Small town people have changed

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by Angela Dorie, Courtesy of Farmers Forum

The September 13, 2023 edition of the 131-year-old Glengarry News was its last, a victim of the changing times like so many other community newspapers, not just in Ontario but across Canada.

Expecting a rush for a copy of this final paper, I asked the owner of our local corner store to save me one as I had an appointment in Cornwall. No problem, he replied. When I stopped at about 2:30 pm on my way home, I was surprised to see three copies still lying on the counter. Could the passing of the Glengarry News really mean that little to local people? I guess so.

Small towns are changing, and not necessarily for the better. Populations are expanding in and around them but the businesses they contain are shrinking as everyone heads “to town” for their needs.

When I first moved to Williamstown over 43 years ago one could get what one needed in the Village. There was a gas station, two corner stores, two restaurants, a hardware store, a feed/farm store, a hairdresser, a bank, two churches, a library, tennis courts, a daycare, an elementary school across from a high school, a post office, an arena, a museum, the municipal offices for Charlottenburgh Township, the Township garage, a two-bay volunteer fire hall, and the fairgrounds. There were also countless home businesses if one knew who did what. Accounting services, heating and AC, a DJ, a bed and breakfast, handicrafts, woodworking, sewing, as well as the Kraft Cheese plant on the outskirts.

In earlier times, people recall much of the same as well as two banks, tailors, millers, a baker, blacksmiths, a butcher, two machinery dealers (Cockshutt and International I believe), harness makers, a cobbler and a train station. There was also a boarding house and a hotel.

Today’s Village of Williamstown has two restaurants (one relatively new), a corner store, an insurance agent and a furniture refinisher. The fire hall has moved into what was the township garage and now has three bays. The two schools still exist after locals fought with then Premier Wynne. Other communities were not as lucky. The arena, tennis courts, post office, library, museum, churches and fairgrounds also remain.

Townships had to merge so Charlottenburg joined Lancaster and the ever expanding office personnel work in Lancaster. Their old building is now the Celtic Music Hall of Fame.

Without the township business to support it, the bank subsidiary closed. The closest bank is a six-minute drive to Lancaster from Williamstown. If you deal with a bank other than BMO, you have to drive to Cornwall, about 20 minutes from Williamstown.

The only corner store, although smaller than before, now also sells beer, spirits and wine as well as lottery tickets.

People have changed. There is no pride in supporting local businesses or papers. We were shocked to find friends, both newcomers, long timers and those born here, agricultural and non-farming who have never read the Glengarry News, never stepped inside the corner store for anything, nor eaten at either of the restaurants. Excuses run from ‘there is nothing in it to interest me’, ‘I don’t know anyone in it’, ‘ I prefer to shop in one place for everything’, ‘It is too expensive’, or they prefer to do all their shopping in Ottawa. The latter gives me the shivers!

Think about what the villages would be if the remaining businesses closed. What would be left is just an older housing development where residents leave in the morning to go to work and return in the evening to eat and sleep. No one actually “lives” here any more.

Everyone needs to support their local paper or village or nothing will be left. If everyone made a habit of spending $25 a week on them, it would change things and might even encourage more shops in rural villages.

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