When was the last time you heard a municipal council brag about stifling growth? Probably never. That’s because all municipalities self-promote to facilitate growth and development. They usually even have slogans on welcome signs just for that purpose. There is, of course, no shame in growing a community, but what it actually looks like to grow a community has changed over the last few decades.
A century ago, growing a community meant adding some residences, adding a general store or two, maybe a pub, a blacksmith, a bakery, a drug store, a bank, and other local businesses. It meant adding amenities that allowed people to live and work within their small communities. Communities would grow, but the growth was sustainable. Towns had just what they needed.
Today, anyone living outside of the larger towns in the local area (Kemptville, Winchester, Chesterville, Merrickville) but still within a village should look up the history of their community. While it’s easy to assume that communities do nothing but grow and gain amenities, nothing can be further from the truth when it comes to the “smaller” of the small towns. Towns the size of South Mountain and Mountain, Oxford Mills, Spencerville, and Morewood have histories that would shock many. Even in Avonmore, where I grew up, which currently boasts a population of just over 300 people, there were easily a dozen booming local businesses a century ago, likely more. A recent population ledger posted online showed that South Mountain had a population of about 400 people around the same time, and even with the new subdivision, the town might just have the same number of people all these decades later, perhaps even less now.
Where have all the people gone? Some have moved to the city, no doubt, but there seems to be a growing popularity of moving into towns that are large enough to still have amenities (the kinds of shops and services that all towns large and small would have had historically), while still giving the feel of “small town living.” While towns like Kemptville and Winchester continually gain stores, restaurants, and services year after year, our region’s smaller towns are often struggling to keep just one store open. Some – like Avonmore – have even had to fight to keep an unmanned post office just to avoid having to drive to the next town over for mail. Banks, restaurants, and other basic fundamental businesses are leaving these tiny towns to move to towns where the population and customer base are higher. Can we blame them? Of course not! In tough economic times, small business owners in Ontario’s tiniest towns shouldn’t have to lose money keeping their doors open. What it means, though, is that once-tiny towns are growing into larger towns, and residents in towns like Kemptville may soon realize that they are getting bigger than they bargained for.
A very kind lady got in touch with me recently, lamenting a lack of veterinary services in Kemptville. There are, of course, several veterinary clinics in Kemptville, but none would make a house call for this lady’s large, ailing dog. Should we add larger, better staffed, increasingly mobile vet clinics to Kemptville? Many residents would likely be thrilled. Having services closer by is, after all, convenient and adds the satisfaction of spending money locally. But what about when someone is upset that they can’t see a movie in Kemptville? Should we build a movie theatre? Sounds fun, right? What happens when a parent with young kids is upset that there is no trampoline park, or aquatic centre, or space museum in town? These things would really put Kemptville on the map, wouldn’t they? Then we would need to get to all of these new establishments – oh the outrage that there is no light rail system in place! I exaggerate, of course, but my point is simple. Small towns are increasingly being divided into the “haves” and the “have nots”. As larger small towns grow exponentially by adding city-reminiscent services bit by bit, smaller small towns shrink, and those who live in the once-tiny small towns like Kemptville are going to realize that life in town is feeling increasingly “city-like”.
The recent news that the widening of County Road 43 is set to commence is probably the most obvious sign of Kemptville’s massive growth in recent years. It’s a necessary project – especially for us poor folks who have to turn left onto County Road 43 from the Fergusson Forest Centre after leaving the dog park. But it definitely shows that Kemptville is not as quiet as it once was.
I am not against progress, development, or growth. One business, one development, or one project will never break the camel’s back. I am merely lamenting trends, and the simple fact that those of us who live in the smallest of villages are increasingly having to drive to larger neighboring small towns for the most basic of necessities. I guess nostalgia for a period before one was born is possible after all.