Rural communities face many challenges – it’s a point often noted. It takes the contribution of many to ensure they thrive and remain a great, fun place to live.
Earlier this week a key organization in the Pictou County community of Scotsburn held what was described as an emergency meeting. Longtime organizers within the Scotsburn Recreation Club explained to those attending that viability for the club will depend on greater involvement from others in the community and the financial means to survive.
Like many organizations that are made up of volunteers and non-profit, they need people to contribute their time and talents to be able to run programs and stage events – and it goes without saying, they want community members and visitors to come out and have a good time. Otherwise, why bother?
Many in the county will note, Scotsburn is far from alone in this dilemma.
Just last month, community members in Riverton held a meeting – also described as an emergency – hoping to attract a good crowd and discuss uses for the community hall and greater involvement to ensure its upkeep. As in Scotsburn, they got the sought-after result. Some younger people came out and expressed an interest in helping keep up what is a rural tradition. And it’s a simple one: a focal gathering place, neighbours getting together to have some fun, stay acquainted, do some recreation together and maybe attract some visitors to the community to enjoy its features.
The challenges are part of a demographic dynamic seen in areas of small population across the Maritimes and, no doubt, elsewhere in the country. Rural life isn’t what it was a century ago. People head into town for work, and eventually that’s where they go to play as well – for entertainment, appointments, dining, shopping excursions.
The people who like country life really love it: the offerings of nature and outdoor spaces. But to appeal to families across the age spectrum communities need to keep things exciting and vital. Getting younger people involved is key to that.
In many rural communities, the pattern gets to be a cycle. There might be an ebb in population, fewer people means fewer resources and the means to provide recreational outlets for remaining residents. The challenge is to somehow turn the wheel the other way, continue to breathe vitality into the community and hope to attract younger families.
It’s a looming problem that doesn’t get the attention it merits on any official level.
Provincial governments seldom think long term, they only have their eyes on the next election. Think of River John and the prime opportunity there in 2015 to launch a hub model – combining a variety of community initiatives – to avoid closing the school. The province offered no substantial support, and the genuinely deserving pitch ultimately failed.
Politicians ignore dilemmas such as this at the peril of throngs of communities across the province. When do they reach a tipping point?
Because we can’t all move to Halifax, or Toronto, or the West – nor do we all want to.