A Summer in Bonne Esperance
My family always encouraged me to participate in cultural immersions because these experiences allow you to open your mind and develop a better understanding of the world. So it is without hesitation that I joined the Quebec Labrador Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports rural communities and environment of Eastern Canada and New England and creates models for stewardship of natural resources and cultural heritage.
My background in management, my interest in ecotourism and heritage tourism and my capacity to speak English and French made me an appropriate candidate for the internship offer in the Municipality of Bonne Esperance as a Heritage Tourism Development Agent. Located on the Lower North Shore of the province of Quebec, Bonne Esperance is comprised of three Anglophone communities; Middle Bay, St. Paul?s River and Old Fort Bay. This region, whose economy depended solely on the fishing industry, has been devastated by the closure of the cod and the crab fishery in 2003.
On June 28, I left Montreal with my heavy backpack, my tourism books and my personal journal to start a two month voyage on the Land that God gave to Cain (In 1534, Jacques Cartier baptized the Lower North Shore of Quebec the Land that God gave to Cain.) I did not know what to expect but I was ready to take advantage of this experience and put in practice what I learned at school.
My day-to-day work, realized in collaboration with the Bonne Esperance Tourism Development Foundation, gave me the opportunity to work closely with a community that has to rapidly diversify its economy in order to survive. Fishermen and fish plant workers, who never considered tourism development for their region, are now learning how to make temporary exhibitions, write business plans, design promotional material, create dinner-theatre, etc.
These initiatives are founded by a federal program that helps rural communities in economical difficulties. The time invested by the workers gives them a salary and access to employment insurance at the end of their projects. Contrary to my initial belief, a good part of the community honestly enjoys working on tourism related activities. Some are insecure and anxious toward this drastic change in their actions. It takes time to adapt to a new lifestyle after years and years of constant work as a fisherman or a fish plant worker. However, the feeling of accomplishing something that could have a positive influence on the community is palpable throughout the municipality of Bonne Esperance.
As each day passed in my temporary community, every discussion that I had with local people concerning their dreams and their fears for the region made me realized that the future of hundreds of hard working people is extremely fragile: the governmental program might be ended, tourists might not come, residents might move their family to urban area, etc. Even though I?m not from Bonne Esperance, I feel strongly attached to the faith of the community and particularly those individuals who made my internship one of the greatest moment of my life.
I believe that these people have the right to work and to sustain their family in a region where their ancestors have being living for generations. The future of Bonne Esperance is in the hands of its residents and with proper assistance from governments, non-profit organizations like the Quebec Labrador Foundation and entrepreneurs almost everything is possible. I hope that when I come back in the region as a tourist, I will see residents who are optimistic about their future and are willing to take actions to develop the potential of this very beautiful and often forgotten part of the province of Quebec.