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Don’t forget why we’re ‘County’

I’ve always had a problem with the marketing of Prince Edward County. This is partly because I’ve been marketing the County for over 40 years.

Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell

Sure, I’m not recently retired from Toronto, and a don’t bear the title of ‘Marketing Director’ which actually means you get to tell people who know what they’re doing what to do. Sure, I could give myself the title, but I have no place to put the fancy plastic designation on my desk, because it’s covered with actual work.
I learned marketing by observing people and their habits. I stand in info booths when I’m delivering Breakaway magazines, and watch what people do. What catches their eye? Where on the rack of brochures do they look first? (Answer: Middle, then front, never above eye level.) What do they pick up and put down, and what do they keep?
This is marketing on the ground, not marketing in a tall city tower.
So enough about me.
Taste the County set the stage, and we are marketing the County right now like a demon. Some might wonder why, since we have seen a record-breaking number of tourists this year.
We are still the darling of Toronto newspaper columists, but I wonder if this is really a good thing.

Setting the Stage
This is hard subject to approach, as it brings up the old ‘Old vs. New’ scenario, in which everyone will misconstrue what I’m trying to say.
To preface this, I’ll restate my conviction that so-called newcomers (those who arrived after 1848) are a welcome addition to our County mix. They not only bring a diversity of backgrounds and talents to our traditional culture, but they share the very same love we have for this place. Not a lot of Ontario communities – large and small – have adapted in the way the County has.
There is a culture shock, and there’s no denying that.
Long-time locals bemoan the loss of homestyle, affordable restaurants to upscale tourist-oriented ‘venues’. This is true, but it doesn’t take much searching to find that our traditional ‘good food at reasonable prices’ restaurants are still there. Use them or lose them.
I could elaborate with dozens of examples, but it would only re-activate the “Us/Them” thing, since I’ve learned over the years of column-writing that people will read unintentional offense into a detailed – but much-needed – conversation.
Suffice it to say that money is the root of all resentment.

Several years ago, Prince Edward and Renfrew Counties were tied for the title of ‘Most Depressed Area’ in Ontario.
Most of us long-timers are still stuck at wages well below the provincial average. Most of our money comes from part-time jobs, or several jobs at one time, or seasonal jobs at best.
So big money rolling in does not call for a parade in some minds, unless they are already reasonably secure – by County standards – meaning they can pay their bills and eat.
If you don’t understand ‘big money’: To someone holding three jobs, that could be a house you sold in Mississauaga for $600,000 … more than the average County person could expect to earn in a lifetime.

Building a New Life
Already everyone is drawing out their pens and guns, but this is a reality for those who live in the present, with wages of the past.
This brings us back to marketing. Neil Carbone’s brilliant web marketing “Build A New Life” is slick as a duck’s butt. It attracts new young people to the County, and it wisely uses the advances in technology to say: “Hey! You can sell in Toronto, but you can live here!”
On the one hand, Neil has done the impossible. He has drawn young people to the County – who choose ‘lifestyle’ as a priority over ‘9 to 5 work’ – counteracting the ancient cry: “Why do our young people need to leave the County to find jobs?”
But it’s a double-edged sword.
The ‘New Wave’ of creative young people is an asset to the County, without a doubt. They have all the credentials for a ‘County Passport’: Young, creative, innovative, love the County, involved in the community.
My concern is: Like the businesses which have been ‘discovered’ over and over again by the metro press, Build a New Life shines the spotlight in a very narrow beam.
To elaborate: The County has been discovered so many times, it’s a wonder we even knew we were here, pre-discovery. And there seems to be a metro newspaper map that instructs their writers to ‘discover’ the same places over and over and over again. Surprisingly, they all (except for one) are new, upscale ‘finds’, some of which have Toronto connections.
This is a little irritating, for sure. It’s like Columbus discovering America (which he didn’t), and then getting caught in a wind, turning around, re-discovering, setting sail for Spain, oops, discovering again …

This is the issue I have with Brand New Life: Yes, life indeed did exist in the County before the amazing spectacular people arrived. And yes, small art studios have been struggling to build – not a Brand New Life – but a living, and using housecleaning jobs to stay alive, so they can create their art, or run their small retail shops. They fight for survival – and have done so for years – yet they get not a whisper of recognition.
Community development is more than attracting fresh blood. That work is good, for sure. And yes, it builds our economy.
So how about the Forgotten Ones? The ones who have been here long before the County was ‘cool’. The ones who started with nothing, built a life, and fight hard to keep it.
They’re not the people who walked in and plunked their money down to buy a home and start a business. They’re the people with little art studios on sideroads, small jewellery or fabric workers with no money for advertising, just a small sign at the road.
How about we ‘discover’ them?
They used to be County, but County marketing seems to have left them behind. It’s great to have gloss print pieces. It’s great to have dynamic websites. It’s great to promote the young and the fresh and the new and the hip.
For the small businesses that have been struggling for years, is there anything left to toss into their bowl?

