Matthew's Head

Ruminations from the 1865 homestead of Thomas and Ellen Matthews, Fundy National Park. "No one owns land. We only have a lend of it for a while." CORINNE CASH

Did you ever notice that when we visit a place as a tourist, we pay great attention to the wonders of that land while often we neglect to explore the depths of our home province?

In light of this, I recently decided to explore the Fundy coast of New Brunswick with fresh eyes and an adventurous spirit.

I found myself standing at the head of the 1.5km Matthew's Point trail in Fundy National Park.
"Hike along an old cart track through fields and softwood. The trail passes by remains of the homestead of Thomas and Ellen Matthews who lived there in 1865. The stone foundations of their farm buildings crumble as alder and grove trees reclaim the cleared fields."

I started along the old cart track and found my imagination wandering to a time when Ellen and Thomas Matthews lived on this very land.

I pictured Mr. Matthews steering his horse with Mrs. Matthews at his side. Glancing towards the stone foundations surrounding me, I envisioned where their barn may have been and where cows may have spent hours grazing in the afternoon sunlight.

Did they also enjoy the beautiful view of the ocean from the same rock where I stood? Did they have children who ran throughout this land and did they also marvel at the way the moon pulls the tides?

Then, I found myself thinking about my latest trip home to Cape Breton. Locals spoke of the increased interest in the precious Bras d'Or Lakes. The price of real estate has skyrocketed in the last number of years and locals expressed hopes of selling their waterfront land to an American or German buyer.

Areas where I ran freely as a child now held "no trespassing" and "private road' signs. Growing up in an area where community means sharing, this greatly surprised me. How did we get to the point of thinking of "my land"?

Cape Breton is not alone in this. This exists throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and probably encompasses all the oceanfront land in North America. People freely pay top dollars on water front homes that they tear down, only to build a multi-million dollar home; where they may live three weeks a year. This is reality. Anyone who travels through prime real estate areas along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. can attest to this.

Land is precious. Wars occur around the world over the usage of land. Land holds resources such as oil, and some governments are willing to go to any measures to obtain it for economic benefit.

Niger is the world's second poorest country. The country presently receives $12 per person per year in aid. Niger will benefit from the G8 decision to increase aid to Africa to a total annual figure of $50 billion by 2010. This is coming too late and probably a far cry form what is actually needed. According to UN estimates, poor countries need $45 per person per year in aid in order to have any chance of winning the fight against poverty.

Yet, oil companies have been drilling in the Niger Delta since 1958. The region has reportedly yielded 900 million barrels of crude and generated an estimated $100 billion in oil revenue since 1958, $30 billion in the last 12 years alone. Why the poverty?

Ogoni people have only obtained abuse against their lands, environment, housing, and health caused by oil production and government security forces. In a normal year in Niger, 40 per cent of children are malnourished and one in four children die before their fifth birthday. Foreign powers and the huge multinational oil companies along with corrupt and authoritarian governments enjoy the benefits. This causes disaffected rebels to challenge governments in hope of winning a share of the lucrative oil revenues. I guess it is not surprising that locals would want a share of the profit, as they watch their children die of hunger.
Other land gets forgotten because it has already been destroyed with environmental waste such as PCBs and it is of no or little economic value.

In this case, some governments and corporations have free will to do with it as they please. Or, at least take their time in dealing with the environmental disaster because the people who live in the surrounding communities were once told to listen to what government leaders say, and they believed it.

I found myself thinking about this on that hike throughout the old homestead of the Matthew's family. Would the Matthews have wanted "no trespassing" signs on their land for years to come? Did they think that this land was "their land" and no one had a right to access it? And finally, why are children starving while living on the street beside an oil refinery that allows foreign investors to fill up one of their many cars?

Would Thomas and Ellen Matthews be happy to know that the land they once lived on has been shared and appreciated by hundreds of thousands of people? Would they smile at the fact that the land they used for a while is now protected, cared for, and will hopefully remain so for generations to come?
I stood at the end of the trails, on what was probably the front step of the Matthew's home. I heard children laughing in the distance as they explored the ocean's floor. The tide would not be high for a few more hours. A couple and their two little girls walked by for an afternoon of blueberry picking. I smiled and remembered my father's wise words: "No one owns land. We only have a lend of it for a while." Perhaps this is true for everything we think we own.
I think the Matthews would be happy with the outcome.

*Corrine Cash is a freelance writer living in Fredericton, NB.

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