smalltownlife-main3 Arts & Culture

Small Town Living: Just Not The Same?

Maybe it just feels different now..

Growing up in a small shipping town named, ‘Midland’ on Georgian Bay in Canada, was unbelievably entertaining!

But it did change over the years.

Back in the Day:

Growing up, outdoors in nature was daily solitude for all. My family has been in this area for over a hundred years, most of which, moved to Olive street, considered ‘dollar town’. Dollar town was poor by anybody’s standards – and surrounded by train tracks, grain elevators, CP shipping piers – but most importantly, Georgian Bay. People were not just neighbours, they were a family.

But as I grew up around there, our family home on Olive street was already long gone, and dollar town was a memory. The water, bush, piers and tracks were still there to enjoy and this is where I spent my childhood, teens and some of my early adult years. In my short almost 36 years the changes have been excessive. Turning our once natural oasis where children, families and well some wino’s spent time outdoors, together, gathering for outdoor fun. When I walk along the waterside now with my young toddler, we have a paved walkway, surrounded by condos and private beaches and docks.

Anything but the green waterside playground that so many spent their time when I grew up.

As a child, I recall so many vivid memories of my Mom, younger sister and I spending summers by the water, in the bush and just wondering into adventures. It was no ones property, shared by everyone. This area was just space for children, teens and adults to “do” and “be”, outdoors. We would ride our bikes or walk down and spend time lounging at “mike’s beach”, named after a (second or third) one-armed cousin who drowned while fishing. I remember walking by the ‘pump’ house to this beach. Behind the pump house was always a surprise. This is where some adults went to drink and just gather in goofiness. I never felt unsafe or fear. We didn’t judge. Shared a few laughs, and onward we would go.

“You’re a top ten kingpin in the borders of your hometown..” ~ Gordon Downie (The Tragically Hip)

We would swim, fish, hike, jump off piers, picnic, investigate trains, bush, trails, and slip down to fill up on natural spring water. I don’t ever recall a sunburn, and we didn’t wear sunscreen or sunblock either. Each day groups of family or friends gathered in different areas. There were always people around to see, talk and play with. All accepting, welcoming and enjoying summer days together outdoors. If there was any unacceptable behaviour, a stern finger or holler was all that was needed to warn against a long depressing walk or bike ride home, where life instantly became insanely boring. Life went on like that right into my teens.

Rites of Passage:

One high school night, partying at a friends house there was rumours of a visitation from local police due to ‘loud’ music, not underage drinking as was the case. So we grouped up and walked down to one of the piers to just hang out and enjoy the summer night. There were no lights, just guided walking. A beautiful star filled night, sitting by the water with the sound of laughter and bay waves. The occasional argument was normal but we were there for fun. Not non-sense. Well until one of our lazy friends, who drove and had a spot light decided to give everyone a scare. Believing it was the police most teenagers jumped in bushes or hid behind what they could find. We spent some time there and then headed home. A fun filled night. No stabbings, beatings or passed-out friends left behind. The only souvenir Monday morning at school, was the collection of students with ranging degrees of poison ivy. I, on the other hand did not get poison ivy. So, unless you were there, you didn’t know I was.

“I changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate.” ~ Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) 

Now and Forever?:

Now as an adult, my small town in the Georgian Bay area of Canada is inevitably still breathtakingly beautiful, yet lacks the outdoor space to safely teach and entertain children, teens and young adults without a car or boat. With this technological age, pale people sit with pale faces glued to cells, computers, games and lack the motivation to find outdoor entertainment. Because in this area, our close safe outdoor space is gone.

The bush, piers, beaches that many enjoyed for decades, is now covered in condominiums and plastered with signs of private beaches. Like unwelcome signs to area that should be shared. Taught. Valued. A few years ago the Trans Canada trail finally came through and offered some activities. Yet so much is still lacking. That’s why in fear of sounding old fashioned or out of touch with today’s realities, a big part of me wishes that small town life could be the same as it always was – but no such luck!

In this area I can still see beauty, I find nature. Spring, summer or fall, my son and family still wonder outside investigating this area.

I want to share with him the remainder of what I grew up with. I guess it’s not good or bad, just different.

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