By Craig Funston
What could be more Canadian than maple syrup, beavers, Montreal Canadiens, and mounties? Well, let’s try “elevators”? I can’t think offhand of anything that represents small town Canada more than a grain elevator.
If last week’s column was some broad stroke generalizations, this week we get down to specifics. I stand by what I said last week, but I will offer one caveat: There are some good things about urban life, as much as there some limitations with rural life.
Not many, of course, not many at all.
The other fact I tried to emphasize is that small towns (because that’s where I hang my toque) are really a microcosm for what’s good in and for Canada. (Maurice, that means that if Canada could in essence be one big small town [that doesn’t even sound right], then our future is good.)
In other words, if you have it here, then Canada over there would be in good shape, for now and in the future.
The Canada I love should have that small town sense of accountability: In a city, no one knows your name or face, and doesn’t even care that they don’t know your name or face. In a small town, it’s just the opposite—maybe too much the opposite The only time you are a number is when you’re at the till in a grocery store, and the number in question is the last four digits of your phone number (for billing purposes).
I’m not a nameless, faceless, valueless person, and neither are you. And that’s where the security of familiarity and the safety of accountability comes into play. Part of the village culture may include a little more curiosity than necessary, but at least someone’s looking out for me. I cherish the greeting by name, the nod in the store, or the wave on the street. We need a Canada like that.
The Canada I love should have that small town sense of affordability: When we look at the medium-to-large cities, there is no way an ordinary working stiff (or his kids) can afford to buy a house. In an ideal world (read: Canada), we should be able to afford a roof over our head, and not be consumed by mortgage payments. One solution: I suggest moving to a more afforable market is one solution.
Rural housing is probably half or even a third of a comparable house in the city. Why more people don’t shift away from the big centres is beyond me. I know employment is a factor: Can you spell C-O-M-M-U-T-E? It’s a wise move for this nation as a whole to live within one’s means. Our national debt load is spiralling out of control, with affordable housing being the chief culprit.
Beyond housing, I find that prices aren’t that much higher in a small town than in a bigger one. Gas and groceries—two constant essentials—are not that much more in small towns. And with the infrastructure of highways throughout the province, major centres are usually within an hour for most people. This present generation is more and more mobile, so so driving is not a stretch. We need a Canada like that.
The Canada I love should have that small town sense of tranquility: I certainly don’t mean all is serene in rural life. It’s probably more a matter of pace more than peace. I have found that community events, appointments, shopping, coffee, and other daily habits have a certain deliberate pace to them.
“Rush hour,” “red lights,” and “line ups” are not in the village vocabulary.
To be sure, pettiness and politics can mark (and mar) every village. They are just not as prevalent in a town as in some bustling metropolis. We need a Canada like that.
One doesn’t want to whitewash or over-simplify obvious exceptions to what I’ve said. I have observed the implosion of a once-healthy culture in my lfetime, and I am afraid for the next generation—and I don’t even want to think about the one after that.
Small prairie towns reflect a better way of life from the past, and confirm a hopeful way of life for the future. The roots of multi-generational villages bode well for the bloom of future growth. We need a Canada like that.
There’s more to be said and you can’t say much in a thousand words, so I’ll need to continue this for next week.
In the meantime, I have to “rush” off to a community event to—though it’ll just take me four minutes to get there.