Letter to the Editor: Election’s over, so, what happens next?

To the editor,

With our local elections now over, my brain started to shift gears into the next steps of our community development and leadership. Over the past many weeks I have listened to many people talk about what they liked, and disliked about the way of life in our local community. I have heard hopes and dreams, fears and concerns. We cast our ballots, and now the heavy lifting begins.

As some of you may know, I have spend the past 10 years of my career specializing in community development and change. While that work has been primarily in the church, it has often involved the local community where the church resides. With all of the research I, and many others have done, as well as our lived experiences around this topic there are two deeply effective, yet somewhat annoying truths that stand out. In order to be a vibrant, successful, and life giving community you must:

  1. Know who you really are, and really want to be. Authenticity is crucial.
  2. You must be open to change. Stagnant water doesn’t support much life, and balance can lead to stagnation.

Through the 1980s and 1990s I grew up down the road in Ingleside. For me, South Dundas (especially Morrisburg) was a bit of a “magical land”. There were beautiful historic buildings. There were tons of community events. There was a local theatre that offered some pretty fantastic shows! And there were several “pub like” places where people could go for a night of karaoke, open mic, or catch some of the talented local musicians. The demographics were a great blend of seniors and young people, long time locals and new families moving in. The community, from an outsider perspective, seemed alive. Full of potential. Definitely exciting.

When I returned in 2015 it seemed like a different place. Now it must be acknowledged that some of the amazing stuff remained: beautiful houses and great theatre! However there were some subtle and not so subtle differences. The community seems to have shifted to retirement population, many of our young people choose to move away, and when we look at the statistics, not a lot of new families are moving in. There is no longer karaoke, open mic, or weekly live music held at local “pubs”. In fact, several of those venues have closed over the years.

Who are we? Who do we want to be? Are we willing to make the changes needed to get there? Throughout the election campaigns I heard folks wishing that there were more young people, and young families moving to the area, or at least choosing to stick around if they had grown up here. I also heard people talk about how they wish we could tap into the tourism industry at a deeper level. The research, and life experiences of folks who do this work, would suggest that if we want to see this happen, we need to change. I know many of us dislike the word “change”, let alone the act of changing. However, if we cling to a golden age that is long gone, and attempt to resist change at all costs, all our clinging will do is choke out any hope for the future.

What is there in our community that would attract, and retain, the people we want to see? What do young families, couples without children, singles, newly divorced people need to have here in order to seek out and fully invest in this place? What do we need to do so that those super long lines of people that go to Upper Canada Village want to make sure they stop off in one of our towns before they go home?

A few years ago our diocese hired AMB research to come and do an extensive bit of research and assessment about the location of our churches, and their viability potential. That company was very clear about the towns in South Dundas: With their locations near to three major highways, major tourist attractions, affordable housing, and a friendly community, the towns of South Dundas are perfectly located for success. If, in the future, the towns fail to reach their potential, it will have nothing to do with their locations or geographical situations. It will have everything to do with the vision, direction, and decisions of their leadership.

Who are we? Who do we want to be? Are we willing to do what is necessary? We have tons of potential to be anything we want. Ok council, for the next four years, this is your task. God bless you.

Reverend Jon Martin
Morrisburg, ON