On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and a few days later the dikes burst which flooded a good part of the city. Although many stories have been told about the reconstruction effort, little has been known about the Canadian participation in the recovery so I thought that coming up on the sixth anniversary of the storm I would have a few things to say with respect to the event.
This current hurricane Irene is giving me flashbacks to my honeymoon many years ago when my Ex and I were camping with a tent on the side of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia near Richmond and a hurricane (I forget the name) came up the coast. The tent was in a slight depression on the mountain side which was dry at the time it was pitched but within an hour had three feet of water. I drove through a previously dry gully which was flooded with water to get out of the area.
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The first story is about Magnaville or Canadaville as it is called in Louisiana. Frank Stronach, founder and CEO of the $20 billion dollar Magna auto parts empire, was watching the 2005 hurricane situation in New Orleans on TV and decided to do something. While Bush was congratulating the ineffectual FEMA head with “You’re doing a great job, Brownie!``, Frank swung into action and sheltered 280 storm victims in his horse racing facility in Palm Springs. Next he decided to build a permanent housing location for displaced survivors using the 2% of pre tax net earnings which the Magna constitution requires to be spent on charitable works (twice the Canadian center for Philanthropy benchmark) as well as reaching out to other Canadian groups. Like Paul in the Bible he became all things to all men.
1 Corinthians 9:19: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law, that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.”
For the captains of industry, he might say, “All the good trailer parks in Ontario are full. We must create lebensraum to the south with a new Louisiana Purchase.” To the socialist New Democratic Party and unions,” Comrades! We must infiltrate cracker America with a series of Cuban style communes. `` And so it came to past that Frank stood on the shores of the Atchafalaya River, looked over all of the land and saw that it was good.
Of course the good folks of neighbouring Simmsport did not take kindly to this Grundrisse totting Moses leading his flock of the dispossessed in an exodus from the sin tainted N.O. – destroyed like Sodom and Gomorra by the wrathful hand of God. Fifty homes were quickly built by Canadian carpenters on a thousand acres of land and the settlers could live rent free if they contributed eight hours a week to the communal needs - definitely against God and all the tenants of capitalism. Each unit had verandas and decks plus TVs, computers, furniture, appliances, cable, electricity and water supplied by Frank’s fellow travellers. The community also had a basketball court, paved roads, swimming pool and tennis courts. Simmsport’s median family income was just over fifteen thousand dollars so they didn’t appreciate these new arrivals having possessions about which they couldn’t even dream. The mayor “Boo” Fontenot didn’t want them but cooled down after Frank built a four million dollar community center for the town. According to Canadian Business magazine, the local good old boys cut down the Canadian flag after it was raised to the same level as the Stars and Stripes.
In the documentary Welcome to Canadaville, one Simmesport resident describes sitting out at night, armed with a gun, so he can "get me one" if any Canadaville resident touches his property. But community leaders insist racism wasn't the fatal problem. "It's always an issue in the South," says a local sawmill owner who declined to be named. "My industry still has a machine part that people call the nigger, because it does a job you wouldn't want to do. But racism didn't kill Canadaville. It was Boo."
When Magna's people first arrived on the scene in the fall of 2005, they were under strict orders to find a suitable site as soon as possible. And Fontenot recognized an opportunity to milk what he called the "Magna cow." In return for his support, he demanded new police cars, a police substation, community and sporting facilities and US$250,000. Stronach's people agreed,
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Magnaville is now eerily reminiscent of Henry Ford’s abandoned Fordlândia, a prefabricated industrial town in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon jungle on the banks of the Rio Tapajós near the city of Santarém which was intended to produce rubber for his automobile plants in America. Here is a link to pictures of the former town which is now empty.The greatest problem for the community was the inability to bridge the cultural divide. From Wikipedia:
The mostly indigenous workers on the plantations, given unfamiliar food such as hamburgers and forced to live in American-style housing, disliked the way they were treated — they had to wear ID badges, and work midday hours under the tropical sun — and would often refuse to work. In 1930, the native workers revolted against the managers, many of whom fled into the jungle for a few days until the Brazilian Army arrived and the revolt ended.
Ford forbade alcohol and tobacco within the town, including inside the workers' own homes. The inhabitants circumvented this prohibition by paddling out to merchant riverboats moored beyond town jurisdiction and a settlement was established five miles upstream on the "Island of Innocence" with bars, nightclubs and brothels.
If you read the book Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin then you’ll notice a lot of similarities to Magnaville. Both projects had a wealthy Industrial leader in the auto business who tried to impose their dream of a utopian modern community on a culture that was totally at odds with their concept and used their money to bulldoze any local opposition but ultimately failed due their refusal to incorporate the local culture and customs into their vision. Today Fordlandia is overgrown by the jungle with the red fire hydrants covered by the vines while the town of Simmesport has refused to take over Magnaville which in response has been also been abandoned and trashed by the locals. Fordandia has long been upheld as an example of the inability of South America to enter the modern age due to cultural dysfunction with respect to work for the local populations. Will Magnaville be a case study in Harvard Business School for Lousiana's incapacity to economically develop? Below is a video about the book and a look at Fordlandia in 1944 by Walt Disney.
The other story is about Mike Holmes and his ninth ward housing project. Mike is the producer and star of the Canadian TV show Holmes on Homes. To save time typing, I embedded an explanation of his project to build a hurricane resistant home in the ninth ward of New Orleans for an elderly woman and her many grandchildren after they were made homeless by the storm.