Terminal Tormentine

The waves are choppy and the wind blows cold at Cape Tormentine, even though it’s early August. Tormentine, even the name sounds tortured, tormented, and  harsh like turpentine. It’s  a point of land sticking out into Northumberland Strait, the beginning of our coastal route and the closest point in New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island.    

The ferry to Borden, PEI, used to leave from here, but now the terminal is abandoned and derelict. Wind blows through broken windows. Plants are breaking up the pavement and reclaiming the ground. The wharf and surrounding buildings all have fallen into disrepair and are unsafe. A chain link fence attempts to prevent access to the curious and foolhardy. A few recreational fishermen, mostly retirees, some fathers and sons cast their lines into the water in the areas where they’re allowed to go. The Confederation Bridge, built 12 years ago, has changed everything. What was once a bustling and important little village is now breathing its last. 

dilapidated restaurant with RV park behind it and then the ocean

There are always survivors

But a few businesses have managed to hang on. There’s still a campground here that seems full enough and a restaurant, Smallwood’s.  Actually, we surmise that they both may be owned by the same person — the campground provides captive customers for the overpriced, stuffy and unimaginative eating establishment.

The decor and the feel of the restaurant down to the swivel seats at the lunch counter are of the 1950s. Dust motes drift in the dingy light coming through the venetian blinds.  It  feels like a mirage or a hologram. It seems like the very molecules that comprise the place struggle to not dematerialize. The waitress at Smallwood’s confides, “I hate the bridge.  I used to waitress at the restaurant in the Ferry Terminal”. Clearly, this is a step down, way down.

rusted water tower on a sunny day

An old and sad story

Cottages, tiny palaces of summer pleasure and whimsy remain, wildflowers and whirligigs in the yard. These folks have stayed for the ocean. 

The fate of this village is a story told over and over again in New Brunswick.  Progress diverts energy and money away from small once prosperous towns — and the towns inevitably die unless they can reinvent themselves.

I just realized that I’m speaking of Cape Tormentine as if it’s a person. A terminal person (pun intended).  Despite the stark and lonely aura of the place, I find beauty in the sagging,  faded buildings. A  once perky beauty  relaxing into an inevitable greying and softening. The rusting  water tower looks like a work of art with its varying shades of orange, brown and blue. The trees poking out of the windows and waving at us like neighbor’s hands in the wind make me smile. The forest knows it has a good chance of taking over again.

There is passion and excitement here too, though, and it definitely comes from the sea. Elemental, big whitecap waves, loud surf. Wheeling birds, flags and fabric flapping in the wind. It fills us with excitement, sadness and a strange kind of  undefined longing….

From a distance, I can see something arching out of the sea. I imagine that it’s a water serpent or a roadway being held up on the tails of whales. But it’s man made — the usurping Confederation Bridge.

Confederation Bridge in the distance