And so it begins. A new year. A time to look towards the future, but also to look back and reflect on what has happened in the past year and how it has impacted Merrickville-Wolford and the people that call the municipality home.
This was the first full year of a new council and, overall, they seem to have found their footing. Mayor Doug Struthers has said that he is very happy with the way council is working with staff to lead the municipality in a positive direction. This doesn’t mean there hasn’t been disagreements and strong feelings around the council table; however, for the most part, they have been able to work through them in a constructive way.
The municipality also dealt with a few staffing changes in 2019, including the resignation of Fire Chief Mark Urquhart at the beginning of the year. Deputy Fire Chief Brad Cole took on the position of Acting Fire Chief for several months before being officially appointed to the position in November. Brad is also the Manager of Public Works, a position that he has been filling since Dave Powers left the municipality August, 2018.
Merrickville-Wolford’s first Economic Development Officer, Jeff McNamee, also resigned in July, which left the municipality with the difficult task of finding a replacement before the Rural Economic Development (RED) grant funding deadline of March, 2020. Luckily, the municipality found Stacie Lloyd, who has been in the position of EDO since October. Since then, Stacie has been working on several deliverables that align with both the RED grant contract and the Merrickville-Wolford Strategic Plan.
In terms of planning, development and public works, the municipality also moved forward on several key projects. The largest one was the reconstruction of Drummond, Lewis and St. Patrick Streets in the Village, which were both started and completed in 2019. Local developer and builder, Park View Homes, announced their intention to develop Merrickville Grove, a new urban subdivision that would add around 90 homes to the Village. Although this project has been met with hesitation by some residents, Mayor Doug Struthers did confirm that the addition of these new homes should help with water rates, which have been increasing steadily over the past few years.
The year was also full of examples that prove that there are many impressive people who make Merrickville-Wolford their home. In February, Dr. Francis R. Cook was given the Order of Canada for his over 50-year career studying Canada’s amphibians and reptiles. His Order of Canada award was pinned on his jacket at an awards ceremony at Rideau Hall by Governor General Julie Payette herself. Unfortunately, Francis passed away last week at the age of 85. According to long-time friend and colleague Fred Schueler, a memorial service will likely be held at Bishops Mills Community Hall in the Spring.
The Village also recognized two Merrick Preparatory School Students in February who received great results at a prestigious math competition in Waterloo. Grade 11 student from China, Allan Wu, scored in the top 11% in the senior competition, while Grade 10 student, Marvin Wu, from Taiwan scored in the top 23% of the intermediate competition.
Perhaps the most exciting news for the Village in 2019 was the receipt of the top prize in their category for the national Communities in Bloom (CiB) competition. The CiB judges came to the municipality in July and were toured around the Village’s urban and rural area by the CiB team. They also helped plant a new Autumn Blaze Maple tree outside the Library to demonstrate the Village’s commitment to preserving the natural environment.
Communities in Bloom Chair Hope W. Gray received the award at the CiB banquet in Yarmouth, NS in September. The Village also received a special mention for Winter Life, in recognition of the annual Christmas in Merrickville event, beating out many other notable municipalities, such as Jasper, Alberta.
Protecting the natural environment and climate change were also key themes in Merrickville in 2019. The new community group, Sustainable Merrickville-Wolford, held a couple of key events to showcase their commitment as residents of Merrickville-Wolford to participate in the fight against climate change. In October, the small but enthusiastic group took part in the global climate strike spearheaded by climate activist Greta Thunberg. That same month, the Lions Club Campground welcomed Ann Cognito, from Calgary, AB, who was walking all the way from Calgary to Ottawa to deliver a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking him to take climate change seriously. In November, Sustainable Merrickville-Wolford hosted one of over 1,600 worldwide presentations, spearheaded by Al Gore, aimed at educating the public about climate change and the realities of what we can do to help.
A new board breathed new life into the Merrickville and District Chamber of Commerce in 2019. Under the leadership of Yves Grandmaitre, the Chamber hosted several events for local business owners. They also received a $10,000 Digital Main Street grant, which allowed them to put together a Digital Service Squad to help their members improve their online presence.
Finally, the Merrickville Lions Club had a lot to celebrate in 2019. Not only did they celebrate their 65th anniversary in the Summer, but they also successfully completed a new bandstand in Blockhouse Park. The bandstand was funded by the municipality and the Lions Club, and supported by volunteers and local businesses. It is free for community use and can be booked through the Lions Club Campground.
This is merely an overview of some of the highlights that made up 2019 in Merrickville-Wolford. There were also, of course, the beloved annual events like Christmas in Merrickville, the Merrickville Heritage Classic, the Midweek Market, Merrickville Jazz Fest, and the MAG Artists Studio Tour, among others that continue to make Merrickville-Wolford a great place to live, work and play.
Merrickville-Wolford is a vibrant community, full of life and interesting people. Thanks for another year of great stories and giving me the opportunity to play a small role in telling them. Sayonara 2019, and bring on the new decade!