My perspective - What they have been missing


By: Kate Jackman-Atkinson

Summer is here and with it, the fairs and festivals that bring visitors to our communities. As our communities look to grow, these events give us an easy opportunity to promote what we have to offer.

In the Neepawa area, this weekend is a busy one, with Lily Festival and Runway Drags in Neepawa, the Plumas Summer Fair Day in Plumas and the Thresherman’s Reunion in Austin. Rivers and Minnedosa have had their fairs, while those in McCreary and Gladstone are still to come.

Rural Manitoba has a lot to offer and each community has is own character, built by past and current residents. With more Canadian living in cities, rural Manitoba must work harder to showcase all that it has to offer in order to grow, or at least maintain our population.

Rural Manitoba communities may not be able to offer everything that their urban counterparts can, but we do a lot of things better.  We may not offer every kind of retail or recreation experience, but we offer stores that know your name and often what you want.

We offer neighbours who help each other and a sense of community pride that enables us to get behind a cause; be it raising money for typhoon relief or harvesting a crop in support of our recreation facilities.

In cities, desirable neighbourhoods are those that mimic rural communities. Urban residents want to find a place to live with a sense of a smaller community within the larger entity, they want small cafes and unique stores, they want to know the people with whom they live and do business. They want a small town feel. 

We have that, and it doesn’t come with a premium price.

Looking around at the yards and store-fronts, it’s easy to see our community pride. We need to communicate that with those who come to visit. Each of us is our community’s best ambassador.

Over the last 50 or so years, the Canadian population has shifted from rural to urban. According to Statistics Canada, in 1911, 45 per cent of Canadians were urban residents.  In 2011, urban centres were home to 81 per cent of Canadians– a shocking change for a country tied to strongly so agriculture and wilderness.

Decades ago, Canadians left rural life to enjoy the amenities and conveniences of urban Canada– electricity, running water, culture and entertainment. They sought to escape the backbreaking labour associated with farming or logging. In rural Canada, there were fewer ways to improve your standard of living, fewer ways to improve your material well-being.

Today, technology has dramatically changed the nature of rural Canada.  Advances in machinery have made physically demanding jobs far less labour intensive. High speed internet has brought jobs, movies, news and specialty shopping into our homes, regardless of where we live. Our homes are warm in winter, cool in summer and have multiple bathrooms, all with running water.

Technology has also opened new doors and created new opportunities for people looking to make a living in rural Canada. There are numerous success stories of rural manufacturers shipping their products around the world and professionals have more flexibility to work remotely.

Despite these advances, we haven’t lost that sense of community.   

The reasons for rural depopulation no longer hold and while I doubt we will ever see the balance come close to an even-split, it’s time for urban depopulation. While the stereotypical rural Canadian 60 years ago might have been a poor, haggard farmer, the stereotypical urban resident of today is a poor, disconnected urbanite living in a shoe-box sized condo. Where would you rather live? It’s time for us to tell the rest of Canada what they have been missing.