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Using the past to create a better future

Municipality-of-Chatham-KentBy Christine Wieringa

With the announcement of a new ad campaign, designed to lure residents from Toronto into the community of Chatham-Kent; I can’t help but wonder if the smaller things we can do as a community would encourage people to stay and enjoy the rural life, instead of making the choice to leave the area in search of bigger, better things in the city.

Being born and raised in Chatham-Kent, I can speak first hand of what our region has to offer to not only the residents here, but also those who decide to take our exit off the 401. If you take a look at things in our past, that helped us thrive as a community, they could easily be applied to the present rut we find ourselves in and help set us up for a bigger, brighter future for not only those who choose to retire here and those who choose to spend their whole lives here and raise their families. I remember fondly, looking forward to a Chatham-Kent staple, The Festival of Nations. It was held in Tecumseh park in the 90′s and always brought in huge crowds. There were bands on the stage all day, food being served from local vendors and downtown was full of people looking to spend the entire weekend with their families celebrating. Then, it was gone. Other events have since been held in Tecumseh park, but none are yet to compare to the feeling of community that was felt when everyone and their kids were rocking it out to Kiddo as they performed on stage, their music to be heard through the heart of the city.

Every October I looked forward to Heritage Days, or as some would call it, Fair at the Forks. Nothing can compare to the simple pleasures of finding candy in a haystack, making your own candle by dipping it over and over in wax, which seemed like an endless process but resulting in the most treasured, deformed candle ever made. Or better yet, having a reenactment of the War of 1812 unfold before our eyes. We went every year as a family and it was a highlight for school field trips.  It was always packed full of other families basking in the history of our region that makes us unique. Educating themselves and their children on battles fought on the very same soil in which they were standing. This was traded in for a bus ride that took away the ability to interact with the history in a physical way. We were able to talk to well-educated actors and they would answer in character. We were able to experience for one day, what it was like to live a life without all the gadgets and gizmos of the future. It was a simple, but powerful week that many of people in our community enjoyed. It is now just a cherished memory of the past.

Boats on the Thames River, circa 1960's.

Boats on the Thames River, circa 1960′s.

My parents have fond memories of this area as well. They speak of experiences that make me envious of their generation growing up in Chatham-Kent. My father speaks of bands playing at the Aberdeen, and Ted Nugent playing at Rondeau Park. When my parents were in high school, Rush was scheduled to play at a fundraising event at CK, but then ultimately were turned away for wanting payment of two cases of beer, or so the story goes. The bandstand at Tecumseh park was  actually used, because people would drive their boats down the river, park them, while listening to local bands. The downtown was lit up with young adults having a good time and spending money. Now, we are lucky to find something going on for anyone between 25 to 35. Even local pubs and bars are geared towards people in their early 20′s, but to hear of a concert going on that headlines bands people have actually heard of is very rare. The venues that once hosted bands and late night parties are just skeletons of buildings, housing ghosts of our past, reminding you every time you drive by of what Chatham-Kent once was. With these  examples alone, its easy to see that the things that once drew crowds by the thousands are something of the past in Chatham-Kent, but not something that couldn’t be obtained  by once again, offering the things people enjoy instead of trading them in for less desirable  substitutes.

Build a future with lessons from the past

The people of this community are longing for the ‘good old days’. If we could build our tourism sector, by marketing to people the simple pleasures in Chatham-Kent, we could once again thrive as a community and most importantly, people would want to stay instead of leaving for the city. We have beaches surrounding the municipality, we have beautiful camping grounds, we have some of the best fishing and water recreation in southwestern Ontario and we have the venues to bring in big name entertainment as they pass through from London to Windsor. There is no reason our community cannot earn its place on the map using events that focus on our rich history, our natural beauty and bringing vendors that will appeal to the young adults in the community. We pride ourselves on big events like RetroFest, but forgot that there are other things here to celebrate. If we service our families,  our young people, our retirees and offer more to the  passer-by then we could thrive again. We could be the Chatham-Kent my parents and I grew up in. Instead of trying to lure people here from bigger cities to retire, we need to focus on keeping the youth here and offer events that mirror things we have done and proved to be successful. The people who live here have pleaded to have these events back. We can take lessons from the past, to apply to the present, and build a better future for the community we call home.

  • Ava Mifflin

    great article something for others to really thing about! We need to have things here for youngster something like the wheel had a water park, jungle gym something and even youth to keep them out of trouble like a hang out place or something