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A letter to all the Kids leaving Cape Breton

Hello Cape Breton Class of 2016,

The sun is coming out, and you will soon be leaving high school. The class before you was probably larger. The classes after you will probably be smaller. This has been happening for 40 years. It isn't new.

You will have a choice in front of you. Stay or leave. The choice may be easy. The choice may be hard. 

Some of you might want to go to an oil patch to make more money than you ever could here. Some of you might go to a university in Halifax or Toronto, or some place even further away. A lot of you might not even know yet, and that's ok too. 

I only ask one thing. If you feel that you have to go, if you feel like Cape Breton is holding you back, that you will never reach your full potential on our little island, do me one favor.

I do not say this out of spite. I do not say this out of a belief that you do not value this island. Your need to leave does not offend me, and I do not believe that you are part of the problem. I say this because leaving just may be the best decision you can make, for yourself and for Cape Breton.

You're young, and you've lived one place your entire life. If you feel the need to leave, there are only three possibilities in front of you.

1. You stay in Cape Breton and resent it for the rest of your life

Maybe you don't have the money to leave. Maybe you don't know how. Maybe there are too many anchors here holding you back. Whatever the reason, for the rest of your life, you could be asking yourself what could have been. 

What if you left to play hockey? What if you went to the oil sands? What if you went to Toronto to dance on stage? There are too many "what if's" to list, and already too many platitudes regarding the perils of staying safe.

We have a way of finding targets for our own failures. Don't make this island one of yours.

2. You leave, and you make it

I could be totally wrong, and it could be Cape Breton that was holding you back this entire time. There's no denying that it's a rough go. The opportunities are few, and we are at the end of the world on our little island.

It's possible you could have never given the world what you have to give without leaving Cape Breton. That you needed a larger audience, a larger pond to make the impact you always had the potential to make. 

I don't resent that. Nobody should. I'm not a big believer in fate, but I do believe the world is worth exploring, and there might just be a better place for you.

3. You leave, and then you come back

You might think this doesn't happen. Why would anybody come back after leaving? But I know why, because this is me. This is my family. This is my friends. 

Almost everyone I know on Cape Breton Island ran away to some far-flung corner of the world. We had our adventures. We learned a lot. Then we came back.

If I never left this place, I wouldn't appreciate Cape Breton nearly as much as I do now. There is no group of people fighting harder to make Cape Breton work than those who have returned.


So what possibility applies to you? I have no idea. You don't either.

What is certain is that you're not at fault for 40 years of population decline. It's not up to you to stop the bleeding. Let no one make you feel guilty for a choice that is yours to make. At the end of the day, go if you have to go, stay if you want, and come back when you discover what you left behind.

Posted by on goCapeBreton.com where you can find and share everything about your local community.


