Some­thing big for bi­cen­ten­nial

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey

The bi­cen­ten­nial of Alexan­dria, which will be cel­e­brated in 2019, is a golden op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a long-last­ing trib­ute to the past, a project that will be around long after 200th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions have faded into the mists of time.

Ac­tiv­i­ties re­mem­ber­ing the found­ing of the town will in­clude a gala, a pic­to­rial book and a bar­be­cue. Un­doubt­edly, we can look for­ward to many oth­ers events that will be held un­der the bi­cen­ten­nial theme.

How­ever, a more per­ma­nent recog­ni­tion of the big oc­ca­sion should also be con­sid­ered once the slightly new North Glen­garry coun­cil has been sworn in.

While mile­stones are times for re­flec­tion, they can also in­spire vi­sions of the fu­ture. Thus, it would be­hoove the town­ship to look at un­der­tak­ing a project that would salute the town’s his­tory and con­tinue ef­forts to stim­u­late the lo­cal econ­omy. An an­niver­sary de­vel­op­ment that would ob­serve the past and at­tract tourists -- what could be wrong with that?

Yes, but what would it be? The pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less, but time is march­ing on so we must fo­cus. Let’s see, his­tor­i­cal fac­toids might be of as­sis­tance. We know that Alexan­dria, prid­ing it­self as the big town of Glen­garry, started out as Priest’s Mill back in 1819, when a grist mill was erected on the Garry River by the Rev­erend Alexan­der Mac­donell, who later be­came the first Catholic Bishop of Up­per Canada. The set­tle­ment was mod­est: Records list 12 build­ings in 1823. But the rail­way, which led to the cre­ation of our coun­try, also led to progress in Alexan­dria.

The ar­rival of the Canada At­lantic Rail­way in 1882 opened north­ern Glen­garry up to mar­kets in Ot­tawa, Mon­treal and the United States.

In 1884, the set­tle­ment was in­cor­po­rated as a vil­lage. In 1902, the vil­lage was in­cor­po­rated as a town. The pop­u­la­tion at that time was 2,069.

One won­ders why the pop­u­la­tion has not dra­mat­i­cally in­creased since then, par­tic­u­larly when the rail lines spurred in­vest­ment. The town would be­come fa­mous for the “buggy from Glen­garry,” pro­duced by the Munro and McIn­tosh car­riage com­pany and J.T. Schell’s wood­work­ing and cheese box fac­tory.

Yet, the young men grew rest­less. His­tory tells us that al­most half of the young male Glen­gar­ri­ans had left home be­fore the start of World War I. The for­ma­tion of the Glen­garry High­land So­ci­ety in 1909 helped to steam the ex­o­dus. But the town’s sta­tus con­trib­uted to a fur­ther drop in its size. As the “hub of Glen­garry,” the town hosted the ar­mories, which was a re­cruit­ment cen­tre dur­ing The Great War, which is es­ti­mated to have claimed the lives of one per cent of the to­tal male pop­u­la­tion.

Courage and sac­ri­fice would be nat­u­ral parts of any mon­u­ment ob­serv­ing the early years of the com­mu­nity.

How­ever, it would not need to be to­tally som­bre. For ex­am­ple, Alexan­dria was also known for the hockey sticks fash­ioned by Joseph Cho­quette in the 1930s and 1940s.

A 200th birth­day project could blend in with im­prove­ments out­lined in the town­ship’s parks master plan.

One of the prime ob­jec­tives of the up­grades is to in­stall pub­lic art and “in­ter­ac­tive com­mu­nity fea­tures” to draw peo­ple to Is­land Park and Mill Pond.

Other fea­tures will be pedes­trian con­nec­tions be­tween Is­land Park and Mill Square.

A 200th an­niver­sary spin could eas­ily be added to, say, a new band shell that would be placed in a prom­i­nent spot in Is­land Park.

The many cre­ative minds in this area can surely devise an in­stal­la­tion that would ac­knowl­edge the past and en­vis­age the fu­ture.

An imag­i­na­tive yet prac­ti­cal feel-good fix­ture would be a grand way to cel­e­brate Alexan­dria’s birth­day.

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