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First, Let’s Define Ourselves

Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell

As you know, Word on the Street is designed to engage County people in conversation and debate. And it gets lots of that – often readers and bloggers take off with ideas and concepts that weren’t even in my column, but this works for me.
I also learn from the ongoing opinions that I see presented as letters and blogs. This is the whole idea: Get out of your circle of friends, in which everyone agrees with you, and face different points of view head-on.

I know you’re all waiting for my Grand Plan, and are digging your grandfather’s Mackenzie Rebellion 1830 musket out of the basement and lubing it up, but I need to provide one more thought before we begin.
The age-old argument of ‘new and old’ County people lives like a vampire, coming out at night to divide us, and sucking out the lifeblood that makes the County special: Our sense of community. (And I’ve heard this complaint since I was a kid.)
I’d like to pull this apart, and then reassemble it again, because we can’t move on until we determine who we are, as a County.
Everywhere I go, and at every meeting, I preach the same thing: The County is not special because we’re all the same; it’s special because everyone is different.
It’s the diversity of people that makes the County work. And it’s that very thing that draws people to the County, and why they quickly learn to love it. And yes, that diversity includes artists and wineries and upscale restaurants.

But, before you arm yourselves to attack, listen to something I picked up from blogger Marnie – clearly a long-time County person – on the website.
She pointed out that we are (and I paraphrase here): “More than a bunch of grapes and a barn” – referring to our somewhat cartoonish new County logo.
Not only do I agree, but it got me thinking. Right here, right now, how do County people define themselves?
A lot of people’s time and a lot of money has been spent on ‘defining us’ to the outside world.
The important thing to note that it is a lot of marketing people, and a lot of marketing money that gets the happy job of telling the world what we are.
Sure, if you want to sell the County, what would you choose? That’s right. Wineries, a barn (denoting that this is not Queen and Yonge, or even The Beaches), and apparently famous, trendy, re-located Toronto chefs, who can make a meal in much smaller portions than my Mom, and at 10 times the price.
This, I think, is what gets the old-timers riled.

We need to acknowledge the difference between what the County people are, and how we are presented in our own marketing strategies. Because that’s not us.
There was a lot of heat generated by my comments about seasonal jobs, but that is a way of life here in the County. And it has been since the days of Lakeland Lodge, Indian Point Lodge, Lakeshore Lodge and dozens more resorts which boomed in the 1950s. When you could visit the Outlet Beach for free.

I understand from comments I received that summer-long, minimum-wage jobs do not an Economy make – but they are indeed a part of our definition, now that tourism is wrestling with agriculture as a money-provider.
But that certainly is not all we have.

In the County and, indeed across rural Ontario, small businesses are the lifeblood of the County. No-one outside the Rural Zone will acknowledge this, but this is not only a strong – and largely ignored – contribution to our economy, it is certainly a huge part of what defines us as a County.
How many times do you go into a local shop and walk out saying: “You gotta love the County!”? You don’t get that in Toronto, and that is our greatest marketing tool: The fact that we are us.
You can dress it up and colour it up, and have dancing girls all over it, but ‘being us’, more than anything else, is what makes people want to come here.
And make no mistake, small businesses mostly run year-round, though our cash flow is like an up-and-down ride on Space Mountain.
And make no mistake, those young people everyone talks about, who don’t have a hope in hell of staying in the County? Look around. Piles of young people with great ideas are starting up their own businesses, and I suspect they will thrive and grow – if you stop shopping at Walmart and Home Depot and give them a chance.

A new friend of mine, who lives at Mountain View, drives to Foodland in Wellington to buy his groceries. Sure, he could go to Walmart or any of a dozen big box food providers within the same distance. But, as he says: “I moved here because I love the County – now it’s my turn to pay it back.”
I’ve met many people I consider to be County people, even though they had the sad misfortune of being born somewhere else.
I often tell people: “If you examine our County make-up, 5% of the several-generation people hate outsiders; 5% of the outsiders bring their nasty city ways to the County; and the rest of us get along just fine.”
Not that I can end this argument, unless I’m still column-writing at age 120 (not likely due to my lifestyle choices), but I need to acknowledge that some newcomers are indeed a pain in the butt.

As I originally wrote in The County Handbook: Get some County under your feet before you start appearing at public meetings with concerns about the future County changing your new personal paradise with traffic noise, barking dogs, glider tow-planes, your neighbour’s unacceptable behaviour, too many mosquitoes, poor road conditions, etc.
That’s why you left the city. Even though you’re now gung-ho to complain about the tourists – you might want to remember you probably were one, at one time.

We need to define ourselves by the many things we all have in common, while enjoying the diversity of the people who choose the County as their home.
Until we can gain that kind of unity, we can’t move forward. We can only fracture into tribal units of like-minded people, and continue to snipe at each other.
You can take your cartoon grapes and barn. It’s our sense of community that makes us what we are. Listening to each other and working together.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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