You are your town - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Last week, as Jess and I were watching some television, there was a segment on about Peterborough. Not overly far from where I grew up in Pickering, Peterborough is a lovely smaller city (relative to the cities in that area) that doesn’t typically make a lot of waves.
However, when I saw that segment, the first thing I thought of was the city’s nasty protests as of late that have been tied to the occupation of Ottawa, support of the debunked Q-Anon conspiracy theory and other ideas that, if you want to be nice about it, are a bit misguided. The community is also home to a law-breaking eatery with a business model that’s more about politics than food (sound familiar?). It’s also where people, who spent their hard-earned money on flags to curse a politician they’ll never meet, hurled racial slurs at Jagmeet Singh earlier this year.
After a few seconds, I tried to stop my line of thinking, remembering that Peterborough is a beautiful little community that is about far more than a few uneducated wingnuts with some questionable views and shaky moral compasses. I got thinking about how many communities have been unfairly tarnished because of the actions of a handful of people.
Perhaps the best and most readily available example of this in our region has been Aylmer.
An ever-present town name in my house growing up, as it is home to the Ontario Police College, Aylmer is a sleepy little town just east of St. Thomas. It has a wonderful independent newspaper and it’s full of lovely people. However, for the last few years, the town’s name has become synonymous with rhetoric connected to the anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine movement, spearheaded by Pastor Henry Hildebrandt and his Church of God.
The struggle between the church and just about any form of authority, whether it be the provincial or federal governments, local police forces or other Aylmer residents themselves, has dominated headlines for years and choked Google results for the town.
Not long after the COVID-19 lockdowns began and Hildebrandt and his followers vehemently opposed restrictions, I began seeing advertisements on television imploring me to visit Aylmer. The spots heralded the beauty of the community and its people, who were likely getting tired of being painted with the same brush and those from the church.
In the age of the internet, it’s easy for someone to read something online, associate that something with its location and form an opinion - informed or otherwise - about that location. It can plant itself in your brain like a seed and then manifest itself later on, without you even knowing where it came from. Aylmer? I don’t know. Isn’t everyone there crazy? Peterborough? Let’s not. I don’t want to get yelled at. It’s just that easy and it can happen just that quickly.
We have even seen it locally, with people being made to think that there is an uprising in Wingham against vaccination, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Doug Ford, the police and, really, any form of authority or oversight.
In reality, Wingham is full of mostly normal people trying to get from one day to the next, not unlike most communities in Huron County, despite the profile attributed to them online by some without the town’s best interests (or factual information) at heart.
I grew up in Pickering, so people used to joke about me glowing in the dark (thanks to our local nuclear power plant), but unfortunately not all associations with your town can be so light-hearted.