The Flourishing of a Small Town

Town of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia

Nancy Dicks, Mayor of New Glasgow, who grew up in the Town, moved away after high school, but later returned and says she is thankful every day that she came back.

“We have a great community, and my three children had every opportunity to grow through sports, music, and excellent schools,” she says. “I don’t think they could have had better opportunities anywhere else.”

Peter Douthwright, the Town’s Director of Community Development, echoed her words. He moved here with his family from Fredericton, New Brunswick in 2015. At first, he wasn’t sure about living in a small town.

“We’re a team sports-oriented family and we really got involved,” he shares. “My kids played, I coached, and we made connections. Some people may think there’s nothing to do in a small town, but we found our way and our kids are flourishing. After the move, I had opportunities to move to some big cities across Canada, but I turned every one of them down because our family is proud to have been adopted by this town.”

We were intrigued, as it seems that Dicks and Douthwright are on to something. What else makes New Glasgow an attractive place to live for young adults and their families, and for businesses to thrive, when the trend has been for the populations of other small towns and rural areas to decline as people move to urban centres?

Location, location, location
For one thing, it’s New Glasgow’s ideal location, recognized by the Scottish settlers who arrived in 1784. The Town is situated on the East River, which flows through the Town and empties into Pictou Harbour on the Northumberland Strait.

Located just off the divided Trans Canada Hwy. 104, New Glasgow is just 20 minutes from the Northumberland Ferry Service terminal that connects Nova Scotia with Prince Edward Island; 30 minutes from Truro, the hub of Nova Scotia; and just over an hour from Halifax, the Atlantic region’s largest urban centre and home to the Robert Stanfield International Airport.

According to the latest figures released by Statistics Canada in 2021, the population of the Town, which acts as a regional service centre for the county and Northern Nova Scotia, was 9,471, but that almost doubles when considering inhabitants of the neighbouring towns of Stellarton, Westville, and Trenton.

New Glasgow and the surrounding area are home to several major employers. In New Glasgow itself, there is Aberdeen Regional Hospital, Crombie Properties headquarters, and a mix of retailers and service providers located in the East River Business Park, as well as diverse businesses in the thriving downtown.

Sobey’s headquarters and a campus of the Nova Scotia Community College, meanwhile, are based in Stellarton; Michelin is based in Granton; and St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish is just 20 minutes away.

Caring for the future
Outstanding location alone isn’t enough to draw people, however, and it seems that the reputation New Glasgow enjoys can be attributed largely to its forward-looking leadership and a fully engaged community.

“One of our most significant community engagement projects,” Mayor Dicks says, “was a community climate summit to which we invited our neighbours from the surrounding towns and Pictou County, and we had excellent attendance. We had speakers who set the tone for where we were going and explained what opportunities we could pursue to mitigate issues surrounding climate change,” she says.

“We’ve always considered sustainability in the asset management work we do including our water utility and all other infrastructure projects. We have also adopted Active Transportation Strategies and an Active Living Plan, to make ourselves more pedestrian-friendly and reduce vehicular traffic, which in turn impacts greenhouse gas emissions. If you live on one side or another of the river you can walk downtown, where there is great shopping, in 10 to 15 minutes. From the core, it’s no more than 20 minutes from anything in any direction,” she explains.

“Over the last three years we came up with community and corporate action plans for setting sustainability goals for the future growth and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of the Town.”

With strong community support, the Town took on several initiatives and this past April, introduced electric vehicle chargers with dual ports at two locations in the downtown core, one across from the library and the other across from the New Glasgow Farmers Market.

The Town also established a PACE program (Property Assessed Clean Energy) in partnership with CLEAN Nova Scotia and Efficiency NS to enable citizens make their homes more energy-efficient, by improving insulation and installing heat pumps or solar panels. These projects can be completed at a cost of the percentage value of the home, with a loan through the Town and repaid over 10 years with minimal interest.

This is the third year of the program, which has seen a great uptake and is especially important for rural communities where there is an aging housing stock and a dependence on fossil-fuel heating.

The Town is also investigating opportunities to introduce a commercial PACE program to perform energy retrofits in commercial buildings in the downtown core, where some of the oldest buildings in the community would require building envelope and energy source improvements.

“In addition to those big environmental impact projects, our community climate action group has organized some small-scale projects, such as a free clothing swap and tree plantings, that let our citizens know that the little things they do make a difference.”

