By Christine MacKenzie
What will you do to help our rural community of Lyons Brook? I will be bringing this topic of discussion to the next meeting of the Lyons Brook Women’s Institute, 7 p.m. on Oct 17 at the community hall. I encourage other women to join the discussion there, and bring input from the men and children in our community, too! Here's why.
I’ve just returned from attending the Georgetown Conference in P.E.I. A group of over 250 delegates, mostly from around Atlantic Canada, gathered to discuss "redefining rural," as a group of "doers and producers" who share a passion for wanting to make our communities better places to live. I was so inspired there that I still feel like I’m vibrating from all the positive energy, so I feel compelled to write and share some of it!
Saturday began with a talk by Doug Griffiths, an MLA from Alberta. This man has an excellent grasp on what rural communities need. Griffiths has written a book called "13 Ways to Kill a Community."
His first and perhaps most important point was about water. Water is a basic human need. He points out that we all complain about paying less than $1.50 for a litre of gasoline, but many of us have no issue paying more for an often smaller bottle of water, because we know how important water is to us! In many rural communities, all across Nova Scotia I’ve heard, we are struggling with high levels of manganese and iron in our water. To fix this, each home owner needs to pay a few thousand dollars to install a water purification system – one often consuming huge amounts of salt every month – or visit a neighbour or other source to get bottled water instead. This reduces the value of some of the homes in our communities, effectively making it harder to attract people to live here.
Regarding youth... we often talk here about the fact that our youth are leaving, and share these concerns. As parents, we talk about how it scares us that so many youth are leaving. His point? When youth leave a community, they are going out and exploring the world, and they learn from these experiences and can bring those home! Instead of being concerned about youth leaving, we need to give them a reason to want to return after they explore. We need to tell them that we want them to be involved and engaged in our communities. Make them a part of building the communities, and they will want to remain connected.
We've all heard the suggestions that we should buy local. He points out that every dollar spent passes through at least seven hands, meaning that if spent properly it could pass through the hands of seven families in our rural communities, helping to improve the quality of life for those seven families.
Don't paint? He points out that one of the best ways to kill a community is to ignore the "curb appeal." Where I live, there used to be a beautiful community corner, with flowers and a flagpole standing to greet community members. That corner has become rather an eyesore in the community. I look at my own front porch and often feel bad because I've neglected to paint it again. That too will mean that we will have fewer people interested in living here.
Pay attention to ALL people in the community. It is a basic human desire that all people want to feel a sense of belonging. In many cases, when newcomers arrive in rural communities, they are not feeling this. We tend to talk to each other now through online communities, and the newcomers do not know about these. We have lost that welcoming connection, where we greet each other at our doors and let the newcomers know how to connect with us.
Later in the day, Yarmouth Mayor Pamela Mood spoke. Before she took this position, the ferry connecting Yarmouth to the U.S. was shut down, leaving her town with significantly less tourist traffic. As a leader in her community, she felt she needed to do something. This was a huge impact for her community! She decided to call a town meeting... "All Hands on Deck!" she called it. I was astounded to learn that hundreds of people showed at her meeting. The people of her community, ranging from children to seniors, ALL showed up! Why? She posed one simple question: What will YOU do to move OUR community forward? Each person in the meeting was given a piece of paper to write down their response. She received about 400 responses! The next day... people were on the street (without her knowing they were going to do this), scraping gum off the sidewalks and improving curb appeal in Yarmouth. Pictou County is said to have the highest quality of life in Nova Scotia now. We are very fortunate here. Lyons Brook is a great community. Visitors see it. What can be done to enable people to come, come back, stay and be happy here?
I am brimming with ideas on this topic now. What about you? Would you like to help ensure our families have a future in Lyons Brook? If so, please bring your ideas to the next WI meeting at the Lyons Brook community hall.
What will YOU do to help OUR rural community of Lyons Brook?
Christine MacKenzie is Vice President for Lyons Brook Women’s Institute