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Mark Inglis Follow Me
Very true. I don't know which one I am yet, but I am one. I love my island, but we're on a break right now. We may get back together, we may have a longer break than anticipated or maybe we'll never get back together. I love her all the same and I'll never stop.
HEATHER PETERS Follow Me
Great letter. I'm glad you added this part, "If I never left this place, I wouldn't appreciate Cape Breton nearly as much as I do now. There is no group of people fighting harder to make Cape Breton work than those who have returned.". I wasn't sure where this letter was going and I breathed a sigh of relief when I read this part. I am a Caper who had left the island for a brief time in my early 20's for school and work purposes. That experience was enough to make me appreciate how lucky we are to live in this beautiful paradise...and it is a paradise. I vowed back then that I would move back home and raise a family here. I promised myself that I would do whatever it took to remain here and I have. There is a connection that Capers have with this island and it goes beyond immediate family. It is a connection to the land, the sea and people who have long passed on. We feel its pull every time we cross the causeway to leave...and we feel our island welcoming us home again.
Rory Andrews My Post Follow Me
I find a lot of people who live here their whole lives have a hard time noticing what makes this place so different from everywhere else. Everyday, I see how accessible this place is, how allergic to pretension we are, and a sense of collectivism that is lacking almost every other place I have lived.
Geraldine Kurtenacker Follow Me
Left Cape Breton when I was18, Will be 50 this year. No matter where I went or lived I've always proudly called myself a Cape Bretoner, rarely do I ever use Nova Scotianer. Friends and co-workers have visited Cape Breton because of things I've said about the Island and how beautiful the place and people are, no one has ever disagreed with me when they returned. Most people would like to go back again and visit. I would like to consider myself somewhat of an ambassador for my Island. All my family still live in Cape Breton and I love coming home. My heart, My home no matter where I hang my hat will always be Cape Breton. Maybe one day I will return to live out my Golden Years on my Golden Island. Cape Breton is not just an Island, but a simple way of life. Miss you....
Lynn Hussey Follow Me
All I can say about this is, I Tried..to leave that is..lol...I'm a die hard Cape Betoner and always will be I guess. I love this Island with all my heart. That's not to say, I don't 'see' the shortcomings of it, but..to me there's no place like; it I have traveled quite a bit and have seen beautiful places but here is where I'll always stay. I also refer to myself as a Cape Bretoner and not a Nova Scotian..I'm very proud of the fact I am from CB! I can go out my door and head into the woods to hike, sometimes on old paths that no one else has been on in years, finding old foundations of homes and barns, transports me back to their time. It's so tranquil and beautiful. I have the Mira River at my back door and make use of it all year 'round and the ocean is 10 minutes away, where there are amazing hiking trails. SO I can't ever imagine what reason I'd have for leaving. I'm also fortunate to have have my family still all living here with their children. That's a Real bonus!
Belinda Macleod Follow Me
During the summer months 32 years ago I worked at fish plant in Louisbourg and saved just enough money to move to Ontario. I was so happy to leave all of the trees behind me, as they were the bane of my existence LOL! It was time to begin my new adventure. I lived in different cities and travelled abroad a bit, worked, went to college and have been highly entertained working for one of the most well known sports and entertainment centres in Ontario, had a son, went back to college again, (yes; in that order) and so on. My experience living away from home has made me realize over the years, how much more I appreciate Cape Breton Island for it's slower pace and the people. I can't wait to inhale the air and smell TREES when I return!
Denise Gallivan Follow Me
Cape Breton has this magical pull on you to come back. Its the pride of a Cape Bretoner...we know and love the people and the way it brings us all back together. For me, life in Sydney is wonderful. The older you get, the more you understand where you come from and why you want to be back home. No matter where you lay your head, the Island will always be home. I plan on moving back in 3 years from Quebec...the countdown is on! :)
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Bob Inglis Follow Me
In the fall of 1979 the company I worked for moved me to Cape Breton. I didn’t want to move to this island but I knew I had to. Cape Breton to me was blue collar, industrial area with a smelly steel plant , coal mines and a vocal labor force which often made the news for some wrong reasons. I knew few people. The people I worked with were good and kind people who invited me in to their homes for dinner and introduced me to other locals. I started a building a relationship with the island which turned in to a marriage (figuratively ) as like a marriage you have to work at it . I fell in love with the people, the culture, the music and the lifestyle. In 1981 I started a new career with a company which lasted 25 years. This job required me to travel all over this wondrous island and the love of the people grew. Then in 1983 I fell in love literally and married a “local” We now live in beautiful Westmount . The rest of the story is traditional, buy a home (yes you can do that here this is not Vancouver or Toronto where you have to sell your soul for a mortgage which will never in your life time be paid off ) raise a family ( two awesome sons ) , work hard , pay of the mortgage and live in a beautiful place which offers , peace , safety and tolerance. My roots are in Pictou county which also is steeped in Scottish culture however it wasn’t until I arrived in Cape Breton that I could experience the strong and proud people from not only British Isles background by the multicultural area of Whitney Pier which flourished when the Steel and coal were our economic drivers. The story of Whitney Pier makes me proud of the people who worked together and lived in harmony and came from so many diverse ethnic backgrounds. Cape Breton has given me a wife and family and a reason to be fiercely proud of this unique little rock in a stream. Now , where did I put my Cape Breton tartan tie?
Charlene Rogers Follow Me
I have never left this little corner of the world... I couldn't. I have lived here my whole 40 years on this earth and couldn't imagine leaving. I love this island and the people on it. Time's get tough, times are quite often tough, but it makes the good times all that much sweeter. When you say people who come back fight harder than anyone to save this place, I disagree. We the ones who get left behind, for others to go find greener pastures, have been holding down the fort the whole time you've all been gone. I am glad those of you who left are coming back to join the fight!!! Something's gotta give... It's only a matter of time.... I LOVE MY ISLAND!!!
Lynn Hussey Follow Me
I second every word you wrote Charlene Rogers. I LOVE MY ISLAND! As well !
caleb gibbons Follow Me
No island like it, that is for certain. Some great commentary linked to this post, thank you Rory. My path has been more varied than most, although regardless of domicile I've so far made it back every year. From 1988 UCCB graduation; Moncton, Halifax, Toronto, Frankfurt, Vancouver, Toronto, Singapore, Tokyo, New York, Singapore and next Tokyo. Paul Smith, CEO of the CFA Institute noted last week that the benefit of being old is "you get to see everything twice". No moss grows on a rolling stone. JCG
Trevor Boone Follow Me
What a great piece! I was in the third group. I left for 7 years. Through most of those years, I would often say...."I could never move back to Cape Breton". I've been back for 15 years now and you couldn't drag me out of here!
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