Women – the heart of our community

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Monday, March 8, is International Women’s Day. Honestly, I had no idea until my editor brought it up at our weekly editorial meeting. These days, I find it hard enough to keep track of the days of the week, let alone international days of recognition.

However, as I thought about it more, I realized that I really should be paying more attention, considering how many amazing, strong, and inspiring women there are in our community. In Merrickville-Wolford and North Grenville, there are many female-run businesses. In fact, Merrickville often boasts that the vast majority of the shops in the village are female-owned. Take Mrs. McGarrigle’s, for example. Founder, Janet Campbell, began her business in 1988, manufacturing condiments in the basement of one of Ottawa’s hostels. It has since morphed into a destination for fine food in the Ottawa area, and her products are sold all over Canada.

Owner of the Brigadoon, Cheryl Mackie, has been running her fine dining restaurant in the heart of Oxford Mills for over 30 years. In an industry where many restaurants fail, Cheryl has persevered to offer a truly unique experience that draws people from all over the Ottawa area and beyond. In recent years, her vivacious granddaughter, Stephanie, has stepped up to become a co-owner in the business; a dynamic female duo that arguably can’t be matched in the local restaurant industry.

Debbie Wilson is not only the co-owner of Grahame’s Bakery (with the area’s oldest wood-burning oven), she is also a very active volunteer and a dedicated community builder. During the Ice Storm, Debbie and her bother, Rick Grahame, kept their oven going to help feed the community while many had no power. She was the first coach of the Kemptville Storm, empowering girls to play competitive hockey in the local area. Debbie has been the Chair of the Old Town Kemptville BIA for over four years and is heavily involved in the North Grenville Community Economic Development Advisory Committee and the Kemptville and District Community Association. She is a founding member of the Kemptville and District Sports Hall of Fame, and was integral in helping the North Grenville Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee launch the first ever Door Open event in 2016. Debbie’s work was recognized in 2019 when she won the United Counties’ Bill Thake Memorial Award for Economic Development.

There are so many other examples of strong female entrepreneurs in our area. This has really come to light in the last year, when many of them had to completely re-work their business models to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic. I spoke to many of them over the past few months and was always impressed by their positive outlook and resiliency in a time when it would have been easy just to give up hope.

This resiliency, ability to multi-task and juggle multiple priorities, is something women have had to adapt to in our modern world. Women are strong and capable, but they are often pulled in two separate directions with the expectation to have a fulfilling career AND raise a family. Women can, and certainly have, the ability to do both, but they should also have the right to choose without judgement. Any mother who chooses to stay home with their children should be valued and respected as a productive member of society. That being said, mothers who choose to go after their dreams and have a career outside the home should never be shamed for spending time away from their children. As a future mother myself, (yes, I am pregnant) I already feel such a strong bond with my baby, and I know that, even if I choose to pursue my career, that will not change.

The true power of the feminist movement is allowing women the ability to choose whether they stay home with their children or pursue their career. Maybe they choose not to have children at all. All choices should be equally as acceptable.

Another strength that women bring to the table is their ability to be vulnerable. Vulnerability begets connection, and it is connection that truly builds communities. Many brave women have shared their stories of struggle with the community, on social media, or in this paper. Whether it be a history of sexual or domestic violence, depression, anxiety, post-partum struggles, or housing insecurity, women who show up in the world and own their past and current vulnerabilities not only help themselves, but also create a stronger, more connected community. If that’s not heroism, I don’t know what is.

International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the power of women, and whether that be as the leader of a community (like our powerhouse mayor, Nancy Peckford), an entrepreneur, or a homemaker, all should be celebrated. Time and time again, I have seen the women of this community fight for what they believe in. Whether it be volunteering with a local organization, providing a service to the community that they feel passionate about, or advocating for their kids, local women have a lot to offer.

I am proud to be a woman in this community; a community with a heart that is full of kindness and love. Men, of course, have an integral role to play, but I believe it is the female energy from local women that truly unites us as a strong, compassionate, and resourceful community.

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