In the three years since I last posted here, a lot of metaphorical water has gone under the bridge. I am still passionately involved in photographing Saint John and environs, but I just haven’t been writing about it. Life and all that…
However, I wanted to post an update because there has been a lot of interest over the past six months in maintaining access to and perhaps developing Tin Can Beach, the inspiration for this blog. I won’t go into the news details — all that is available via Google — but where I come into it is that my photos and writing about Tin Can Beach have attracted some attention, and I am hoping the public interest in this Saint John gem continues. A couple of weeks ago, a reporter named Kyle Mullin emailed me with some questions, and asked me to articulate some of what I feel about Tin Can Beach. Here is our conversation:
KM 1. What prompted you to make a website about Tin Can beach? Why does it inspire you?
First of all, my blog is about Saint John not Tin Can Beach. I named my blog Tin Can Beach because I felt that this hidden gem encapsulated much of what is wonderful — and frustrating — about Saint John. And because I love Saint John. And because I lived “away” (in Ontario) for nearly 20 years, and I missed the sea. So I was thrilled to discover Tin Can Beach when I returned and was living uptown.
It may not be historically accurate, but I think of Tin Can Beach as the place where Saint John began. In no other place in our city can we see the natural seascape at the same time as the evidence of our seafaring history. (You could argue for Long Wharf or Fort LaTour, but neither have any seascape to speak of.) Tin Can Beach and Saint John are both:
- rooted in a long and proud history, and marked by their relationship with the strong Fundy tides
- untidy, in the way of all industrial sites & cities: a place where graffiti and seaweed, poverty and plenty live side by side, preferring the real over the merely picuresque.
- friendly – all the people I have met at Tin Can Beach are friendly – whether it’s the Mr Coffee man having lunch in the parking lot, or the kid with a bike who just likes to hang out. (It would be interesting to know how many people visit or use the beach on a regular basis – I counted 5 + me in my hour spent there this morning.)
- hidden gems – both Tin Can Beach and Saint John are under appreciated, and suffer from reputations no longer deserved. (Need I elaborate?)
KM 2. Can you tell me about Tin Can beach’s potential, what it could be, and what needs to happen in order for that potential to be realised?
First of all, ensure that there continues to be public access. Even if there’s no money for garbage cans or picnic tables, even if there are no fences to keep people from exploring and possibly hurting themselves, keep it open.
It would be nice to have a paved parking lot with a picnic area, some room for art and interaction, at least a sign and perhaps an information panel about the intertidal zone. In terms of more ambitious projects, I would welcome some kind of development that encourages access — a chip truck or cafe, a condominium or concert centre — the main point is that this is public space.
I have heard from people how they (or their parents) used to come to the beach regularly for a picnic and swim — even with the rocks and seaweed and tides and Fundy temperatures! Historically it has been public space, currently it is public space, so please let’s ensure that it remains public space in the future.
KM 3. When you think about the potential benefits of Tin Can beach, do you also think there is there a void or lack of those benefits in Saint John at the moment? Tell me about what’s lacking, and how Tin Can beach can fulfil those needs.
Tin Can Beach is a diverse environment – a wild space – in the South End Peninsula. This is the only access to the sea in the inner city (as opposed to the inner harbour area; I love Harbour Passage but there are no beaches, tide pools etc). The west side has Bayshore, the east side has Red Head and Mispec. For people in the South End – possibly the only place in Saint John where you can live happily without a car – Tin Can Beach is a respite, a playground, a place to explore and learn and wonder. And at low tide, there is actually a beach!
KM 4. Can you also tell me about your thoughts on the following article about Tin Can Beach: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/saint-john-s-tin-can-beach-to-be-cut-off-to-public-1.2447638
Re the article you linked, I read it in the context of this follow-up piece: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/saint-john-attempts-to-clear-route-to-tin-can-beach-1.2448858 – which indicates in a non-specific way that
I attended the launch of the UNBSJ student study (http://blogs.unb.ca/newsroom/2013/11/04/students-see-potential-in-tin-can-beach/), and I know that ACAP is looking at an initiative to create an ecological buffer along the public access to Tin Can Beach (http://www.acapsj.org/initiatives/2014/3/12/tin-can-beach). According to a recent news story (http://www.country94.ca/news/tin-can-beach-getting-some-love) ACAP will begin to plant trees there in July “provided proper permissions are granted”… but of course you will have already researched this.
What I see, and would like to see, is the following:
- according to Mayor Mel Norton, the land rights of Tin Can Beach belong to the Port of Saint John, CN Rail, and Potash Corp of Saskatchewan, not to the city of Saint John
- CN Rail has removed the old tracks (you’ll see these in one of the photos I have posted in my Tin Can Beach gallery: https://tincanbeach.wordpress.com/why-tin-can-beach/#jp-carousel-1315) and built a road; rail ties are piled at the side but as yet the work to lay the ties and rails hasn’t yet taken place
- from personal observations and conversations I have had with area residents, Tin Can Beach is frequently visited and appreciated by area residents.
- judging from news reports, the announcement of the beach being blocked off by a rail line met with public outcry and surge in interest in Tin Can Beach
- there is an opportunity here for community organizations like ACAP to take the lead and rally citizens to show support and create a campaign to either retain the traditional right of way to the beach from the foot of Sydney Street, or ask the city to enable/develop alternative access through the former sugar refinery lands.
- political support and citizen interest will raise awareness and give the city enough leverage to start discussions with the Port, CN Rail, and Potash Corp, develop a plan, commit a budget, etc…
- in the meantime, I hope that local residents continue to visit and use the beach and talk about it with their neighbours and city councillors
- and I also hope that CN Rail & Potash Corp put the rail line on the back burner for now; or at least consider how they could make a public access/rail crossing as a gesture of neighbourliness and to demonstrate that they are community minded.
- and then… see my previous thoughts on how we could use the space!
I do hope that this interest in Tin Can Beach results in the space being used, being cleaned up, and remaining accessible to the public. So I welcome your conversation – on this space, on your space – on the importance of public space.
BTW, the article appeared in Here magazine, with some inaccuracies. Oh well.