PARRSBORO - The numbers are in, and they are not good.
The population in Parrsboro dropped by 6.9 per cent between 2006 and 2011, according to the 2011 census figures released recently, showing the town's current population sitting at 1,305, down from 1,401 in 2006.
Of the five municipal units in Cumberland County, Parrsboro was the hardest hit. Oxford saw a 2.3 per cent decrease, while the Municipality of Cumberland County dropped by 2.2 per cent, and Springhill experienced a 1.9 per cent drop. The only unit of the five to see population growth in the past five years was Amherst, which increased by 2.2 per cent.
If there is a bright side of the story for Parrsboro, it is that the town saw a smaller population drop during this census period than it did between the years of 2001 and 2006, when its population shrunk by 8.4 per cent.
Parrsboro Mayor Lois Smith said she was surprised the numbers were as bad as they were, although she pulled no punches when offering an explanation.
"The point is we have no industry here," she said. "So, obviously, we're not drawing younger people to the community who would be bringing up young families, and obviously the population at the school is affected by it."
The mayor pointed out that Parrsboro loses a lot of its people through death and other "normal" things, and that there are a large number of homes on the market now.
The lack of jobs is an obvious deterrent, she said.
"People don't want to think of Parrsboro and the shore area as a retirement area, but the people we are attracting are folks who seem to be interested in a quieter lifestyle which we enjoy here," said Smith. "But we are not attracting a lot of young families. There are young families who are coming, but not in large numbers."
She also pointed out that the problem is not unique to Parrsboro, and she is correct. Nova Scotia's population increased 0.9 per cent in the past five years, with most of the increases coming in Halifax and its suburbs, as well as university towns like Antigonish and Wolfville. But Parrsboro was among the towns hit hardest. On the mainland, only Pictou and Shelburne saw larger population drops.
"What is the answer?" said Smith. "There is no easy answer. A small industry would help, but I don't see that happening anytime soon, I really don't. (The decline) is happening and it will probably continue to happen. I still think Parrsboro will exist, I still think we will be here for the things we do have to offer."
A former high school teacher, Smith said she fears the impact the decline will have on the local school system, and the business community.
"I'm not the type of person to be in a panic," said the mayor. "We're not unique in this. We're not going to be a Halifax or a Moncton or an Amherst, but it certainly has an effect on our store owners who have shops here, and how they can exist. It's going to certainly have an effect on their bottom line, no question."
As a council, she said they will continue to promote the town as best as they can, and will make the most of every opportunity. In discussions, she said they have debated on whether or not they want to portray Parrsboro as a retirement community, but that there is no reason it can't be promoted for young families and retirees.
"We still have to provide the same services to the town, so we would definitely want to try and keep the tax rate reasonable," said Smith. "Because, with fewer people to contribute, we still have the same services that have to go on."