All things must past

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One of my favourite books is “Lark Rise to Candleford”, Flora Thompson’s memories of growing up in a very small hamlet in Oxfordshire in the 1880’s. The book describes a society and way of life that has completely disappeared, a community that may have been typical of the time, but which was already changing from what it had been in previous generations. I had the same sense of looking into a vanished world when I was back in Ireland last month. Already, in just a few decades, my home town and the people living there, have changed enormously. Vast new housing developments (estates, they’re called there), new highways, new ways of dressing and acting, so many other subtle, and not so subtle, have changed the character and content of Dublin.

Growing up, no-one wore sneakers in public (trainers, they’re called there), and people never ate or drank in the streets. Now, it seems, those streets are filled with people drinking their coffee and gazing steadfastly at the phones as they navigate through crowds of pedestrians and across roads loud with traffic. Everything passes, everything changes, as Dylan once wrote To Ramona. Inevitably, time changes things, and all things must pass, to quote George.

This all got me thinking about our place in the world, our municipality of North Grenville. When I first arrived here in 1994, there was no Municipality of North Grenville. I lived in Oxford-on-Rideau Township, and went shopping in the Town of Kemptville, a separate jurisdiction. South Gower was a vague location east of Oxford. There was no 416, just the old Highway 16, though it had already bypassed Kemptville even then.

Then came amalgamation in 1998, and things began to change rapidly, and the tempo of change has not slowed since. I don’t know what it feels like to those born and raised here, but even after just thirty years, so much is different. Successive municipal councils happily allowed what seemed like unrestricted development, eager for the Development Charges and property taxes it brought. “Grow or die” was quoted at those who wondered whether things might be going too fast, without a proper vision of what this “progress” might bring in its train.

Those in a position of power and influence proudly pointed to statistics showing that the population of North Grenville would double within ten years. It was necessary, they claimed, to go with the flow and enjoy the benefits of this expansion. And, to be fair, few objected to new stores, a new library, a new and improving local hospital. New schools were also welcome, and there was a feeling of optimism about the future. Not for the first time in the local community’s history, the future looked bright, and North Grenville’s social and economic prospects were shining and clear.

There were two mottos, one for the Municipality: “Green and Growing”, and one for the United Counties, “Where Lifestyle Grows Good Business”. Neither one really makes sense, in retrospect, and the “Green and Growing” one looks increasingly cynical. It seems that the more Growing, the less Green we become. But we were, perhaps, a little innocent about it all. We decided that this new municipality could get happily by with the same number of municipal councillors that each of Oxford, Kemptville, and South Gower had pre-amalgamation – in fact the same number as the Village of Kemptville had in 1857!

During the talks planning for amalgamation, it was decided that the new municipalities offices should be at the Ferguson Forest Centre, which was about to be taken over by Oxford. It was considered to be large enough, as the projected staff for the new Township would amount to just eight people. There would be a Senior staff of Clerk-Administrator, with three sub-managers: a Treasurer, a Planning and Building Manager, and a Manager of Public Works. Things didn’t quite work out that way, did they?

What it all comes down to is that, as the saying goes, “without a vision, the people perish”, and there was very little realistic vision back in 1998, nor has there been much in the years since. North Grenville has reached a point where the future is perhaps more uncertain than it ever, in the sense that its identity and character are in flux, and no-one is quite certain if it is going in the direction residents would prefer. Are we just caught in whirlwind that is sweeping us on, unable to do anything other than react and adapt to the changes we see happening around us, rather than controlling them?

We see the chaos on County Road 43 as the work begins on four-laning it, long after housing has been permitted throughout Kemptville, instead of having infrastructure ready to deal with growth. Ironically, Grow or Die may actually end with Growth killing what made North Grenville special in the first place. This council is busy dealing with the legacy of its predecessors. We must start deciding on what our legacy to the future will be

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