A sobering thought on a long drive

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We drove across the island to Corner Brook with our three-year-old and 13-week-old last week.

It was our first time doing so, and there has been some discussion it might be the last - until the kids are in their 80s.

It was a difficult, wild ride, with lots crying, diaper changes, feeding stops and refereeing.

At one point, just outside Clarenville, I wondered if the guy who ran the roadside veggie stand would take one or both of them and sell for a commission. (That was a joke, Mom, and Ms. Child and Youth Advocate.)

But as trying as it was, the kids weren't the most difficult part of the 8.5-hour odyssey.

Passing through communities and by road signs directing us to towns off the Trans-Canada, a disturbing question crossed my mind: where will all these communities be in 20, 30, 40, or 50 years?

The instant, depressing, disturbing, conclusion: a number of them will be gone.

I suddenly felt sad for my kids in the backseat, and how they and the generations that follow might not get to enjoy rural Newfoundland and its people the way I did as a gaffer and teen.

While I grew up in a more urban area, I spent a lot of time in beautiful bays and coves.

I have magical memories of watching jellyfish rise to the top of Bonne Bay, peering over the wharf and hearing fishermen tell salty jokes in St. David's, seeing the sun set in Bottle Cove, being treated by the hospitality of people in Plum Point and playing on a hillside in Trinity.

The natural phenomenon will likely be around for my children to enjoy, but the same can't be said for some of our outports.

Their populations are aging and slowly falling, as youth move to Western Canada or Eastern Newfoundland for opportunity.

This migration is hardly a new thing. It's been going on since our first settlers - migrants themselves - arrived here.

The movement is not unique to us either. From what I've read, rural areas around the world are experiencing the same type of thing.

The objective here is not to blame anyone or anything, governments past or present, or the operators of industries that have come and gone.

My point is to state what's obvious to many who live off the Avalon - some rural communities are under threat and only the strong will survive.

Labrador is a different story - with its vast mining and, dare I say, hydro resources, it appears on the cusp of one big, sustained boom. (And, no, I'm not endorsing or dissing Muskrat Falls. As a reporter, I won't. Ever.)

Although municipal, provincial and federal governments have a role to play in making rural Newfoundland communities strong, I think it ultimately lies in the people who live there.

Innovation is arguably the buzz word of 2012, and in the outports, it's never been needed more.

The people who reside along our coast or in our inland areas have to create or attract industry and opportunity.

They need to think outside the box like Zita Cobb is doing on Fogo Island. They might not have her money, but they need her ambition and drive to keep the place she loves afloat.

This is what will sustain our rural communities and perhaps even help them grow.

Achieving this is no doubt difficult. If it were easy, the future wouldn't seem so uncertain. But that doesn't mean people shouldn't try, because the other option is letting some, perhaps many, communities die.

If that happens, there'll be a lot less opportunity for my kids, and yours, to experience or live what might be the most beautiful way of life on Earth.

And that thought had tears coming from the front seat during a drive across the island last week.


Reach Steve Bartlett via email at sbartlett@thetelegram.com. On Twitter, follow him @SteveBartlett_

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