UPDATED: Goodbye Dorchester Village, Hello Ward 1: hope & dismay

Shep, the giant Dorchester sandpiper once stood tall in the village square, but alas, no more. Photo: Tourism New Brunswick

With the Village of Dorchester about to disappear, local candidates for the new Tantramar town council are talking fondly of Shep, the sandpiper statue that once stood as a symbol of village identity.

“Shep’s been gone now for a couple of years,” says Deputy Mayor Robert Corkerton, one of two candidates competing for the single seat in Ward 1 that includes Dorchester and surrounding communities.

“It got to the point where Shep was rotten right through,” he says, adding that the village council has explored various options for replacing Shep.

“People come to Dorchester to see the sandpipers when the birds are here, but also to stop and see Shep, the same as the lobster out in Shediac,” he says.

“He’s been there for 20 years and people want him back.”

Dorchester’s Mayor Debbie Wiggins-Colwell, who is also running for the Ward 1 seat on Tantramar council, says she’s been talking with the sculptor who created the original, wooden Shep as well as artists in Calgary who work with more durable materials.

“I’m looking at two options, either the Calgary group that would do it in fibreglass or we’re looking at bronze, the same as [George] Stanley is in Sackville,” she says.

“I’m hoping maybe the bronze will be our option, but that’s something we have to work towards,” Wiggins-Colwell adds.

Both candidates suggest they would take up the need for a new Shep at Tantramar town council after it takes office on January 1st.

They say the sandpiper statue is crucial not only for Dorchester’s sense of itself, but also for its ongoing appeal to tourists who flock to the Nature Conservancy’s shorebird reserve at nearby Johnson’s Mills to witness the birds’ annual August migration.

Identity loss

But even as the candidates talk about the symbolic and practical need to restore Sandpiper Shep, voters in the village and the small communities around it, worry that Dorchester is about to be lose its identity anyway as the village is swallowed up by the larger and richer town of Sackville.

“I’ve actually heard it said from people in Sackville, when the amalgamation process started, that ‘We don’t want Dorchester,'” says Neil Harris, a retired salesman who returned home to the village three years ago after a 48-year absence.

“My concern is that some people in Sackville are just going to sweep us aside,” he says.

Former Dorchester Mayor Wayne Feindel

Harris’s concern is shared by Wayne Feindel who served for more than 30 years on the village council — his last three terms as Dorchester’s mayor.

“This community will not be run and looked after the way it is now,” he says.

“Dorchester is a tightly run organization [and] with no money, they’ve done miraculous things,” Feindel says.

“There’s no way this bigger group will be able to run this community as well as it was done even with more money to the people who are running and to the mayor, a nice little bribe to try to get people involved, but you have to have something deeper than that if you’re going to run for your community,” he says.

(Feindel’s “nice little bribe” refers to the tripling of salaries for elected representatives on Tantramar’s new council.)

As Sackville becomes the “centre of gravity” in the new municipality, he says the focus will inevitably shift to it.

“A town with so many resources, with doctors and lawyers and people in every field and stores and all that, they have no sense of anything beyond Sackville and I don’t see that changing overnight.”

When combined with the growth of centralized bureaucracy in an expanded Southeast Regional Service Commission and with only one representative on council, Feindel foresees the disappearance of volunteers rooted in the local community.

“The volunteers are just not going to be here, like with the Sandpiper Festival and stuff like that,” he says.

Dorchester will become “a soulless place,” he predicts.

Hope for a bright future

Debbie Wiggins-Colwell with Preston, her canine companion

But Tantramar Ward 1 candidate Debbie Wiggins-Colwell says that Dorchester getting swallowed up by Sackville isn’t a worry for her, at least not yet.

“I don’t look at it that way, you know,” she says, adding that all parts of Tantramar can collaborate and work together.

“That’s how I’m looking at it, going into it,” she says.

“Now maybe you ask me this at the end of three years, it might be entirely different, but right now, that’s how I look at it.”

Wiggins-Colwell says she foresees a future in which natural beauty and community-run events like the Shiretown and Sandpiper Festivals combine to bring the citizens of Tantramar together.

