Alberta bound and tied

Cathy Stewart, one of the many rural New Brunswick wives of an employee of a big-time Alberta company, says having a family member who comes and goes never gets any easier.

(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)
(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)

“The person leaving sacrifices much more than those left behind. We have all the comforts of home and loved ones nearby – they get a single cot in a small camp room,” she said. “They miss birthdays, anniversaries, Valentines days… holidays and even funerals. They are not gone because they want to be, but because they have to go. The person at home becomes accustomed to juggling extra but you learn to cope.”

Nowhere in Canada has the plunging price of petroleum affected life more than in Alberta. But that word – the “A” word – is a noun that cuts both ways with the New Brunswick wives of men earning a living out West. It’s a word that separates and remunerates, that gives hope of maintaining a rural family life but not without the fear of what happens when world markets turn off the tap and those men start trickling back to a dysfunctional economy.

For wives like Stewart, the hardships only begin with the absence of the men in their life. A number of families in New Brunswick who have been thrown into the middle of this lifestyle have grown tired of the constant juggling of leading two lives on each side of the country. For Ashley Bell’s family, living off the $18-an-hour wage common in New Brunswick was no longer an option. The only solution was to pack up everything they had left in New Brunswick and move it all West – something that has never sat well with her.

“During one spring, we were really short on cash and [my parents] just had enough. Dad spent the whole summer applying anywhere out there,” she said. “Finally with the help of a neighbour, he got a job… I never had a problem with him being gone. I had no reason to. There was food on the table and bills were getting paid… We could have had a much better life in New Brunswick.”

However, Bell’s parents decided to relocate the summer before she entered Grade 12. Her whole world was turned upside down, but the good jobs with benefits, dependability, and opportunities quickly grew on her. Still, she finds herself longing for the familiarity of home.

“I miss the trees and how colorful it is [and] the hospitality you get back East. If I ever thought I could have the job and financial security I have here back East, I wouldn’t hesitate,” she said. “When I think about getting older and ‘growing up’, that’s where I want to do be.”

Bell says it’s heartbreaking that there isn’t enough financial security in New Brunswick. She does not want to put her future self and family through what she went through as a kid – the same situation that many other New Brunswick families are trying to avoid.

Now, after years of rapid growth, Alberta could experience an extended downturn. This will result in project delays, cancellations, and more job layoffs, forcing many from the East Coast to seek employment back home.

But for many New-Brunswickers-turned-Albertans like Tara Arsenault and her husband, Albert, returning home to New Brunswick’s “broken” economy isn’t an option.

“There is no work in New Brunswick and the money is not the greatest there,” Arsenault said. “I wanted to move out here for a new adventure in my life and to start over. There are so much more things to do and see here… there are jobs if you want to work… I don’t think I’d move back to New Brunswick. I love it here. There is nothing back there but family and friends.”

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  • Show Comments (2)

  • Ruth Barton

    Once again, good job Sarah. We and especially big business and goverment, have to get past the statistics and get to the “heart” of what they are doing to people..Again the Maritimers and their way of life has been sacrificed for the almighty dollar. After the 2nd world war a vast number left to build Ontarios economy, now many are coming home to retire,where will the next cycle be to be built on the backs of Maritimers? Maybe the Arctic? We’ll see.

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