Love has been pouring in for Moncton this week. Canadian Geographic posted an amazing video from YouTube star Andrew Gunadie (gunnarolla) declaring this his favourite place in Canada. He calls us “unexpectedly charming,” “really kind,” and “some of the most friendly people” he’s met in his international travels. All true, and all wonderful PR for our community.
But visiting the Greater Moncton Area and moving to it are two very different things. I don’t think we Maritimers are nearly as friendly as we think we are. We make fabulous hosts, but unless you grew up here, we’re not always the best neighbours. In my experience, and many others with whom I’ve had this conversation, we are so used to having friends that we’re not always great at making new ones. That can be daunting to someone trying to make connections in our community and can negatively impact the population growth we so desperately need.
When was the last time you made a new friend? Invited someone new over for dinner or went with them to an event? I bet you can remember being friendly to someone new, but being a friend is different. It takes work and often we’re so caught up in the routine of our own lives that we forget other people don’t have the same support and social circles as we do.
I’ve moved to both Calgary and Toronto. I had to push my personal boundaries to try to make new friends, but I did find people at almost every turn in both cities who were willing to make an effort to go beyond a friendly conversation or gesture to concrete steps to try to create a friendship. I also realized that these people were transplants like me.
Each time I returned to the Maritimes, I had to rebuild my personal community. It was much harder to do in a small community when most people living there were born and raised in the same place and hadn’t really moved outside their childhood social circles. Everyone was friendly, but finding friends was tricky. When I did, we all talked about the challenges we’d faced trying to build these relationships that help root a person in a place. If we want to tackle issues like depopulation, we need to look at what we’re really doing to help people connect with our communities, both in the rural parts of the province and in our cities.
I’ve seen several posts in online groups from families who’ve moved to the area in the past few months. The theme is similar. They love everything the Greater Moncton Area has to offer in terms of lifestyle for their families, but making real connections in the community is hard. They’re willing to do the work, but we need to be willing to as well.
We could take a lesson from local groups like MAGMA, who have proven that Monctonians can become quick friends with newcomers to the area. Perhaps networking and service groups like Hub City Young Professionals and Rotary can team up with 3plus to ensure more people moving here are actively encouraged to come out to events. A personal invitation, a simple ‘I’m going and I’d love for you to come with me,’ can make someone feel much more welcome than just telling them an opportunity exists.
So, please, take the time to invite a parent to join your already-scheduled play date. Ask a couple of co-workers over for dinner. Throw a neighbourhood block party. And if someone asks you to hang out, say yes. Because Maritimers should be known as great friends, not just friendly.
She Said appears Saturdays in the Times & Transcript.