“Ahead to the Past!”

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan


Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

I’ve been writing these columns (or variants of) since 1987 – with still no shortage of topics! Whether they’re handled well is for you to decide, but it remains that our Pontiac is beset with challenges – and opportunities – like other regions across the country. These columns and others in this paper as well as in our companion, The Equity, all concern our daily lives in the Pontiac and what might improve them.
We all take this job seriously, not as telling anyone how they ought to think, but to raise topics and stimulate further discussion.  If we focus, our solutions will be
creative, all-inclusive, and effective. That’s the need.
Pontiac’s project has consistently been how to create a better future for all of us and for future generations. “The future” touches everything: education, economy and jobs, recreation, tourism, our environment, culture, and our relation to the rest of the world.
That this topic persists tells us that the future keeps coming at us with its manifold challenges, but also that our approach has not been dramatically productive. We are still talking about new jobs, highways and infrastructure, about our political leaders’ attention upward, rather than downward (to us), and the impact of decisions by those aloof governments.
We have tried to mimic efforts and trends from elsewhere ­– with modest result. Every region, it seems, sees itself as a potential hub for innovation (how many “Silicon Valleys” do we hear discussed!). Or we become another recreation and tourism haven – we’ve analysed such ideas to death. We’ve had our
symposia and discussions; politicians have talked at us about their grand plans.
We end up back against a brick wall that has this graffiti: “how do we
compete with other regions when we have so few resources, finances, and population?”  Truly, we’re between a rock (our past) and a hard place (few resources). Why do we compare ourselves with cities and regions with greater resources?
Where has all our banging at the doors of higher government gotten us?  Look around – where are the real benefits, services, opportunities?  New pavement doesn’t count. We exist too far from the attention of big government; clearly we’re not part of discussions there. What we are, there, is one single seat in the National Assembly and in the House of Commons. We matter, slightly, at election time, and then not much.
If we joined other rural regions suffering the same isolation, we might form a coalition which could catch our governments’ eye.  Such a coalition would be an organizational Everest!
My approach in these columns has been to look at novel or off-the-charts innovations. The Duchy of Pontiac was an interesting one, years ago.  So now, if it’s unproductive to follow everyone in pursuing a “Back to the Future” agenda (Silicon Valley North), could there be value, or results, in the other direction, “Ahead to the Past”?
“Ahead to the Past” would be a screening test for projects and funding, one asking us to look at our mythologized pasts, our childhoods, our grandparents’ lives, our cousins, dogs and horses, our gardens and flowers – see the past as an ambiance for growing a haven here in the maniacal modern world.
Nostalgia is worth capitalizing on!  Not merely the caricatures, “Olden Tyme” festivals or lumberjack contests, but a nostalgic world which is sheltering, safe, clean, beautiful, with opportunities for everyone. This would attract retirees and their investments, new immigrants, growing families – with investors following. We pull together, not for a resort, but a big retirement community.
Create our own myths from the old river songs, logging camps and thrashing days, our Fair – everything that warms the heart about small town friendliness and safety.  Anyone think this wouldn’t be both appealing – and competitive?  Now we try to appeal to everyone, everywhere, with a mass of small events and attractions, few competitive on the tourist or retirement market. If this works, why are there so few license plates from elsewhere?
Suppose our leaders and artists design this filter, this “Ahead to the Past” test, and we apply it as one test (among many) for every project proposed to the MRC or municipalities?  Suppose that for a moment.