I went for a short visit to Quebec City this weekend. My wife and I stayed at the Chateau Frontenac (we had coupons left over from our honeymoon), took in the sights and bought a lot of wine. While there we had a number of discussions about why rural Canada seems to be doing better than rural America. On Canadian television some Canadian politician was talking about how the Canadian economy is no longer in decline. All around Quebec factories were chugging away. It was strange to drive north from northern New Hampshire to find a thriving economy, because I’ve always looked at the region’s northern location as the big hurdle to success.
What are ingredients for a robust economy? We drove through Sherbrooke and Coaticook yesterday, one with its thriving industry and a bustling economy, the other with its pastoral surroundings and cute downtown. What have they got that Berlin is missing? I know the traditional answer of a highway appeals to some people, but that doesn’t strike me as enough. Berlin was an export town for a century—the roads didn’t all the sudden disappear.
And Coaticook, with its one hotel, made me worried for Berlin. I’d been there before on a bicycle tour, so I knew it was a cute little town next to a beautiful gorge. We could break up the drive between Quebec City and home, I thought, and visit another side of Quebec. But pastoral countryside and a stunning gorge haven’t resulted in tourist infrastructure. The only hotel was a run-down place next to a grocery store; instead of paying $75 for the night, we opted to drive home.
If that place hasn’t built the infrastructure to accommodate tourism, I have to question whether Berlin can. Again, like the Sherbrooke example, the mix of factors that led to the current state of the town aren’t clear to me, but it throws up big flags as to what the viability is for this model.
But I do have to say we drove through Berlin at about 8:30 last night, and the Budget Inn was packed. I was amazed, and my wife asked if maybe some of the people lived there. I didn’t know, but it seemed a good sign that people might look at Berlin as a place to spend their vacation. Again, I don’t know the truth there, but the mix looks like its getting better, which hopefully means good things for Berlin.