“I mean we’re not even 13 kilometres from Sackville,” she says, adding that the round trip on Rte. 935 from Dorchester to Rockport and Wood Point is stunningly beautiful.

“That’s my happy place,” she says. “I love it.”

Cross promotion is key

Robert Corkerton descending Shep’s new stairs

Candidate Robert Corkerton is also hopeful as he points out that the village has already built a solid set of stairs and railings in anticipation of Shep’s return along with crowds of tourists eager to pose for photos on the newly built platform beside him.

He says his 16 years on the village council would help guide his efforts to help promote the many attractions in the new town including the Nature Conservancy shorebird reserve, Sackville’s Waterfowl Park and Farmers Market, Fort Beauséjour as well as the ice cream and other attractions at Trueman’s Blueberry Farm.

“We have such an opportunity to say, ‘What do we have? How can we promote this? Where are our air B&Bs, where are our hotels and motels and what can we do to cross-promote everything?’

“What can we do to bring people here to Tantramar?” he asks. “How can we make it a destination spot, so people will want to come in and spend their money here?”

‘Losing out’

With election day only three weeks away, it remains to be seen which of the two hopeful candidate messages will resonate most with voters in Dorchester and its surrounding communities.

Aaron Stright, who recently returned to the Dorchester area after 10 years away working as a welder in Alberta, says he’s not optimistic at all because Sackville will be the centre of the new town.

“Most of the people in Sackville don’t seem to have Dorchester’s interests in mind,” he says.

“We’re stuck out on the side and nobody really wants to think about us and now they’re going to be controlling more of what goes on here,” he adds.

“A lot of people are worried about losing out because Sackville’s going to get more than we do.”

All-candidates forum

Both Robert Corkerton and Debbie Wiggins-Colwell appeared at the all-candidates forum held on Saturday, November 12 in Middle Sackville.

Here is Robert Corkerton’s two-minute opening statement:

I’m a resident of the current Village of Dorchester and have lived there for the past 20 years. I live there with my wife Lise and our four children. I’m originally from England and moved to Montreal when I was a young child. This is where I learned French and I’m fully bilingual. For the past 16 years, I’ve had the honour of being a member of the Council of the Village of Dorchester. Over that time, I’ve worked on different portfolios, and the constant being recreation programming and playing fields. I’ve served on the the board of Recreation New Brunswick as representing the village, a provincial NGO for the recreation in the province. I’m currently in my 20th year serving as a leader in Scouts Canada having held different positions throughout the years. I’m a volunteer with the Dorchester Food Bank and new as of this year, I’m also the director for the junior programs for the Moncton Black Tide Rugby Club. I’m looking to serve because I feel the experience on council and other boards and my understanding of governance workings will be an asset to help bring Tantramar into existence and set it on a good path for the future.

Here is Debbie Wiggins-Colwell’s opening statement:

I am the last mayor for the Village of Dorchester and first female mayor also. I’ve lived in Dorchester for over 50 years, raised three of my children there, had owned my own business and my husband and I opened a second business in the village square of Dorchester. I am now retired. I have many years of volunteering under my belt, most recently, including the founding board member of the Greater Dorchester Moving Forward and in 2017 was honoured by receiving the Molly Kool  Award for Outstanding Contributions by a woman in the southeast part of New Brunswick. And I am now ready to serve as first councillor for Ward 1.

To read Debbie Wiggins-Colwell’s campaign brochure, click here.

To read Robert Corkerton’s campaign brochure, click here.

To listen to Erica Butler’s CHMA interview with Debbie Wiggins-Colwell, click here.

To listen to Erica Butler’s CHMA interview with Robert Corkerton, click here.

