Yes, but what will happen to Ossie's?


Sunday was the first day of summer and it’s only mid-March. So we packed up the kids and headed for the beach. The moon-roof was wide open, the windows were rolled down and the stereo cranked up.

We zipped along the secondary highway skirting the coast and breathing in the fabulous scenery dancing in the sun. We hit the main highway and headed east toward New River beach. The mood changed abruptly as we hit the new highway construction and shifted lanes to cross the newly constructed bridge over the Digdeguash canyon. Heavy yellow Caterpillar equipment stood idle on both sides of the road, gatekeepers to the construction ahead.

But modern freeway construction in New Brunswick isn’t that ominous. Lane changes are clearly marked and everything is neatly paved. I’m impressed with the planning and speed of highway construction out here.

In minutes we sped past Ossie’s, the famous seafood concession. I have two distinct connections with the place though I’ve never actually eaten there. The first was in the middle of the night when my cellphone conked out and I stopped to use the payphone booth. I put my computer memory stick on the top of the phone and forgot it. I still wonder about the files I lost. The second was meeting with Frank McKenna in Toronto. Knowing I lived in this area the first thing he asked was, “How’s Ossie’s doing?”

And that flashed through my mind as we left it in our rearview. With the new road construction, how will Ossie’s be doing? Would it still be there next year? I doubt that provincial highway planners design dedicated on- and off-ramps for seafood stands.

I’d been involved with highway relocation issues a few years ago, before the new highway bypassed St. Stephen. Though the planning process is complicated it’s a well-ordered one with easements and ramps and signage sites all covered by rigid provincial highway regulations. And the results are self-evident. These new planned highways radically alter how we see the landscape. Whereas before we saw the geography through the twists and turns of the old two-lanes, the new freeways open up the landscape into magnificent, sweeping vistas inviting us onward to the horizon.

The beauty of this, aside from the natural aesthetics, is the improved linkage between large urban centres. The drive from the border to Moncton, or even Halifax, is now a breeze. And perhaps with a new toll highway through northern Maine, we can soon travel, uninterrupted, on freeway from Montreal to Halifax.

But back to the beach. It was deserted and breathtaking and we walked the beach and played in the sand until the sun set before heading home.

The next day we had errands to do in St. Stephen, so we took the new four-lane instead of the old coastal road. Again, it was nice to climb up high over the coast to overlook the vistas, the mountains and inlets and islands in the distance. About halfway to the town we passed the only billboard: a St. Stephen Chocolate Town ad, inviting us to turn in. The obvious irony struck me. For years St. Stephen residents fumed at the summer highway traffic clogging up their town as the cars slowly wound their way down to the two border crossings. And now the town is advertising for tourists.

When new highways bypass small communities everything changes. While the towns are better connected to larger centres, they’re also less relevant. They’ve been instantly relegated to backwater status, and they either survive as destinations in their own right or they begin to fade away.

This pattern is not new. It’s been going on for the better part of 60 years. Freeways are the visible extensions of something much larger, the urbanization and centralization of modern societies. Beyond mentioning it, I’ll avoid the role fossil fuel has played in all of this, though that role has been profound.

Centralization and urbanization are the visible results of, and are only possible because of, these relatively new energy inputs. Our modern, vibrant communities are much larger than in the past, and much more centralized. Where communities once sprang up ever 10 to 12 kilometers, the distance a horse and wagon could comfortably traverse both ways in a day, the new community spacing is the distance crossed on less than a half a tank of gas, roughly a two-and-a-half-hour drive. Exactly the distance between Saint John and Moncton, for example.

New Brunswick is still very much a rural province. In its effort to modernize and urbanize its society and economy, it has invested heavily in new highway infrastructure, making it, in my opinion, one of the most freeway-linked provinces in Canada.

But with every gain comes some measure of loss. So the question stands, what will happen to Ossie’s? And will we really miss it?

My thought? You might want stop in there before it disappears altogether.


  1. You have a talent for making me look at the familiar and commonplace through a different lens. I've seen the same centralization and urbanization in my home state of North Carolina with the same results, development of vibrant communities but there have also been losses. The rural character of our state is slowly disappearing and small communities are being absorbed by larger communities or become so isolated that they disappear altogether. The building of a major highway that bypasses rural communities often is the death knell for local businesses especially restaurants that depended on pass through traffic to supplement local customers.

  2. Yes. It's everywhere. It was all a part of Frank Lloyd Wright's dream of a suburban utopia linked by efficient superhighways. But it hasn't worked out exactly as envisioned. (Jane Jacobs was one of the major opponents of urban superhighways.)

    Instead what we get are highways that are often deserted or congested and when traffic is flowing so boring that drivers either have to speed to stay awake or pull over to go to sleep.

    And communities that, as you say, become absorbed into the urban-suburban mass or disappear.

    All of this is very counter to quality living. Take away cheap gasoline and the entire story changes, and with it the landscape. Mass transit and local interconnectivity become become the emphasis. The next 50 years will be interesting.

  3. It is unfortunate that we have become slaves to time. My visit to New Brunswick last summer was quick and easy as we travelled along the new super by passes. What do we save but time. Funny thing is our society’s passion to save time when most live in the present only. The past is troublesome as it may show us we are repeaters of the same mistakes and then we would have to use this awareness to judge the future coming. The effect on our lives that our passion for multi-tasking has, to get the most of the present, provides us little time to enjoy it. When driving I pine for the twisty turny bits.
    Michael LaBelle

  4. I hear you entirely, Michael. Time is definitely the issue. Which is connected to efficiency, which is connected to the industrial paradigm, and so it goes. Until time flies.

    And there aren't too many really excellent twisty two-lanes left. Most of those have been straightened and sanitized years ago and are now falling apart. As designers we tend to think linearly rather than trying to understand the dynamic web of interconnections and intricacies of systems affecting other systems. Or systems affecting organisms.

    Don't get me started. I'll just have to go out for a drive to unwind.

  5. The Northern Maine highway will be built just as we run out of fossil fuel. Not a good idea in my view but if someone can make a buck out of it, it's gonna go ahead regardless of the impacts on wildlife, unfragmented forest and whatever else, oh yeah, climate change. Ossie's is a good place to eat.

  6. Well, Anon, I guess the bet is there'll be a few more years of driving left to pay off the Maine tollway and make some cash in the process. And I'll really have to make an effort to stop at Ossie's before it closes or moves.


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