Uncharted Territory — Today marks the first time in over half a century that man has stepped foot onto the surface of the long-uninhabitable, near-forgotten province of New Brunswick.
Archaeologist David Wahlby and his digging crew of 12 men have been working at the site for almost 11 years, trying to see what can be learned from a province that is, quite literally, frozen in time.
Although the basic geographical outline is perceptible on any map of the country, the province has been so coated in a thick layer of snow and ice that, until now, the surface was believed to be unreachable. Astoundingly, the compact, mountainous accumulation of ice and permafrost took place entirely within a remarkable 3-week period in the year 2015.
According to most historical documents and first-hand accounts, it seemed to be a winter like any other. It was cold and there was the occasional snowfall, but it was nothing that the province hadn’t seen before. Then, suddenly, in the early days of February, the storms began.
It was an annoyance at first. People had to shovel more than they were used to, and some businesses had a tough time staying open. But, they had no idea what was in store for the province. Nicole Phinney, an 83-year-old former resident of the province, remembers the snowfall:
“It was slow,” she said, looking sadly into her teacup. “I remember it all happened real slow — like the boiling of a pot. After the 5th or 6th consecutive storm, it became too much for some people, and they headed off to Nova Scotia, Quebec, Maine, anywhere the storms wouldn’t reach them. As for my family, we went to live with my aunt Marilyn out in California. I thank the Lord every day for our good fortune to do so. There were others, however, who thought that they could …” she whimpered, overcome by emotion. “… They thought that they could stick it out until the spring,” she said, bursting into tears.
But spring never came for the province of New Brunswick, and the land was deemed unsalvageable by 2018.
Wahlby says that the land had always meant a great deal to him, but that reaching the surface seemed like little more than a pipe dream.
“My father was originally from New Brunswick, and he used to tell me these amazing stories about reversing falls, plentiful forests and tyrannical oil tycoons. To me, it sounded like a fantasy land. And now, finally, I’m here.”
Wahlby and his team believe the surface they have reached is what was once known as “Fredericton,” the province’s capital city. “There are perfectly preserved remains of local residents performing simple day-to-day activities like jogging, studying, shopping at the market… I mean, it’s like they had no idea.”
Wahlby says that certain specimens have also been frozen into the ice, perfectly maintained in order to be thawed out and studied. “We found some Java Moose Coffee beans, a brand exclusive to the province, and we were able to perfectly replicate the flavour.”
He pointed to the percolator sitting next to him. “It’s pretty terrible.”
So what does this mean for the future of the province? Will it ever be able to sustain life again? “For now, I don’t really know,” said Wahlby. “We’re just taking it one step at a time.”