Monday, December 10, 2007

Canadaville - New Way of Life

Canadaville, the brainchild of Magna founder Frank Stronach, goes well beyond corporate largesse and into the realm of social engineering. Stronach envisioned an experiment arguably more Canadian than American that would transform low-income city dwellers into enterprising organic farmers. Along the way, he aimed to raise them out of poverty, offering five years of free rent and other services, such as transportation to work, as an economic springboard.

As happens with many planned communities, Canadaville -- officially dubbed Magnaville by the company -- ran into predictable difficulties early on. Only a handful of residents took to the idea of farming; they tend a row of garden plots and care for a small flock of chickens and a herd of goats. Many residents, particularly the younger ones, feel constrained by the rural surroundings and hope to return to New Orleans.

The residents estimate only about 30 of the original 110 evacuees who first settled in Canadaville remain there, although a company official puts the number at around 50. After it first opened in December 2005, the village took in evacuees who ended up in central Louisiana after the storm and new residents continually replaced those who left; the enclave now includes about 170 people.

Considering the regional tensions that historically defined New Orleans' relationship with the rest of Louisiana, Canadaville has coexisted remarkably well with the surrounding small towns. Most residents said they feel welcome in Simmesport, population 2,200, although the teenagers say they often feel singled out at school, where they say teachers and students eye them with suspicion.

Only one local politician has made the newcomers an issue, but he's an important man in Simmesport: Mayor James "Boo" Fontenot. At one point this summer, Fontenot blamed the New Orleans emigres for local business robberies, a claim the mayor made with no supporting evidence, according to the parish district attorney. That provoked a distinctly New Orleanian response from community leader Harold Brooks, who organized 40 residents to march on Simmesport's town hall wearing shirts that read, "I'm from Canadaville and I'm NOT a criminal!"

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