirit and attitude never fails to amaze me. Moncton has the biggest heart of any city I know.”
Centrally located with access to 1.3 million people within a 2.5-hour drive (55 million within a 2-hour flight), Moncton consistently ranks high in terms of economic competitiveness, workforce, affordable housing and quality of life. It’s been named the fastest growing urban centre in Atlantic Canada and, in combination with neighbouring Riverview and Dieppe, has a population of about 148,000 people. In recent years, the Greater Moncton tri-city area has become well-known for its shopping and its ability to host world-class sporting and concert events.
“When you have a positive outlook,” says O’Reilly, “something magical happens. I think that is what has happened here.” When LeBlanc took office, he says he had a vision and a two-pronged approach to reach it.
“It had two primary pillars: one was quality of life, of which there are many goals, and the other was prosperity, by making Moncton successful and a great place to work and run a business. When you work on the two of these, it captures what is important for the city.”
The city’s north end, with its popular Trinity Power Centre, has seen tremendous growth in the retail sector, but LeBlanc says Moncton as a whole is a leader in terms of job creation and diversified employment opportunities.
“We are arguably the economic engine of the province, which speaks to the determination. When I’ve had the opportunity to meet people from away, they are so impressed with Moncton. They can’t believe the way we get things done here. We’re punching above our weight class. All those things speak to the incredible energy and approach of the people here. Unparalleled, by my view.”
In terms of quality of life, he points to the Moncton and Dr. Georges L. Dumont hospitals, an expanding education system, sports and entertainment facilities for families, and the many parks and trails. “When you put it all together Moncton is a fantastic place to live and raise a family — I consider that a success.”
A look around the mayor’s office is a reminder of some of the city’s more recent successes: a soccer ball autographed by the Women’s Olympic team during the FIFA World Cup, a CFL football from the Touchdown Atlantic series, the rudder from a bore-runner’s surfboard. The rudder commemorates the 2013 North American record-breaking 29km run on the tidal bore by Californian surfers JJ Wessels and Colin Whitbread. Now, on any given day (winter included), one might chance to see a wetsuit-clad surfer or two riding in on the tidal bore.