The village of McAdam, N.B., has a population of 1,284, according to the 2011 census, but if you want more up-to-date figures, you might ask Eugene Nason. He and two friends were at a local restaurant a few months ago, chatting about how many locals have left for Fort McMurray, Alta. To keep track, they decided to start a list.
The exodus of people from the town “is likely the same if you went to any other small-sized village [in the region],” says Nason. “This was something we did locally to have an idea of how many.”
The list currently has about 75 names, though it was slightly longer last month. When people come back to McAdam after their seasonal work is done, Nason puts a line through their name. For the most part, though, people won’t be heading back to the town any time soon.
In 2009, then-deputy mayor Terry Cleghorn resigned from his position and left to work in Alberta’s oil-boom town. Speaking from his home in Fort Mac, Cleghorn says the decision was difficult for him, “but when [the mill plant] started scaling back to three shifts, then to two shifts, then no more overtime,” he had to leave to support his family.
“My son is also out there,” says Greg Swim, McAdam’s current deputy mayor. “They’re calling it ‘Little McAdam’ now.” There are young singles looking to get a head start, married men commuting across the country and older folk looking to boost their savings. Seniors are also leaving, often to Fredericton, because the local health centre had to seriously cut back its hours.
As far as moving out to northern Alberta, does Nason see himself putting his own name on that list? “No, I’ve been retired for almost 17 years,” he says. “But if I was a younger person, I almost bet you that’s where I’d be.”