People first, and first again
Douthwright shares some exciting plans about further community developments in the already attractive downtown core, which hosts musical, multicultural, and Pride events, as well as annual dragon boat races. Truly, there is something happening here every weekend throughout summer and early fall, along the river that flows through the Town centre.

Two major community development projects are in the works at present. One is the redevelopment and transformation of our library, with the space reimagined as more than just a place to get books. It will accommodate a variety of all-ages programs—for children, new Canadians, and seniors—making the space more accessible and inclusive.

“We have received funding of $7.1 million from all funding partners—federal, provincial, and municipal,” he says, “and we’re in the process of doing community consultations, looking at the drawings of the design work, with plans to start with hammer and nails in November.”

The other big community project Mayor Dicks tells us about involves an ambitious streetscape place-making initiative on Viola’s Way in the downtown core, which began in 2018 to honour a connection with Viola Desmond, whose image was unveiled on the ten-dollar bill that year.

Commemorating Viola Desmond
Desmond was an African-Nova Scotian business owner and civil rights activist from Halifax, who challenged racial segregation in 1946 by refusing to leave the “whites-only” section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow and was fined and imprisoned overnight.

“MacGillivray Law, the theatre’s current owner, has invested a significant amount of time and energy to recognize Viola Desmond and the difference she made. The Town has renamed the street that runs past the theatre and connects two one-way streets, ‘Viola’s Way,’” she says. There is also a plaque monument from Parks Canada honouring Viola Desmond, the first time the Historic Sites and Monuments Board has honoured a single person.

“Now we’ve moved to the second phase of the project, and we’ve brought in an architectural team who met with the community and created a design for a streetscape that will tell the African Nova Scotia story. The African Nova Scotia stories from our community are significant and they are stories that we can all reflect upon and share.”

Farmers Market with flair
Dicks and Douthwright are also very proud of the vibrant regional Farmers Market in the downtown core, which received funding from The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) when it moved from a transient space into a substantial year-round building. “It’s something we hang our hat on,” says the Mayor of the facility which she describes as “one of our most prized locations and a significant contributor to the economy and business community in our region.”

Not only is the market a place to purchase fresh local produce, but it also acts as a business incubator. The Peace by Chocolate company, owned and operated by a Syrian refugee family, found success at the market, and it now has outlets in Antigonish and Halifax and sells products through Sobeys.

Other successful food producers who got their start at the market include Big Cove Foods, which sells spice products internationally, and Bramble Hill Farms, whose fresh micro-greens and products are marketed throughout Nova Scotia and beyond.

Although the Town still honours its Scottish roots, it has become an inclusive multicultural community as the number of restaurants offering ethnic cuisines attest, making it attractive to urban dwellers considering relocating here. Among the offerings are Indian, Chinese, Thai, Middle Eastern, Italian, and Irish.

East River Business Park
At the edge of Town, and conveniently located adjacent to Exit 25 off the TCH 104, is East River Business Park. The recently expanded business park is a joint investment attraction venture between the Town of New Glasgow and the Municipality of the County of Pictou and is owned by New Scotland Business Development Inc., a municipal corporation formed in 2014. Its purpose is to facilitate business development and economic growth opportunities through the sale of business park lands within the region of Pictou County.

Rebranded in 2014, East River Business Park includes a 17-acre expansion to the former New Glasgow Industrial Park. Recently home to Nova Scotia Health’s Orthopedic Assessment Clinic, a multi-unit mixed residential/commercial development, and an oral and maxillofacial surgery, you will also find several long-standing businesses, service providers, and provincial government offices. New Glasgow Regional Police Department is headquartered here, and Scott W. Weeks Sports Complex offers a multitude of recreational opportunities.

East River Business Park is fully serviced with municipal water, separate sanitary and storm sewers, and LED street lighting. Natural gas is also available. Several acres are ready for development with room for future growth. Its proximity to Aberdeen Regional Hospital and North Nova Education Centre, as well as its position along the busiest roadway in Northern Nova Scotia, make East River Business Park a prime location for a variety of business uses.

Concludes Mayor Dicks, “I think the municipality has a strong sense of responsibility to ensuring our infrastructure supports future growth that’s very progressive. I have the confidence to say to any businessperson or entrepreneur considering moving to this area that they will be supported by our municipality; by the Pictou County Partnership, an organization that helps businesses make helpful connections; and through our robust Chamber of Commerce.”

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