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Click here to read previous Steve Campbell columns

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Chuck says:

    When I was 18 the bootleggers got us “Catabba”. Older County girls would have gotten a jolt out of that! I think the older gals have loosened the purse strings and really have come out of the closet as true “winos”.

  2. ADJ says:

    Todays $30–$50 bottle of wine would buy quite a few jugs of “3 Aces”, “Old Sailor” or the good stuff “LoganBerry” back in the day! “Cold Duck” was a bit more sophisticated and pricey but easier to carry to a party! lol Impress your friends.

  3. Chuck says:

    This is getting really funny. When I was a kid growing up and working in canning factories my Mom and older ladies called anyone drinking wine, “winos”! Now you can hardly get to the wine racks for the crowd of older ladies. They now call themselves connoisseurs! Lol

  4. Fred says:

    “strong sense of identity”, exactly what is meant by that? Working from cradle to grave to eek out an existence? There have always been rich, well off and poor in the County.

  5. Marnie says:

    It is not a question of pointlessly longing for the good old days. It is more a matter of carrying forward the things that made them good. In the county one of those things was a strong sense of our identity. We are becoming the playground of the wealthy through the influx of well-to-do newcomers and an ever-growing tourist industry. We had what they want -a picturesque, rural community where life once moved at a more relaxed pace. We could find a place to park any day of the week and life was about a lot more than wine and cheese and an $18. hamburger. You can call it progress and the natural way of things but for many long-time county residents it is not regarded as an improvement.

  6. Susan says:

    Nothing stays the same. You can’t stay frozen in time while the world around you moves forward. You can want for the good old days but it’s not happening. Not sure how good those old days were either. The work and endurance to survive took it’s toll. It’s better to find the good and inject County values where we can.

  7. Marnie says:

    Gloss it over as you will, the us-them thing exists and is not a mean-spirited attempt at the exclusion of newcomers. Look at many of our church organizations and local foundations, volunteer groups etc. It is obvious that the locals who once ran them have been moved aside by some of those dynamic newcomers who have better ways of doing things. They have a higher level of education in many cases, more money certainly, and an irresistible urge to tweak the county. Newcomers open their businesses but locals cannot afford their prices. Many locals work for minimum wage and the trendy little coffee shops and restaurants that have sprung up are not for the locals’ pocketbooks. Many of the cultural events offered at the Regent have ticket prices far out of reach of the locals. Locals fought hard to save this theatre but how many of those who led the charge are involved with it today? The newcomers are at the helm. The county is being given a new, trendy look which carries it far away from the place it once was. For a lot of old0timers it is becoming a bit too uppity and in doing so losing much that once made it unique. By the time the newcomers are finished building their happy new lives the locals will have lost their old ones.

  8. Vincent says:

    Some apprehension is understandable, that monied newcomers cruising are into The County and “buying it up”. But that’s always been a dynamic here and elsewhere. I’m sure there were people, natives and others who felt such apprehension about the arrival of the Loyalists.

    It’s also important to recognize that those who are choosing to move here all talk about a quality of life, a County culture that is fully about the people who are long-established here. The warmth and open-hearted friendliness, the sense of community. Without that this place would have far less appeal.

    Just how much of the wealth coming in will float many boats? The article makes a great point in saying we all need to frequent the long-standing business’s, and not just the new. But as the article also states, we have to be wary of an us/them mindset. Because that creates divisions. And if The County is great, it’s great for a sense of unity, of community. And if dynamic people are drawn here for that sense of community, it can only make it, and us, stronger.

  9. Gary Mooney says:

    “Build a new life” was initiated by former Economic Development Officer Dan Taylor. It has been renewed by Neil Carbone and his Economic Development team. It is focused on attracting small business to the County — people who want an improved work / life balance. It may appeal more to younger entrepreneurs, but that’s a good thing because we need to attract younger families to the County.

    A substantial part of the mandate of Neil Carbone’s Economic Development Department is to assist EXISTING County businesses to grow and prosper.

  10. County resident says:

    The build a new life campaign is only for the “hipster”. Community development only cares about the tourists

  11. Artist says:

    I’ve only been in the County for 7 years, but even in this small snippet of time I’ve seen a lot of change in the direction from country to trendy. It was both the landscape itself, and the opportunities that were available from people working together for a common cause that drew me here. I hope the Build a New Life campaign will in the future be more inclusive to all ages, all endeavours, not just the young, fashionable and trendy.

  12. kevin says:

    You took the words right out of my mouth. I have spent many hours having these very conversations with my fellow “countymen”. The gap has widened and the struggle is great for the folks who have sustained in the county for generations.

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