Shared projects build communities - Keith Roulston editorial
The generosity that builds communities and the worry about self-interest that drives them apart was nicely summed up in the June 10 issue of The Citizen.
Inside the paper, the ongoing bickering between North Huron and Morris-Turnberry went on with North Huron Reeve Bernie Bailey expressing disappointment that Morris-Turnberry was calling off a partnership to share building department services.
But on page one, there were two stories that bode well for the future strength of the Brussels community, which cross municipal boundaries. Headlining the page was the announcement of a $3.4 million grant from the federal and provincial governments ($1.9 million federal, $1.5 million provincial) toward the $4.6 million renovation of the Brussels, Morris and Grey (BMG) Community Centre. Lower on the page was a story on plans for Brussels’ 150th anniversary homecoming celebration.
The BMG story brought back memories for an old-timer like me of community pride and mobilization back in 1976 after changes in the provincial building code led to dozens of community arenas across the province being condemned because they couldn’t meet the new standard. I happened to run newspapers in two of those communities, Blyth and Teeswater, at that time and saw the determination in both communities not to let their arenas, a centre of community pride, falter. I also watched the impressive reaction in Brussels and the community’s determination, rural and urban residents alike, to build back better.
In Blyth, with its centennial celebration scheduled the following summer, and a working arena essential for that celebration, the community sprang into instant action. After a June community meeting, teams of volunteers mobilized. It was decided the most practical solution was to remove the condemned building and construct a new one over the same ice surface, using the same ice-making plant but adding new dressing rooms and a community hall on one end.
In a short order, volunteers were tearing down the old structure and fundraising had begun. By winter, a new arena was in place and enough money had been raised to have it fully paid for.
The Brussels community had more ambitious plans. The old arena had been crowded into a lot downtown while the
fall fair was held at the fairgrounds in the north end of the village, without the use of the arena. The community decided to start fresh, building a new arena at the south end of the village and moving the fairground to the same site.
The building envisioned, which would include a very large ground-floor community hall, was much more expensive than
Blyth’s plans. Brussels, Morris and Grey’s councils all kicked in with no argument and funds from the province’s new Wintario lottery were also promised but there was still a huge requirement for community fundraising.
The people didn’t disappoint. Individual donations and gifts from service clubs flowed in. The Brussels catering group was set up to raise money from catering events at the new community hall and also operated a food tent for the massive crowds at the 1978 International Plowing Match outside of Wingham. It’s hard to measure how much strength both Brussels and Blyth gained by rolling up their sleeves and co-operating to rebuild their arenas.
Homecomings also have an effect of building pride and binding communities together. My first was the centennial of my home village of Lucknow. As a kid, it was the biggest and most exciting few days I’d ever experienced.
Since then, I’ve been part of the 1977 Centennial in Blyth and covered several homecoming celebrations in Brussels,
always amazed at the boost of community confidence and energy that each event engendered.
Less noticed on pages two and three of that same June 10 Citizen was a story showing long-term rewards gained by such community-wide action. Though much diminished because of pandemic restrictions from what it might have been ordinarily, the 100th anniversary of the opening celebrations of Blyth Memorial Community Hall on June 5, 1921 was quietly marked.
That building rose because the village didn’t have a community hall and visionary residents felt that instead of building a cenotaph they should build a memorial hall. Of course without that hall there would be no Blyth Festival which has become an important economic driver to the Blyth economy in non-pandemic times.
So for those tired of the ongoing wrestling match between neighbouring municipalities, remember councils aren’t real communities, people are. Work together for common goals and good things will happen.