We're all a bunch of splitters*

They say that when you cross over the 4,600 ft Canso Causeway and roll from the mainland of Nova Scotia onto the Island of Cape Breton, you have to set your watch back 50 years. This is but a quaint way of saying that life is a little different in Cape Breton. While the fisheries have changed (out with the cod, in with the crab) and coal is no longer king, the communities are still rootsy, cultural bastions in an otherwise changed world. Cape Bretoners are proud of their rich musical traditions, moderate pace of life, pastoral rolling landscape and, despite the bits of rock and steel that connect it to the rest of the province, still consider it "the Island".

There's a general understanding that after you grow up in Cape Breton, you go away to school and off to work, with the eventual goal of finding a way to someday move back. Much like the skirl of the pipes boils the blood, the Island calls to the bones of its sons and daughters. Cape Breton, while part of the province of Nova Scotia, is very much its own place. Ask anyone from Sydney, NS, where they come from, they'll usually tell you Sydney, Cape Breton. Just don't try to find the province of Cape Breton on a map.

Earlier this month, I once again found myself braving the winter weather to go back up to Sydney for a monthly work-related meeting. The group I meet with is a dedicated bunch, committed to doing good things for the environment. They are a chipper group of socially conscious folk from various backgrounds, young and old, rural and urban. But I didn't know there were also budding young (old) revolutionaries in the group. For this time around, through casual conversation, I was first introduced to the Cape Breton Liberation Army.

At first, I figured I had a pretty good idea what that was all about; much like how the Newfoundlanders still despise the union and blame it for the injustices when it comes to the sharing of resource revenues (cod, oil, etc) and the threat to the "Island's"** way of life. But the "FREE Newfoundland!" campaign is not without its issues, since Newfoundland is now "Newfoundland & Labrador", after finally giving the nod to the mainland portion of that province. While Labrador was never really disputed as part of Newfoundland, Newfoundland was never part of Labrador (I stand to be corrected here.). But now they're tied by more than just a common letterheard. Today, the holdouts in Newfoundland even maintain the tricolour as their flag, partially in protest to the "new flag" that was unveiled in 1980. But I digress.

The Cape Breton Liberation Army is, apparently, dedicated to a free and independent Cape Breton, something that in my opinion would be totally possible if people would be interested in pre-industrial revolution rural living, foregoing all those luxuries in life like electricity and running water. It's just not feasible, people. However, I do sympathize that those across the causeway get a raw deal when it comes to provincial politics, having the "second largest urban centre" in the province but really not getting a fair shake when it comes to provincial handouts (sorry, "budgetary allocations"). But it also seems from the website that the CBLA also has something of a militant streak within it (IRA, anyone?), promising to "join with any other group whose objective is the destruction of the so-called New World Order." (Edgy!)

I certainly didn't get the impression from the Colonel that was co-attending my monthly meeting that this was a militant organization hell bent on severing ties using any means possible; rather, I was led to believe that this was a group of friendly rabble-rousers dedicated to ensuring the Cape Breton culture stayed alive and well in the face of international influence and chronic outmigration. I never did figure out which it was. Others in the room had heard of the CBLA, to be sure, giving the impression that it was understood that it was a quasi-dormant society that arose, or at least gained some importance, around the time of the 1972 Munich Massacre, when it was rather in fashion to be on the forefront of political turmoil, fighting for the rights of the oppressed and/or widely misundertsood.

Clearly this is a part of Nova Scotia whose "culture" and roots are being threatened. But show me a part of the world to which this doesn't also apply. It seems that just about everyone in the country wants to secede from the union for one reason or another: Alberta and BC for their natural resources, Quebec for its "distinct society". There are even movements for international sub-union that would capitalize on common threads in lifestyle, trade, and apparent geopolitical values (see "Pacifica" and "Atlantica"). I'm surprised less and less by a region's aspirations to retain those waning bits of their defining culture.

But the night's meeting had to go on, and unfortunately I didn't get to chat very long with this old soldier and learn more about the supposed "manifesto" he once penned decades ago (he smiled as he made mention of it). I look forward to greeting the Colonel next time and quizzing him a little more on his association and what he knows of its current state. Who knows...maybe I'll live to see a real life CBLA rally someday.





*The Judean People's Front:


** If you ever want to piss off someone from Prince Edward Island, tell them that when the Fixed Link went in, PEI lost its official "Island" status.

Posted bythemikestand at 2:01 PM  

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