It came as a shock to everyone.
No one could believe that in April of 1989, the government of Brian Mulroney announced CFB Summerside would close. The community, the province and even the military and civilian personnel were blindsided by the announcement.
The military base had been the economic heart of the community for decades and now it was going to be cut out.
Initially, fears of Summerside becoming a ghost town surfaced. According to figures provided by a provincial task group, four to five per cent of the provincial population would be affected; 33 per cent of the population of the Summerside area would be affected; five per cent of the total provincial income would be affected; and 33 per cent of the income of the Summerside area would disappear.
There was a lot of uncertainty during the weeks and months that followed. But the community would not be denied. The plan was to stay optimistic.
It rallied and rallied and rallied once again. The slogan “Save Our Base” was heard and seen throughout the town. Hundreds went to Parliament Hill to bring the community’s concerns to the doorstep of the nation’s lawmakers. Over 8,000 people marched in pouring rain on Mother’s Day, 1989, in support of the base.
The town of Summerside came together and was joined by municipalities from one end of Prince Edward Island to the other, as well as by the provincial government.
In the end, it all worked out. The GST Centre, now the Summerside Tax Centre, came to Summerside and Slemon Park as developed into an international aerospace facility. Other industries have popped up as well.
The closure of CFB Summerside could have been a deathblow to this region and probably would have been if the community rolled over and accepted the inevitable.
It didn’t. The people wouldn’t allow that to happen. It fought back and is now in a stronger economic position than ever before. We have a more diverse economy and one that is more open to a variety of businesses and industry.
It was a rare show of solidarity and one for which all Islanders should be proud.