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8 Responses to UPDATED: Goodbye Dorchester Village, Hello Ward 1: hope & dismay

  1. Geoff Martin says:

    Great article as usual Bruce. It is also worth mentioning that everyone in the new town has a vote for mayor–if you live outside the old town of Sackville boundaries, make them earn your vote. In my experience, one smart person can make a lot of difference on a council of 9. Whoever wins this ward seat, you will have your constituents behind you to make sure that all areas of the new town get their share. Use your voice and vote and deny unanimity and silence if your constituents are being ignored. Early on, like in the City of Miramichi in the 1990s, insist that municipal assets in Dorchester be used instead of being sold and centralizing everything in Sackville. Maybe a town department should be located there, for example. With technology it is even easier now…

  2. It did not take long for incomplete information to get posted in the local election.

    The facts about “Shep” not being replaced by the Village administration are far more than a case of “Rotten Wood.” Already the candidates failed to state the replacement process was begun by the previous Village Administration in 2019 and was not completed in a timely manner before other issues arose which ensured the demise of the 20 year old village icon.

    As a member of the Sandpiper Festival’s organizing committee, I was asked in 2019 to arrange for the shipment of the statue of “Shep” to Fredericton for repairs before the winter set in.

    I proceeded to follow the committee’s request and the artist was contacted and agreed the timing was right, transport was arranged and all that was needed was for the Village Administration to arrange for the equipment to lift the statue off the foundation and place it on a truck I had available, which they had agreed to do.

    With my part done, I waited until January 2020, at which time I was informed by the Village Administration, not the festival organizing committee, that they were taking over the project.

    The statue sat there for months before it finally was shipped for repairs. After further investigation, it was determined that, because of the delay in shipping and being outside through another winter, the statue was deemed unrepairable.

    The Village Administration made the decisions behind closed doors and what we have today is a beautiful podium and a very expensive project that could have been avoided. Now the administrative and financial discussions and decision making will begin all over again. All of which could have been avoided.

    On the positive side, Ward 1 now has the largest and sharpest looking outdoor, all-weather podium in the entire province of New Brunswick. It is my hope that the “Shep Podium” will attract Activists, Political and Social Speakers where they can mount and declaim their aspirations to the large crowds that will visit Ward 1 to hear them and have their pictures taken as past visitors did for 20 years of “Shep’s” existence in the community square.

    This is just a small issue, but I’m wondering if more accurate and creditable information will be presented pertaining to bigger issues in the future.

    • Deborah Jollimore says:

      Thanks for telling the whole truth about that Max. I think often the toxic positivity spin applied by government is what puts constituents off the most. Elected officials need to tell the whole truth and take responsibility when they make mistakes.

  3. marilyn lerch says:

    I have been very impressed by the newsletters put out by Greater Dorchester Moving Forward Co-op. The variety of endeavors undertaken is truly inspiring. I hope that the energy behind Moving Forward will make sure Dorchester is not left out in the new municipal organization.

  4. Bonnie says:

    “Most of the people in Sackville don’t seem to have Dorchester’s interests in mind,” he says…. Not with me as Mayor, this is my home. I ran because I don’t want the smaller communities being overlooked and I thought that might end up being the case. I run the Westmorland Historical Society, in Dorchester. No one should feel like their community’s identity is going to be lost.

  5. Kata List Productions says:

    The Town of Tantramar is a collective of different villages and towns to be honest… economically speaking the government just wanted a tighter control of governance so just consider this is an opportunity to co-mingle with like-minds in the area instead of feeling separate and distant you are part of a larger body of homies… I find it amusing how ‘identity’ is tied up in postal codes.. maybe its because I have lived in other places in Canada and in England.. this area is ready to bloom… just enjoy the journey together and don’t worry so much… Bonnie Swift will make a fine mayor for this new entity as I think she brings a more common sense approach to the job and I will vote for her and Bruce Phinney and Wendy Epworth and look forward to seeing how this new body of representatives takes this as an assignment to take the reigns for the region as a collective of homies… these are people with more in common than they might think and there is going to be some really good collaborations taking place. Please stay positive and don’t let the “Eeyores” out there get you down.

    • Wayne Feindel sevant of the people says:

      Collaborations ordered from the top down in good old teutonic fashion by corporate directors is not a cooperative adventure. It is corporatism or as defined by John Ralston Saul ‘facism’. The Unconscious Society .

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