Continuing the slow decline, but that’s okay – A letter from New Brunswick’s future #16

Written by Cheryl Johnson on September 20, 2019

The old metal detritus of earlier times in the woods around Barnesville, New Brunswick. Photo by Cheryl Johnson.

September 20, 2049 (Barnesville, New Brunswick)

Dear friends and neighbours,

New Brunswick has long been referred to as a ‘have-not’ province. In part, this is because of the province’s history of receiving federal government assistance to help supplement provincial revenue. In fact, usually seven to eight of the ten provinces receive equalization payments. There are a lot more ‘have-not’ provinces than there are ‘have’ provinces.

New Brunswick has not only been considered (by some) to be a ‘have-not’ province, it has also been considered a ‘has-been’ province.

The province’s heyday was yesteryear, when it was one of the four founding provinces of Confederation in 1867 and an epicenter of global ship-building, a ready supply of lumber for shipbuilding, and year-round ice-free ports made the province a powerhouse.

As more provinces joined confederation, big industry moved from New Brunswick to the new centers of innovation. The lumber was cut and the need for ice-free ports lessened as the St. Lawrence Seaway opened. New Brunswick had begun its decline.

Little came along to replace those former industries, and with the benefit of hindsight, one could come to see how the former economic prosperity of the province was based on chance and an accident of geography. There were many hard working people who helped spur things along, but that 19th century boom in shipping was mostly good fortune that came from the province’s forests and proximity to European ports.

As the need for wooden ships faded, our province never really replaced that industry.

New Brunswick did not adapt or change to new technology and instead began a long slow fade.

Much like the history of that twentieth century decline, the history of New Brunswick over the last thirty years since 2019 has been a long slow decline. Once again, it was an accident of geography that brought some economic prosperity to the region as it slowly became less relevant.

Since the 2020s, the regions that had relied heavily on refinery oil and clear-cut forestry practices have been experiencing a tough go. The adjustments have been difficult.

When the sun set on the petroleum industry, it was a quick death. With the need to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and move away from oil and gas, Alberta’s oil sands became worthless and the Irving refinery in Saint John was mothballed.

The industry that had once brought such good fortune to many in Alberta and to so a few in New Brunswick, faded into irrelevance.

Things really changed when the global community had enough of our gas-guzzling, resource stripping ways. Sanctions were threatened against Canada, companies shut down, and those who were left had to pick up the pieces.

The innovation that did come, came from away. Our government and our industries were far too slow to adapt.

It was the cheaper and more efficient renewable energy and creation of new battery systems and sources of power that changed the way we produce, store, and consume energy. People no longer need fossil fuels.

But, the profits from buying and renting and licensing all of that equipment went to the global conglomerates. These had few ties to Canada.

We used to be an important economic powerhouse, but not anymore. In the end, Canada was a petro-state too stubborn to invest in new technology and new industries. The batteries and the technology behind renewable energy was produced elsewhere. We have become an economic backwater.

On the one hand, thank goodness we can benefit from the technologies invented in other places. If we had been waiting for the renewable revolution to occur here, it would have never happened.

And so, in New Brunswick, the slow decline continues.

Our infrastructure continues to crumble and lack enough investment—in this sense it’s not much different from 2019.

But, then as now, by and large, people get by. The weather is worse, but not as bad as some places. We all relate to each other and we all commiserate about our shared experiences of a changing climate.

Maybe the slow decline is for the best. If New Brunswick was the center of innovation and prosperity, we wouldn’t have the space to be ourselves and the freedom of the wild woods. It is far easier to live a small and sustainable life in a ‘have-not’ province in a ‘has-been’ country.

Now that the large and wealthy companies and families have gone, there is less conspicuous consumption and more equality. Life isn’t so bad and we make do.

In a way, we have come full circle.

Think of the pictures of old homesteads and farms in the beginning years of European settler colonialism. The lifestyle of 2049 is more similar in practice to these pictures than the state of affairs in 2019.

It’s 2049, and the infamous ‘Age of Plastics’ has passed and only the memories and the evidence in the old landfills and oceans remains. For those of us who stayed in this place, we are in a new age of peace and hardship with the land.

Peoples are working together and sharing their knowledge and compassion. We have to be united, or life is too hard otherwise.

There is much work to be done, but it is satisfying in a way that the old corporate jobs of the past never were.

For those of us still on this land, we are back where we truly belong: in the garden, forest, and field.

Yours, once again,


Cheryl Johnson lives in Barnesville, New Brunswick, teaches math, lives off the land as much as possible, and loves to go varmint hunting.

In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this letter is a speculative and fictional look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could be like if we could meet our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not stay fiction. Each letter offers a vision of what New Brunswick could be like in the future if the province is able to fight climate change and to achieve the IPCC climate goals.

Read the other Letters from New Brunswick’s Future here.

This series is sponsored by RAVEN, and edited by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and a member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. If you would like to contribute your own letter, read the Call for Letters from New Brunswick’s Future and send a short outline of your idea to Daniel Tubb at and Abram Lutes at

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