This past weekend, I was walking through my hometown and came across something I’d never seen before: the building of a small wooden boat. A dory, to be exact.
Representatives of the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador were working in partnership with a local small business called Fishing for Success. Without power tools of any kind, professional and amateur boat builders (about half a dozen people had paid to be part of the experience) were crafting a vessel that was once as ubiquitous in this province as the fish they were used to harvest. With each sweep of the plane, each plank that was laid, each story that was shared, a forgotten skill was revived and a new industry launched.
“Now that,” I thought, “is a great idea.”
Then I met Jordan Brown, former dory fisherman, now retired. Seeing my fascination with the project, he picked up a length of rope that was lying on the ground. “Do you ever get kinks in your garden hose?” he asked softly, slowly reeling in the rope. “Did you know that if you coil it the right way, you could store three miles of it without getting a single kink?” The trick, he said, was taught to him by his father. You pull in one loop one way, then flip your hand over and turn the other loop the other way. It was such a simple thing, but it pretty much blew my mind.
What an amazing idea, I thought. Whatever will they come up with next? It’s a curious question: what IS the next big idea? I’m not usually that esoteric in my ponderings, but it’s a query I was recently asked to consider. And talk about, in a 30 to 60 second video (no pressure there!).
It’s for an event we’re sponsoring in September. The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council is organizing a two-hour networking reception to jumpstart collective brainstorming about creative ideas that could, potentially, spark the next wave of regional prosperity. “Come prepared,” reads their information flyer. They want attendees virtually spewing ideas on topical issues such as “how to grow a sustainable economy, how to encourage young people and immigrants to call Atlantic Canada home, or how to manage the upcoming demographic challenge.”
This is important stuff. These issues are integral to the region’s current and future standard of living. Still, in the daily press of jobs and bills and homes and family, of economic downturns and increased costs of living, we often forget — how easily we forget: we who live in this part of the world, at this point in time, are an incredibly fortunate sack of sorry souls.
We may not have the sunniest of summers, but we don’t have the coldest of winters either. We don’t have earthquakes or tornados, heat waves or volcanoes. But we do have abundant natural resource deposits waiting to be developed. And breathtaking scenery. Clean air. Fresh water. Universal healthcare. Free K-12 education. Equality. Democracy. There are problems (of course there are), but we’re a region of problem solvers.
Did you know that 98 per cent of all business activity in Atlantic Canada is small business? It has always been thus — and I think that’s one of our most valuable yet underestimated assets. Culturally and historically, Atlantic Canada is a hotbed of independent thinkers and entrepreneurial instinct. Our region was built by farmers, fishers and foresters. Each of those fishing, farming and foresting families were small-scale enterprises; people for whom crafting ways of making do was, simply… life.
Couldn’t get fabric to make clothes? Bleached flour sacks could do in a pinch. No refrigerators or freezers? Cut ice from ponds in the winter time and store it in a hay-filled barn over the summer. No fish finder or GPS? Find your fishing grounds using north-south markers of hill and shoreline.
I’m not saying we should turn back the clock (not even close!), but I am saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Looking for the next big idea? I suggest you start small.